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Associate of Osama bin Laden surrenders

From Wolf Blitzer
CNN

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Saudi Arabia
Osama Bin Laden

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It was not necessarily a menacing sight on Saudi television -- a paralyzed man being carried off a Saudi airliner after arriving in Riyadh. He was pushed away in a wheelchair.

Khaled al-Harbi, himself a Saudi, is believed to have fought with Osama bin Laden against Soviet forces in Afghanistan about 20 years ago.

He was flown to Saudi Arabia from Iran where he surrendered to Saudi authorities at the embassy in Tehran, according to a Saudi Interior Ministry official.

He and bin Laden were seen together in a videotape released in December 2001 -- three months after the 9/11 terror strike. He was then described as "the mystery sheikh" because no one could tell who he was.

The Saudi government has offered leniency to al Qaeda suspects who turn themselves in during a one-month period.

One Saudi security official said al-Harbi's status is "a tricky situation" because technically he is not eligible for the offer.

It was made to suspects in attacks inside Saudi Arabia, the official said, and does not apply to those wanted for attacks in other countries.

Al-Harbi has never been charged with any attacks inside Saudi Arabia, he said.

The official said it is unlikely al-Harbi would be allowed to go free.

Experts say though he is not seen as a current al Qaeda leader, he could provide an intelligence bonanza.

"It's very important to ask this man if there are other al Qaeda leaders who lived in that area of if he had any contact with al Qaeda leaders in Iran or Afghanistan -- if he knows where they are now, if they are hiding, where they are hiding, who's hiding them and so forth," says CNN Senior Editor for Arab Affairs Octavia Nasr.

After his arrival in Saudi Arabia, al-Harbi appeared on television.

"I called the embassy," he said, "and we felt that we were welcomed, they were among family. Thank God for this blessing."

He added: "I came because I abide by the word of God and that of the caretaker of the holy sites" -- a reference to the royal family. "This initiative from the caretaker of the holy sites and the king is an opportunity. And our country is the country of Islam."

Al-Harbi urged other al Qaeda operatives to surrender as well and "take advantage of this opportunity."

Nasr says, "It just proves that this program has been working and of course someone with this kind of exposure, someone who sat next to Osama bin Laden bragging about 9/11 -- that's definitely big for the Saudis but not for others."


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