RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Hours after being lightly wounded by a suicide bomber, a senior Saudi prince largely credited with the kingdom's aggressive anti-terrorism efforts said Friday he was more determined than ever to fight militants in the country.
The bombing was the first assassination attempt against a member of the royal family in decades and was also the first significant attack by militants in the kingdom since 2006. Saudi Arabia has waged a fierce crackdown on al-Qaida militants in the country that succeeded in killing or capturing most of its leaders after a string of attacks that started in 2003.
Since the crackdown, al-Qaida's branch in the kingdom has largely moved its operations to neighboring Yemen, where instability and poverty have enabled it to take root. Saudi officials have repeatedly expressed concerns that turmoil in Yemen, where the government lacks control of large areas outside the capital, could allow al-Qaida to carry out cross-border attacks in its territory.
The suicide bomber who targeted the assistant interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, late Thursday night blew himself up while waiting in line to enter a gathering of well-wishers for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the official's home in Jiddah, said Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki.
Prince Mohammed, who is the son of Interior Minister Prince Nayef, told King Abdullah when the ruler visited him in the hospital Friday shortly after the assassination attempt that the attacker was a wanted militant who had indicated he was going to turn himself in.
"I did not want him to be searched, but he surprised me by blowing himself up," said Prince Mohammed, who was shown on state television with a bandage around two of his fingers on his left hand.
"However, this will only increase my determination" to fight terrorism in the kingdom, he said.
Al-Turki said authorities were still investigating exactly how the attacker detonated his explosives while waiting to enter Prince Mohammed's home. It is customary for senior members of the royal family to hold regular open gatherings during Ramadan where citizens can air grievances, seek settlement of financial or other disputes or offer congratulations.
No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing, but al-Qaida is believed to have been behind almost all attacks in the kingdom since 2003. The country is the birthplace of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and was home to 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers.
The Interior Ministry has spearheaded the kingdom's aggressive campaign against terrorism. On Aug. 19, authorities announced the arrest of 44 suspected militants with al-Qaida links in a yearlong sweep that also uncovered dozens of machine guns and electronic circuits for bombs.
Last month, Saudi officials said a criminal court had convicted and sentenced 330 al-Qaida militants to jail terms, fines and travel bans in the country's first known trials for suspected members of the terror group.
The 330 are believed to be among the 991 suspected militants that the interior minister has said have been charged with participating in terrorist attacks over the past five years.
But Saudi officials have recently expressed concern that al-Qaida could capitalize on the increasingly tense situation in Yemen, where the government is battling Shiite rebels in areas close to the Saudi border, to smuggle fighters into the country.
Al-Qaida militants, including fighters returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, have established sanctuaries in Yemen, particularly in three provinces bordering Saudi Arabia known as the "triangle of evil" because of the heavy militant presence.
In January, militants announced the creation of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, a merger between the terror network's Yemeni and Saudi branches, led by Naser Abdel-Karim al-Wahishi, a Yemeni who was once a close aide to bin Laden.