In the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia this week, the State Department issued a nationwide alert yesterday for the U.S. public and American businesses to be on the lookout for possible attacks by suicide truck bombers in this country.
Saying it had no specific information that a truck bombing of any kind was being planned in the United States, the department -- through its Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) -- said the nationwide alert was designed to pre-empt any such attack by advising the public as well as people who own and operate businesses on how such a terrorist event might take place.
The alert, noting that the Department of Homeland Security believes a truck bombing by terrorists may be pre-empted if the general public remains on guard for certain indicators, outlined what it called general information to assist in recognizing potential truck bombers or other threats based on the Monday bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
It said tactics used in the Riyadh attacks included several targets, simultaneous strikes, multiple vehicles per target and an assault by a "cadre armed with small arms ... to clear security personnel and gain access to the compound."
Asking the public to watch for and report any suspicious activity, the alert listed several indicators or actions that could be a precursor to an attack, including:
The theft of explosives, blasting caps, fuses or certain chemicals used in the manufacture of explosives.
The rental of self-storage space for the purpose of storing chemicals or mixing apparatus.
The delivery of chemicals directly from the manufacturer to a self-storage facility or unusual deliveries of chemicals to residential or rural addresses.
Chemical fires, toxic odors, brightly colored stains or rusted metal fixtures in apartments, hotels, motels or self-storage units.
The modification of a truck or van with heavy-duty springs to handle heavier loads.
Small test explosions in rural wooded areas or the treatment of chemical burns or missing hands or fingers.
The alert noted that international terrorist groups have demonstrated the ability to plan and conduct complex attacks simultaneously against multiple targets.
In the Riyadh attacks, it said, terrorists -- suspected of being linked to the al Qaeda network -- assaulted three compounds occupied by Western guest workers using multiple vehicles. At least one vehicle in each assault team carried a large explosive charge, which was detonated by a suicide bomber.
The alert said media reports indicated that the attackers drove up to each compound, killing those guarding the compound gates with small-arms fire. Vehicles carrying the explosive charges were then driven into each compound and detonated. In one instance, the alert said, it appeared the terrorists attempted to breach the gate security checkpoint by ramming it with a sedan.
It is likely that those involved with executing the Riyadh attacks conducted extensive preoperational surveillance of the compounds selected, the alert noted, adding that meticulous planning to include surveillance is a hallmark of al Qaeda terrorist attacks.
While the ability to conduct multiple, near-simultaneous attacks against several targets is not new for terrorist groups such as the al Qaeda network, the alert said the manner in which the Riyadh attacks were conducted indicated a more refined capability.
In each attack, the alert said, a number of armed terrorists were used to eliminate the security elements guarding the compounds so suicide bombers could drive a vehicle with an explosive device to the desired location and detonate it.
The split-second timing among the three attacks showed that a trained and dedicated cadre perpetrated the assault, the alert said.
The alert also noted that terrorists continue to select soft targets for attack, those that will yield a high casualty count. Examples cited in the alert included residences, recreational sites, shopping venues, and business buildings and complexes.