U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was just hours from arriving in Riyadh, originally told reporters that 10 Americans were among those killed but later added that the U.S. embassy would provide the official numbers.
“Right now, it seems as if we have lost ten Americans, killed, a number of other lives were lost,” Powell told reporters upon his arrival. “[T]here was a large loss of life of others as well as a large number of injuries in the three compounds that were struck.”
A State Department spokesman said during a later press briefing that at least seven Americans have been confirmed killed in the attacks but could not provide any further confirmation of the overall numbers of dead or injured. Media reports varied widely throughout the day as to the number of causalities with some news agencies reporting estimates of as many as 91 killed.
The Saudi interior ministry initially reported that the confirmed death toll from the blasts was 20, including seven Americans, two Jordanian children, two Filipinos, one Lebanese, one Swiss and seven Saudis as well as nine dead attackers. The ministry also reported that some 194 people were injured although most of the injuries were minor.
“Twenty people were killed in the car bombs in Riyadh last night,” an Interior Ministry statement read out on state television said. “Nine charred bodies were also found at the sites and they are believed to be those of the terrorists.”
The U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan said early Tuesday that at least 40 Americans were wounded.
Saudi officials said that witnesses reported seeing the attackers shoot their way into three gated and guarded housing compounds in synchronized strikes in the Saudi capital. Once inside their respective complexes, the nine attackers detonated vehicles laden with explosives.
The explosions decimated a series of single-family homes and five story apartment buildings, in the Al-Hamra, Eshbiliya and Vinnell housing compounds inhabited largely by American and other Westerners working in the Saudi kingdom.
A fourth attack, much smaller than the first three, reportedly hit the headquarters of the Saudi Maintenance Company, which the Associated Press reports is a jointly U.S.-Saudi owned company. No casualties were reported in that incident.
In comments to reporters upon greeting Secretary Powell in Riyadh, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said, “The blood of Saudi citizens was mixed in this tragic event with Americans’… It should increase our efforts, it should make us not hesitate to take whatever measures are needed to oppose these people who only hate, who only kill, and for no purpose whatsoever.”
Powell later paid a personal visit to the Vinnell site and said that the attacks have “all the fingerprints of an al-Qaida operation.”
The al-Qaida terrorist network is blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington that killed nearly 3,000. The network is headed by wealthy Saudi exile Osama bin Laden.
“This was a well-planned terrorist attack,” Powell said. “These are people who are determined to try to penetrate facilities like this, for the purpose of killing people in their sleep, killing innocent people, killing people who would try to help others,” he added.
Powell went ahead with his scheduled talks with Saudi officials Tuesday, canceling only one planned meeting with Saudi civic leaders in order to get a briefing on the bombing from U.S. embassy personnel.
The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning on May 1 that advised U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to the Saudi kingdom based on information that indicated that terrorist groups “may be in the final phases of planning attacks against U.S. interests in Saudi Arabia.”
Speaking during an appearance in Indiana, President Bush similarly denounced the attacks and vowed to hunt down the attackers.
“These despicable acts were committed by killers whose only faith is hate, and the United States will find the killers, and they will learn the meaning of American justice,” the president said.
“Anytime anybody attacks our homeland, or our fellow citizens, we will be on the hunt,” he said. “We will bring them to justice.”
The president extended his sympathies to the families of the victims and added, “the ruthless murder of American citizens and other citizens, reminds us that the war on terror continues.”
In a televised address to his people, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah, quoting from the Quran, said “hellfire” awaits the attackers.
“If those murderers believe that their bloody crimes will shake even one hair on the body of this nation and its unity, they are deceiving themselves. If they believe they will shake the security and stability of our country, they are dreaming,” he said.