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Car Bomb Kills at Least 5 Saudi Capital

November 9, 2003

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ A car bomb attack Saudi officials said appeared to be by al-Qaida killed at least five people and wounded more than 80 in an upscale Riyadh neighborhood, a day after the U.S. Embassy warned of terror attacks in the tense kingdom.

The Saturday night blasts came after gunmen exchanged fire with security guards, a Saudi government official said. An Interior Ministry official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that two security guards _ from India and Sudan _ were killed. The Lebanese Embassy in Riyadh added three Lebanese _ a woman, a 5-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl _ were also killed.

The Interior Ministry official said 86 people were wounded, most of them children and women, in a compound of about 200 houses where most of the residents were Lebanese. Some Saudis also live there, plus a few German, French and Italian families.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Amanda Batt said one American was wounded and another was unaccounted for.

The compound attack was by a suicide car bomber and similar in style to a series of May 12 car bombings in Riyadh compounds housing foreigners that were blamed on the al-Qaida terror network and that killed 35 people, including nine suicide bombers, according to the Saudi Interior Ministry official.

Some witnesses said Saturday’s bombers used what appeared to be a police car.

Immediately after the explosion, there were widely conflicting reports of the death toll. Early Sunday, Al-Arabiya TV, quoting unnamed Saudi sources, reported the discovery of an unspecified number of bodies belonging to attackers involved in the blast. The Interior Ministry official said he did not know how many attackers were involved.

In comments published Sunday on the Web site of Saudi daily Okaz newspaper, Interior Minister Prince Nayef said they could not rule out a connection to suspected al-Qaida terrorist cells targeted in recent sweeps, as a number of suspects from those cells were still at large.

Al-Qaida, led by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, has long opposed the Saudi royal family, accusing it of being insufficiently Islamic and too close to the West, particularly the United States.

In London Sunday, the Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki al-Faisal, condemned Saturday’s attack as the work of an ``evil cult″ whose ``sole aim is the destruction of the kingdom.″

By targeting foreigners’ housing compounds, the attackers were targeting the backbone of the Saudi economy. Saudi Arabia is home to 6 million expatriate workers, including about 35,000 Americans and 30,000 Britons. The kingdom relies on foreigners in its oil industry, security forces and health sector.

``This evil must be stopped,″ Prince Turki said, without naming al-Qaida. ``We call on all the people of the world to work with us in fighting this evil and ridding the international community of this plague.″

Saudi authorities have been under U.S. pressure to act against terrorism and extremism. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States _ also blamed on al-Qaida _ were Saudis.

Saudi officials have been cracking down on homegrown militants since the May 12 bombings in Riyadh. In the past week, police clashed with suspected al-Qaida sympathizers in the streets of the sacred city of Mecca on Monday, killing two militants and uncovering a large cache of weapons. Three days later, two suspected militants blew themselves up in Mecca to avoid arrest and a third suspect was killed in a shootout with security forces in Riyadh.

Saturday’s attack occurred a day after the U.S. Embassy issued a warning that terror attacks could be imminent in Saudi Arabia.

America’s three diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia were closed indefinitely starting Saturday as a result of the terror threat. A message on the Embassy Web site Sunday cited Saturday’s attack and said Embassy staff and their dependents were limiting their movements to their own residential compound ``pending further assessment of the security situation.″

Witnesses at the site saw four residential buildings destroyed, with an area of about 60 square yards reduced completely to rubble, and buildings heavily damaged for hundreds of yards beyond that, with windows shattered, doors blown off and furniture thrown out of place. The twisted, charred hulks of at least six vehicles also made up the bomb scene.

Saudi Arabia’s deputy interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, toured the site early Sunday. Later Sunday, Saudi security kept people away from the compound.

A Lebanese man who was slightly injured, Gaby Kallas, 44, told The Associated Press he heard gun fire and three explosions. The ceiling of the compound cafeteria where he and his friends were at the time collapsed and windows shattered, he said.

``A few minutes later I rushed home about two blocks away and found my family OK,″ Kallas said.

The streets were crowded at the time of the bombing because of Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims fast during the day and have dinners and parties late into the night.

The Saudi official said the attackers exchanged fire with guards and there were apparently three explosions. Diplomats reported one big blast about midnight, followed by two smaller ones 15 seconds apart. It was unclear if three bombs had detonated or whether one set off multiple explosions.

Police said the explosions were three miles from an entrance to the Saudi capital’s diplomatic quarter, close to the Saudi royal family’s main palaces.

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