U.S. officials say a wealthy Saudi dissident is a prime suspect in two guerrilla bombings that, in the past year, have killed 24 Americans in an apparent effort to drive the United States from Saudi Arabia.
Counterterrorism officials said they had received a report from a foreign intelligence service that, in telephone conversations, Osama bin Laden had taken credit for the bombings and vowed to strike again.
Although the officials were unable to confirm the bulk of the foreign-supplied intelligence, they decribed it as unusually detailed and said it "does fit well with what we know from other sources concerning bin Laden and Sunni extremist networks."
"For example, we have a large body of reporting on bin Laden's efforts to encourage cooperation between Islamic extremists of many nationalities and on his longtime relationship with Iraqi and Sudanese officials and have some reporting concerning his cells within Saudi Arabia," a counterterrorism official said.
Bin Laden -- who has recently spent time in Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan -- has denied involvement in the bombings that killed five Americans and two Indians in Riyadh last Nov. 13 and 19 U.S. airmen in Dhahran June 25.
But he called those events warnings that the United States should withdraw its forces from Saudi Arabia, the largest U.S. oil supplier. Four Saudis executed for the Riyadh attack said they had been inspired by his writings.
A Beirut newspaper close to Saudi circles said Thursday that Saudi authorities had arrested 11 people in connection with the June blast.
State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns declined to comment on a report in Thursday's Washington Times that detailed the telephone conversations in which bin Laden purportedly took credit for the blasts and promised to hit again.
Specifying that he was speaking about bin Laden without reference to the ongoing joint U.S.-Saudi bombing probe, Burns said: "He's a bad guy . . . engaged in activities that we believe are terroristic. We try to follow his career because we want people like him to meet justice. We want to bring them to justice when we can. So, we're interested in him and we'll continue to follow his career very closely."
In February, a State Department fact sheet called bin Laden, a member of a Saudi construction family who was stripped of his Saudi citizenship in 1994, "one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world today."
Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Service, who monitors the Persian Gulf region and has just returned from visits to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, said bin Laden was feared as "the major potential threat to U.S. forces in the gulf. Based on my conversations with U.S. military and other officials in the region, it's clear that they are looking at him closely in connection with the two past bombings."