Saudi prince spoke to bomber on phone before attack

DUBAI, Sept 1 (Reuters) - The Saudi interior ministry on Tuesday issued a recording of a telephone conversation between the prince who heads the kingdom's anti-terrorism campaign and an Al Qaeda militant who tried to assassinate him days later.

Last Thursday, a suicide bomber posing as a repentant militant blew himself up in the Jeddah office of security chief Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in the first known attack on a member of the Saudi royal family since al Qaeda began a violent campaign in the world's top oil exporter in 2003.

Prince Mohammed, the deputy interior minister and son of the man thought likely to be the next crown prince, was not seriously hurt. Three days later, Al Qaeda identified the suicide bomber as Abdullah al-Asiri, a wanted suspect who entered Saudi Arabia from Yemen.

On the recording broadcast by Saudi-owned Al Arabiya, the two men are heard exchanging pleasantries and congratulating each other for the holy month of Ramadan, which is currently being observed by Muslims around the world, indicating that the conversation took place in recent weeks.

"I need to meet you to tell you the whole story," the man told the prince.

"If you come I will sit with you and both of us can give whatever he has to his companion," the prince replied.

In February, Saudi Arabia issued a list of 85 wanted suspects and analysts said many of them were in Yemen, including some who had been returned to Saudi Arabia from U.S. detention in Guantanamo Bay and some who had been through a much-vaunted Saudi militant "correction" programme.

"Be careful of bad people who want to exploit you," the prince also told Asiri.

The Saudi and Yemeni branches of al Qaeda merged early this year to form al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. They regrouped in Yemen after a vigorous counter-terrorism campaign led by Prince Mohammed that badly damaged militants in Saudi Arabia.

Prince Mohammed's father, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef, on Saturday defended the policy of enticing "repentant" militants after one tried to assassinate his son but said there could be more and worse attacks ahead.

Reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Angus MacSwan