Saudi Arabia Death Toll Rises to 20; Victims Include Seven Americans

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 14, 2003 | Go to article overview

Saudi Arabia Death Toll Rises to 20; Victims Include Seven Americans


Byline: Nicholas Kralev, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Authorities counted at least seven Americans among the 20 dead yesterday in closely coordinated truck-bomb attacks that ripped out trees and tore the faces off apartment buildings in three housing compounds.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who visited the worst-hit compound on arriving in the Saudi capital just hours after the attacks, said the bombing bore "all the fingerprints" of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network.

The well-planned and well-executed operation "will not deter the United States," he said after surveying scenes of smashed concrete littered with the debris of human lives.

"We will commit ourselves again to redouble our efforts ... to make sure that the scourge [of terrorism] is lifted from the Earth."

Death counts fluctuated wildly, but U.S. authorities said the final toll would probably be close to the Saudi tally of nine suicide bombers and 20 victims killed at the three sites, all exclusive walled compounds favored by Westerners in the northern suburbs of Riyadh.

These comprised seven Americans killed at a single site, as well as seven Saudis, two Jordanians, two Filipinos, one Lebanese and one Swiss, according to a Saudi Interior Ministry official quoted by the Associated Press. Other reports said the dead included British, French, Italians, Germans and Australians. Almost 200 people were reported to be injured.

"There was a large loss of life, as well as a large number of injuries in the three compounds that were struck," Mr. Powell said. "The president has made it clear that terrorism is the number one priority for all of us. We will not rest until we have dealt with this threat to all of us."

Yesterday, the United States ordered nonessential U.S. diplomats and the families of all its embassy and consulate personnel to leave Saudi Arabia.

Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, pledged "to take whatever measures are needed to oppose these people who only hate." Upon meeting the secretary at the airport, he said, "The blood of Saudi citizens was mixed in this tragic event with American blood."

A senior U.S. official said an interagency team, including the FBI, was on its way to Riyadh to help the Saudis investigate the attacks, all of which took place within five minutes of one another around 11:25 p.m. on Monday.

Although Saudi Arabia is cooperating with Washington in its fight against terrorism, U.S.-Saudi relations have been strained since the September 11 attacks, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.

Saudi police seized 700 pounds of explosives last week in the same part of Riyadh that Monday's blasts occurred. But they were not able to apprehend the 19 suspects. A $50,000 award is offered for information leading to the men's capture.

U.S. military officials said the worst damage was sustained at the compound Mr. Powell visited, a housing facility for retired American army officers and Marines contracted by the Fairfax-based Vinnell Corp. to train members of the Saudi national guard.

The compound's main building, a four-story bachelor quarters for 70 men, was reduced to fragments of its skeleton.

Most of its outside walls were missing, exposing smashed pieces of furniture, torn linens, blankets and other domestic essentials to public view. Only a mirror in a wooden frame on the top floor and an American flag survived the huge explosion.

"Almost all deaths were in that building," the senior U.S. official told reporters on Mr. Powell's plane, noting that the American ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert W. Jordan, visited two "grievously injured" victims in the hospital. …

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