PARIS -- In Switzerland's biggest operation against Islamic terrorism, police have arrested eight suspected accomplices in May's al Qaeda car-bomb attack against expatriate housing compounds in Saudi Arabia, authorities said Friday.
About 100 police officers conducted raids and questioned 20 people Thursday, Swiss law enforcement officials said. The eight arrests took place in the cantons of Geneva, Zurich, Bern, Vaud and Aargau. The suspects could be charged with giving logistical support to a criminal organization, authorities said.
"The police action was in the context of terrorism investigations, especially in connection with the May 12 attack in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia)," the federal police said in a statement Friday.
Teams of car bombers hit three housing compounds in the attack in the Saudi capital, killing 26 people along with nine assailants. Until now, the suspects identified by police have been mostly Saudis apprehended in their native land and accused of acting on the orders of top al Qaeda figures. But soon after the Riyadh attacks, Saudi officials said a number of key suspects had escaped to Europe or the United States.
The people rounded up in Switzerland were all foreigners, authorities said. They declined to describe the alleged role of the suspects in the Riyadh bombings or give other information. A European law enforcement official familiar with the case said the suspects in Swiss custody included Moroccans and Tunisians active in a European network that had provided support to al Qaeda's far-flung operatives.
Although the idea that operatives in tranquil Switzerland participated in an attack in the Middle East might seem unusual, previous cases indicate that Khalid Shaikh Mohamed, the al Qaeda operational mastermind who was captured last March in Pakistan, allegedly worked with accomplices and front companies in Switzerland as he set up two terrorism plots.
Surveillance by European and U.S. agents indicated that Mohamed communicated with suspected accomplices in Switzerland to organize the flow of funds and instructions to a terrorist who carried out the bombing of a synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba in April 2002. Mohamed allegedly used a Swiss cell phone while on the run in Pakistan.
During the same period, Mohamed allegedly directed the movements of Jose Padilla, a U.S.-born convert to Islam arrested in Chicago in May 2002 in an alleged plot involving a radiological "dirty" bomb, according to investigators. Padilla stopped in Zurich, Switzerland, on his way to the United States; investigators suspect he received money and assistance from an al Qaeda logistical cell set up by Mohamed in Switzerland.