RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- A confidant of Osama bin Laden surrendered to Saudi diplomats in Iran and was flown to the kingdom yesterday, a potentially valuable asset in the war on terror because of his closeness to the fugitive Al Qaeda chief.
Khaled bin Ouda bin Mohammed al-Harby was shown on Saudi TV being pushed in a wheelchair through the Riyadh airport.
He is the most important figure to surface under a Saudi amnesty promising to spare the lives of militants who turn themselves in.
''Thank God, thank God . . . I called the embassy, and we were very well-received," Harby told Saudi TV in the airport terminal. ''I have come obeying God, and obeying the [kingdom's] rulers."
Harby -- also known as Abu Suleiman al-Makky -- is considered a sounding board for the Al Qaeda chief rather than an operational planner for his terror network, a US counterterrorism official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Another US official said Harby was not a senior member of Al Qaeda. The official, who declined to be identified, called him ''an aging mujahideen."
The Interior Ministry did not say what Harby is wanted for, but a Saudi security official said he is a member of Al Qaeda.
Mansour al-Nogaidan, a Riyadh journalist and former militant, said Harby appeared on a videotape released in November 2001 in which bin Laden described the planning of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Nogaidan said Harby was disabled in both legs while fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. He used to preach in a mosque in Mecca, but left Saudi Arabia for Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.
At the dinner shown on the videotape, bin Laden praised the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and credited them with inspiring conversions to Islam.
''We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed, based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors," bin Laden said on the tape.
''I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is all that we had hoped for."
In a statement, the Interior Ministry said Harby contacted the Saudi Embassy in Tehran from the Iranian-Afghan border, where he was stranded. It was not disclosed what Harby was wanted for, and his name does not appear on the kingdom's list of 26 most-wanted militants.
Some Al Qaeda operatives close to bin Laden -- notably Khalid Shaikh Mohammed -- have provided vital intelligence to US officials seeking top terror suspects and clues to attack plots. However, he is in American custody, and it was not immediately clear how much access US authorities would have to Harby or his interrogation.
Wearing traditional white robes and Arab headdress, Harby was carried off the plane before being put in a wheelchair. He was accompanied by his wife, dressed all in black, and their son, a Saudi security official said.
The Interior Ministry said Harby will be taken to a hospital for medical care. It did not elaborate on his condition.
Harby is the third man to take advantage of the monthlong amnesty that King Fahd offered militants on June 23. One of the other militants who surrendered under the amnesty is Othman Hadi Al Maqboul al-Amri, No. 21 on Saudi Arabia's most-wanted list.
Harby described the amnesty as a ''generous offer" and urged other militants to take advantage of it.
Separately, Interior Minister Prince Nayef acknowledged for the first time yesterday that Saudis had infiltrated neighboring Iraq to join the insurgency against US-led forces.