At Least 20 Die in Saudi Arabia Bombings
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By ADNAN MALIK, Associated Press Writer
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Attackers shot their way into three housing compounds in synchronized strikes in the Saudi capital and then set off multiple suicide car bombs, killing 20 people, including seven Americans, officials reported Tuesday.
Slideshow Slideshow: Saudi Arabia Suicide Bombings
AP Video Powell Visits Saudi Arabia Blast Scene
Authorities also found nine charred bodies believed to be those of the attackers, a Saudi Interior Ministry official said.
The bombings, which took place about 11:30 p.m. Monday, constituted one of the deadliest terror attacks on Americans since Sept. 11, 2001. Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) said the coordinated strike had "the earmarks of al-Qaida," the group that attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (news - web sites).
"Terrorism strikes anywhere, everyone," Powell said. "It is a threat to the entire civilized world."
President Bush (news - web sites) vowed to hunt down the attackers.
"These despicable acts were committed by killers whose only faith is hate, and the United States will find the killers, and they will learn the meaning of American justice," he said in Indianapolis.
In an address to his people, Crown Prince Abdullah, quoting from the Quran, said "hellfire" awaits the attackers.
"If those murderers believe that their bloody crimes will shake even one hair on the body of this nation and its unity, they are deceiving themselves. If they believe they will shake the security and stability of our country, they are dreaming," he said.
The assailants were believed to be linked to the May 6 discovery of a large weapons cache, Prince Nayef, the interior minister, told Saudi newspapers. Nineteen people were being sought and one person surrendered. Nayef told the al-Watan newspaper the suspect had offered "limited information."
Saudi officials said the group — 17 Saudis, a Yemeni, and an Iraqi with Kuwaiti and Canadian citizenship — was believed to have received orders directly from Osama bin Laden (news - web sites). They had been planning to use the weapons to attack the Saudi royal family as well as American and British interests, officials said.
There were conflicting reports about the death toll. Saudi officials said 29 had died, including nine attackers. A State Department official said 91 had died but later said the actual number was closer to the Saudi figure.
The dead included Mohammed Abdullah Al-Blaihed, son of Riyadh deputy governor Abdullah Al-Blaihed, who owned one of the devastated compounds, said Hamad al-Otaidi, a spokesman at King Faisal Hospital.
Saudi officials said 194 people were wounded, most of them slightly. At least 40 Americans were wounded, U.S. Ambassador Robert Jordan said.
The seven Americans killed lived in a four-story building that was heavily damaged. Seventy Americans employed by the Vinnell Corp., a Virginia company with a contract to train Saudi military and civilian officials, lived in the building. By chance, 50 were away on a training exercise.
The attacks were followed by a smaller bombing Tuesday near the headquarters of the Saudi Maintenance Co., a Saudi-U.S. company. No casualties were reported.
Witnesses reported hearing gunfire moments before one of the cars exploded late Monday.
One survivor, John Gardiner from Kinghorn, Scotland, told the British Broadcasting Corp. the blasts were "absolutely terrifying." "All the doors came in, the external doors, the internal doors, all the windows, and the next think I knew I was lying on my back in shattered glass," he said.
The blast ripped through multistory apartment buildings and single-family houses. Facades of five- and four- story buildings were sheared off. Heaps of rubble and blocks of upended concrete surrounded twisted steel bars and knocked downed palm trees. Burned-out hulks that had been cars were still in their parking spots; upended furniture and debris littered a pool deck.
There was no claim of responsibility. If the al-Qaida connection is confirmed, it would show that his network is still capable of mounting coordinated attacks, even in one of the world's most tightly policed countries.
Before being uprooted in the U.S. war in Afghanistan (news - web sites), the group carried out the Sept. 11 attacks and the 1998 simultaneous car bombings outside the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 230 people.
The Riyadh attack came as the United States is pulling out most of the 5,000 troops it had based in Saudi Arabia, whose presence fueled anti-American sentiment. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last week that most would be gone by autumn.
Bin Laden has repeatedly railed against the presence of what he calls "infidel" troops on Muslim holy land.
Powell, who despite the attacks arrived Tuesday on a previously scheduled visit to promote Mideast peace, toured the neighborhood where the seven Americans were killed. It equaled the highest American death toll in terror attacks since Sept. 11. Seven Americans were among the more than 200 people killed last October in twin bombings in Bali, Indonesia.
The Saudi Interior Ministry official said the attackers used cars packed with explosives in suicide operations. He said the blasts also killed seven Saudis, two Jordanians, two Filipinos, one Lebanese and one Swiss at the three compounds.
Saudi Arabia has a large population of expatriate workers, including about 35,000 Americans.
A guard at one of the housing compounds in the northeastern Riyadh was quoted by al-Watan as saying that seven cars exploded there, all apparently carrying suicide bombers. At least three bodies could be seen lying on the ground Tuesday morning.
Police vehicles, lights flashing, patrolled the walls of the compounds and kept reporters out. The Al-Hamra compound, which suffered one of the worst attacks, was hidden behind 20-foot walls. Surveillance cameras were posted along the walls.
Most of the homes in such compounds are large, single-family villas. Behind high walls, Westerners can escape Saudi restrictions such as the requirement that women outside the home wear enveloping robes. Residents tend to work as corporate executives, oil industry professionals and teachers.
At Al-Hamra, American and European children often ride their bikes down the streets, past the private houses, in a scene that could be straight out of an American suburb. Westerners who live there often hold backyard picnics, or put up Halloween decorations or outdoor Christmas lights on their houses — in ways that would not be tolerated elsewhere in Saudi Arabia.
Most diplomats live elsewhere, in a special diplomatic quarter that's heavily guarded.
Powell was greeted on his arrival by Prince Saud, the Saudi foreign minister, who expressed his sorrow and vowed to cooperate with the United States in fighting terrorism.
"It is no consolation, but these things happen everywhere," Saud said. "It should increase our efforts and should make us not hesitate to take whatever measures that are needed to oppose these people, who know only hate, only killing."
An intelligence official in Washington said information from the past two weeks indicated al-Qaida had been planning a strike in Saudi Arabia, bin Laden's birthplace and home to Islam's holiest sites.
An al-Qaida commander warned that the terror network was about to carry out major attacks in Saudi Arabia in an e-mail just a day before the deadly assault in the Saudi capital, an Arab magazine reported.
The al-Qaida operative, who identified himself as Abu Mohammed al-Ablaj, wrote in an e-mail Sunday to the London-based Al-Majalla magazine that al-Qaida has stored arms and explosives and set up "martyrdom" squads in Saudi Arabia to launch what he described as a "guerrilla war" on its leaders and the United States.
A U.S. counterterrorism official in Washington said the e-mail is regarded as credible and implies al-Qaida responsibility for Monday night's attacks.
State Department officials said the American school in Riyadh would be closed and advised Americans to remain at home until further notice.
The British government on Tuesday advised its citizens not to travel to Saudi Arabia unless absolutely necessary. In a statement posted on its Web site, the Foreign Office said there remained a "high threat" of further strikes and warned of the possibility of chemical and biological attacks.
Earlier this month, the State Department advised Americans to avoid travel to Saudi Arabia because of increased terrorism concerns, and the U.S. Embassy said it had information that terrorists were completing plans to attack American interests in the country.
The FBI (news - web sites) said it would send investigators once it gets clearance from the Saudi government.
The gated communities attacked Monday were in the same part of the city where the May 6 weapons seizure was made. A previously unknown Saudi group, the Mujahedeen in the Arabian Peninsula, had linked itself to the cache. Over the weekend, it vowed on an Internet site to strike American targets worldwide. It was not clear whether the Riyadh attacks were linked to the group.
In previous attacks, an American civilian working for the Saudi Royal Navy was attacked last month and slightly injured in eastern Saudi Arabia. In 1996, a truck bombing killed 19 Americans at the Khobar Towers barracks in Dhahran. In 1995, a car bomb exploded at a U.S.-run military training facility in Riyadh, killing seven, including five American advisers to the Saudi national guard. The Islamic Movement for Change and two smaller groups claimed responsibility.