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Saudi Bombing: Background

November 10, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: Saturday’s attack took place around midnight at the Muhaya residential compound about three miles west of central Riyadh, the Saudi capital. Gunmen opened fire on Saudi army guards protecting the walled complex of 200 villas near the diplomatic quarter.

Then, another group of attackers disguised as policemen offering help drove their vehicles into the compound and blew themselves up, flattening several homes. Most of the dead and the wounded were Arab, foreigners who lived and worked in Saudi Arabia; many were children. The Saudi interior minister, who toured the bombed-out compound on Sunday, pledged to track down those responsible.

PRINCE NAYEF BIN ABDULAZIZ (Translated): No matter how long the path is, it is the responsibility of all the nation’s people, and especially the security forces, to carry on looking for these people until we are completely certain our country is free of every devil and every evil person.

RAY SUAREZ: U.S. and Saudi officials blamed an al-Qaida terrorist cell for the strikes. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who was in Saudi Arabia Sunday, spoke with an Arabic language TV network.

RICHARD ARMITAGE, Deputy Secretary of State: It’s quite clear to me that al-Qaida wants to take down the royal family and the government of Saudi Arabia.

RAY SUAREZ: Al-Qaida’s leader, Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, has long sought to bring down the Saudi monarchy, and drive out U.S. forces stationed in the kingdom since the 1991 Gulf War. The Pentagon pulled out nearly all of the 5,000 American troops from Saudi soil after the Iraq War. Saturday’s attack was the second in six months.

In May, suicide bombers launched a triple attack on three compounds housing mostly westerners. The blasts, also blamed on al-Qaida, killed 35 people, including nine bombers. The United States has long urged the Saudi government to be more vigorous in curbing terrorism; 15 out of the 19 hijackers on September 11 were Saudi citizens. But since May, Saudi officials have said they are cracking down and have foiled several terror plots. While in Egypt today, Deputy Secretary Armitage praised the Saudi efforts, calling them “very aggressive.”

RICHARD ARMITAGE: The Saudi security forces have– since May 12, the initial bombings in Riyadh– have uncovered literally hundreds of terrorists. And they’ve arrested and killed them, they’ve broken up cells, they’ve captured unbelievable amounts of explosives and weapons, they found Korans which were booby-trapped. Korans, by the way, which were certainly not meant to be given to westerners. I assume. They would be meant to kill Muslims.

RAY SUAREZ: Since the weekend attack, security has been stepped up in Riyadh. Many western governments have warned their nationals not to travel to the country.