October 22nd, 1998
Three Saudis with diplomatic passports were held and searched by Customs agents at Sydney Airport on Sunday in connection with the murder investigation of a senior Saudi diplomat in Canberra, reliable sources have revealed.
The men were stopped as a consequence of an airport “alert” set up across Australia for all diplomatic-passport holders, but they were allowed to leave.
Such alerts are set in place after serious diplomatic incidents. This one followed the murder last Tuesday nine days ago of the Saudi Embassy’s First Secretary, Abdullah al Ghamdi.
Police would not comment on the airport searches incident yesterday but Saudi Ambassador Mohamad al Hejailan denied it had even occurred.
“In truth, it never happened,” Mr al Hejailan said. “It would not help Australian police in the effort to catch the criminal. This is a rumour and is not the truth at all. It might help the criminal to get away.
“I see no reason to publicise such news.
“I am trying hard to help the police and give them the opportunity to concentrate on the case. This kind of news will not help anyone.” Sources said the three Saudis had come to Australia with private passports but had left with diplomatic ones.
The change of passport status could have attracted the attention of Customs agents.
It is also not known whether police have fixed their suspicions on any Saudi Arabian connections to the murder or whether it is only one of a number of lines of inquiry that are being followed.
Police are understood to hold to one theory, however, that such a particularly violent attack would have required a very powerful person. Mr al Ghamdi was found dead from knife wounds on Tuesday afternoon last week. Police have said he probably died some time after 1 am, which coincides roughly with a report by a resident of the Oakford Kingston Gardens Apartments that she had heard someone scream in a nearby unit.
Soon after, she had noticed a man running from the apartments to get into a small dark-coloured car, possibly a Hyundai Excel.
The man had been carrying an object that police said later could have been the murder weapon, a knife with a 15 mm-wide blade.
A team of detectives led by Detective-Sergeant Greg Ranse is understood to be closely investigating all of the circles in which Mr al Ghamdi had worked or socialised, including Canberra’s brothel and bar scene and his diplomatic connections with other Middle-Eastern or Islamic communities in Canberra.
Australian Federal Police Commander Brian Hepworth said he could not comment on the airport incident.
Spokesmen for Customs and Foreign Affairs and Trade would not comment either, saying their policies were to avoid commenting on ongoing police investigations or on the movement of diplomats in or out of Australia.
– Peter Clack