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U.S. shuts Saudi offices
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — The United States temporarily closed its embassy and two consulates in the kingdom yesterday, citing security concerns triggered by patterns of militant behavior and communications.
The two-day closure, ending tomorrow night, reflects continuing high levels of concern about terrorism in Saudi Arabia, less than a week after the enthronement of King Abdullah.
“We have had no specific threat of any imminent terrorist attack,” said Brig. Gen. Mansoor al Turki, a top Saudi security official. “But a terrorist remains a terrorist, and we have to take precautions in proportion to the perceived situation.”
The general added, “We are taking all necessary security measures to confront any possibility.”
The American decision came a week after the death of King Fahd and only two days after a four-hour visit by Vice President Dick Cheney, former President George Bush, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The U.S. Embassy issued a brief statement saying the closure of the embassy in Riyadh and the consulates in Jidda and Dhahran was ordered “in response to a threat against U.S. government buildings in the kingdom.”
The statement advised U.S. citizens to “exercise caution and maintain good situational awareness when visiting commercial establishments frequented by Westerners or in primarily Western environments.”
U.S. officials declined to reveal the nature of the intelligence on which the closure decision was based.
But a security source said, “Since 9/11, there has been a lot of talk about connecting the dots. Sometimes, you see enough dots that you have to act.”
One method of detecting a pattern of terrorist behavior is to analyze “chatter” on the Internet, the preferred method of communication between terrorists and their supporters because of its apparent anonymity.
No obvious sign of stepped-up security was observable at the embassy in Riyadh yesterday.
Despite the manicured hedges and small trees, the embassy resembles a fortress. Its thick brown walls are protected by fencing, low cement blocks and a Saudi armored vehicle with a gun emplacement.
“The building in Riyadh is well-secured by numerous barriers to access,” said Gen. Mansoor. “In Jidda, however, the consulate is slap bang in the middle of a crossroads, so it is more difficult to protect. But we remain confident.”
Terrorists attacked the consulate in Jidda on Dec. 6, killing five non-American foreign-service workers, all with long records of service. In March, almost all embassy officials were ordered to send their families out of the country.
A statement issued last month said the embassy “has received indications of operational planning for a terrorist attack or attacks in the Kingdom.”
By David Keene
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