05/14 - Saudi Arabia acknowledges security gaps - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

05/14 - Saudi Arabia acknowledges security gaps

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Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2003 8:35 am | Updated: 1:08 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - The simultaneous strikes on three foreign compounds were carried out by 15 Saudis, the foreign minister said Wednesday, acknowledging gaps in security before the attacks that killed more than 25 people.

The overall death toll rose to 34, including at least seven Americans and nine attackers, Saudi officials said. Prince Saud al-Faisal would not give details on what happened to the six surviving attackers.

"The fact that the terrorism happened is an indication of shortcomings, and we have to learn from our mistakes and seek to improve our performance in this respect," the foreign minister said at a news conference.

Despite an assertion by the U.S. ambassador, Saud said he had not received a request from the diplomat to intensify security measures around the U.S. installations.

"But, in each time the American embassy or any other embassy seeks the intensification of security measures, the government fulfills this request," he said.

He said the perpetrators "will regret what they have done because they have turned this country into one fist aimed at putting an end to this heinous wound in the body of this nation so that it won't return."

Nonessential U.S. diplomats were ordered out and other Westerners made plans to leave Wednesday after the coordinated attacks linked to al-Qaida.

The Saudis said nearly 200 people were wounded, most not seriously, and 40 of those were believed to be Americans.

Al-Qaida, the terror group linked to the Saudi attacks and Sept. 11, had railed against the presence of foreign troops in Saudi Arabia, home to the holiest Muslim shrines. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 attacks were Saudis.

Monday's attacks came as the United States announced plans to pull out most of the 5,000 troops it had based in Saudi Arabia by autumn.

Despite hope the pullout would lessen tension, U.S. and Saudi officials had been on the alert for attacks.

U.S. Ambassador Robert Jordan said the United States sought futilely to get security tightened around Western residential compounds in Riyadh before Monday night's attacks.

"As soon as we learned of this particular threat information, we contacted the Saudi government," Jordan said on CBS' "The Early Show." "We continue to work with the Saudis on this, but they did not, as of the time of this tragic event, provide the additional security we requested."

For example, Saudi officials may have provided extra police patrols for a day or two, but then pulled them, John Burgess, a U.S. Embassy consular official, told The Associated Press.

Saud acknowledged that "there was news coming from everywhere that they were planning a major attack."

"We had established a committee with the United States to see what we could do, both of us, in order to prevent this attack from happening," he said on NBC"s "Today" show. "We came indeed very close to doing that, but unfortunately they were able to do their damage."

President Bush spoke to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah by telephone on Tuesday night, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said. Administration officials said Abdullah pledged to capture those responsible and, noting Saudi lives were lost as well, said the two governments should work closely together on the investigation.

Bush has called the attacks "despicable," saying: "The United States will find the killers, and they will learn the meaning of American justice."

Mike Thomas, a 28-year-old tennis instructor from Wales who visited one of the targeted compounds Wednesday to check on his students, said he was "very angry and very hurt. I can't live here anymore."

"Those people who have done this believe in nothing but hatred," he said.

John Phinney, a 69-year-old American who has lived in Saudi Arabia for 25 years, said he will probably stay. Phinney, whose children live in Florida, works for Lockheed-Martin, training Saudi military personnel in aircraft maintenance.

"Lockheed has given us the option to leave, but the majority of us are going to stay," Phinney told The Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal. "You choose your way of life. I can stay or go back to Florida. I think I will continue on."

Another American resident of one of the targeted compounds said the attackers succeeded in instilling fear. But the man who gave only his first name, Bob, said he did not plan to leave.

"We want to promote United States business and trade, so we want to look out for the interests of the United States, ... and these attacks were obviously done to undermine those things," said the 48-year-old Bob, from Joplin, Mo. "It is perceived that we have done good business here in the past and that these guys (Saudis) are under attack and certainly we are not going to just turn tail around and abandon them."

Saudi Arabia has a large population of expatriate workers, including about 35,000 Americans and about 30,000 Britons, to help run its oil industry and develop its infrastructure.

Britain advised its citizens not to travel to Saudi Arabia unless absolutely necessary. In a statement, the Foreign Office said there remained a "high threat" of further strikes and warned of the possibility of chemical and biological attacks. British Airways said Wednesday it was canceling overnight stays in Saudi Arabia for crew on flights to the country.

A State Department directive ordered nonessential diplomats and family members out of Saudi Arabia. Echoing a May 1 travel warning, the statement recommended that private U.S. citizens in Saudi Arabia consider departing and that Americans defer nonessential travel there.

"U.S. citizens are reminded of increased security concerns and the potential of further terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia," it said.

The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh was closed for security reasons Wednesday.

About 2,000 Saudi civil defense workers searched for evidence of the attackers' identities and methods Wednesday. Investigators wearing surgical gloves checked the rubble at the al-Hamra compound in northeastern Riyadh. A car-bomb had left a crater 20 feet wide and 3 feet deep.

The Saudi government has said the attacks are connected to the 19 al-Qaida operatives who engaged in a gunfight with police in Riyadh on May 6.

The 19 escaped, but one surrendered later. Interior Minister Prince Nayef said the 19 are believed to take orders directly from Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of al-Qaida.

Nayef was quoted as saying he did not rule out more attacks.

"This is life, and incidents occur in every country, and we are in a period of anxiety and terror acts. The kingdom is one of the countries being targeted," he told the Saudi newspaper Okaz.

The Saudi Interior Ministry on Wednesday provided this breakdown on the deaths: seven Americans, seven Saudis, three Filipinos, two Jordanians, one each from Australia, Britain, Ireland, Lebanon and Switzerland and one whose nationality had not been determined. In addition nine attackers died, it said.

An accurate count was complicated by the fact that some of the dead held more than one citizenship.

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