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U.S. Urges Citizens to Leave Saudi Arabia

December 17, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nonessential American diplomats and the families of all U.S. officials in Saudi Arabia should leave, the State Department said Wednesday, stepping up its warnings about risks in the country.

Private U.S. citizens should consider leaving as well, the department said. And Americans making plans to go to Saudi Arabia were advised to defer any such travel in light of ``the potential for further terrorist activities.″

The departure of U.S. officials and family members was not ordered, but was voluntary. Expenses were to be paid by the U.S. government.

Americans who travel to Saudi Arabia or remain there despite the warning were told to register with the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh or the consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran so arrangements can be made to keep them up to date.

``The U.S. government continues to receive indications of terrorist threats aimed at American and Western interests,″ the department said. This includes the targeting of transportation, the statement said.

``American citizens in Saudi Arabia should remain vigilant, particularly in public places associated with the Western community,″ the department said.

No single specific threat or piece of intelligence triggered the department’s action, said a U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Instead,the decision was based on a review of the entire terrorism picture in the kingdom.

U.S. officials say the top al-Qaida figure in Saudi Arabia is Abdulaziz Issa Abdul-Mohsin al-Moqrin, also known as Abu Hazim. He took over when Yousif Salih Fahad Al-Ayeeri _ ``Swift Sword″ _ was killed in a shootout last May.

There are some 200 to 300 nonessential U.S. officials and family members in Saudi Arabia, and some 30,000 U.S. citizens in all.

Travel by American officials and their families in Riyadh is restricted already to the hours between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Last month, in the latest of a string of terror incidents, a housing compound in Riyadh was bombed, killing 17 people and wounding more than 100. Police arrested a Saudi citizen believed to have helped smuggle in from Yemen the weapons used in the attack, the Saudi daily Okaz reported Wednesday.

American and Saudi officials blamed that attack and suicide bombings at three other housing projects in May on Saudi exile Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network. Thirty-five people, including nine attackers were killed in the May attacks.

Saudi officials say most of the weapons used in militant operations in Saudi Arabia _ including the May suicide attacks _ were smuggled from Yemen.

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