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Saudis Say Lifestyle Was Under Scrutiny

November 13, 2003

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ The foreigners who lived in the mainly Arab residential compound devastated by a suicide bombing say they were visited by Saudi religious police three months ago, putting them on notice that their Westernized lifestyle was under scrutiny.

Saudi and U.S. officials have blamed Saturday’s attack, which killed 17 people, on al-Qaida, the militant Muslim terror network blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks and a sworn enemy of the Saudi ruling family, which it accuses of being insufficiently Islamic and too close to the United States.

Most of the residents of the Muhaya compound were Lebanese. The bodies of five Lebanese killed in the Riyadh explosions were returned home late Wednesday for burial. About 500 relatives, some weeping, gathered at Beirut’s international airport as the bodies arrived.

The bodies of a Lebanese boy and girl remained in Saudi Arabia where their injured parents were still recovering.

Four Egyptians killed in the Riyadh attack were flown home Thursday. Other victims came from Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

The choice of target in the attack, which hit mostly Arabs and Muslims, has baffled many in the region. It may be an indication al-Qaida’s rage is directed as much at Muslims seen as having slipped from the religion’s true path as at Western ``infidels.″

Muhaya was typical of compounds housing members of the large contingent of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia: a place where non-Saudis and even some Saudis could escape rules banning alcohol and mixing of men and women in public and requiring women to cloak and veil themselves when outside their homes.

Muhaya had a coffee shop where men and women sat together chatting over water pipes and watching foreign movies and other entertainment on a big screen television. It was next to a pool where women swam in bikinis.

Agents of the Saudi religious police _ the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice _ roam Saudi streets and shopping malls berating or even manhandling those who violate the social code. Its chief holds the rank of Cabinet minister in a kingdom where the royal family retains power in part with the support of conservative religious authorities.

Some Saudis chafe at the religious restrictions. Saturday’s bombings and similar attacks in Riyadh in May have sparked debate about whether the strict form of Islam preached in Saudi Arabia fosters intolerance and extremism.

Seven bearded, robed religious police officers visited the Muhaya compound three months ago, saying they had reports of an ``un-Islamic″ party being held there, residents told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The religious police scuffled with compound guards who barred their entry until the compound owner arrived. During the delay, residents of both sexes slipped out of the complex coffee shop.

The religious police eventually were allowed in and headed straight for the coffee shop. They left after finding it closed.

Muhaya residents said religious police had visited about four years earlier, also saying they had heard a party was being held.

Residents said most compound parties are birthday gatherings for children. They said some residents may have alcohol in their homes, but it was never consumed in public.

One resident, who gave only his first name, Rashid, said he always wondered whether compound activities were being watched from the surrounding mountains. Some residents of the compound, located in a ravine, believe the attackers came from the mountains.

Saudi investigators say at least one attacker was in a bomb-packed vehicle, while others may have entered on foot. The attackers first exchanged fire with security guards, then drove in a vehicle painted with police insignia and blew it up.

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