- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2003

From combined dispatches

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia yesterday conceded security lapses but vowed to clamp down on terror, saying 15 of its nationals were responsible for the suicide attacks on three housing compounds that killed or wounded more than 200 persons.

The death toll has risen to 25, including at least seven Americans, in addition to the nine attackers, according to Saudi officials. Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal would not give details about what happened to the six bombers who survived.

“The fact that the terrorism happened is an indication of shortcomings, and we have to learn from our mistakes and seek to improve our performance in this respect,” he said at a news conference.

He also said the perpetrators “will regret what they have done because they have turned this country into one fist aimed at putting an end to this heinous wound in the body of this nation so that it won’t return.”

About 2,000 Saudi civil defense workers yesterday searched for evidence of the attackers’ identities and methods. Investigators wearing surgical gloves checked the rubble at the al-Hamra compound in northeastern Riyadh. One of the car bombs had left a crater 20 feet wide and 3 feet deep.

Saudi officials said the prime suspects in the blasts were a group of 19 al Qaeda suspects who disappeared in Riyadh last week after a shootout with police. Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz said the 19 are believed to take orders directly from Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of the terror network.

A high-level Saudi security official said the army was erecting checkpoints all over the vast desert kingdom.

“We believe this group is behind the terrorist attack and suspect that they have links to al Qaeda,” he told Reuters news agency.

Prince Saud pointed out that the attacks were carried out by the same number of Saudis as those in the September 11 strikes.

“Fifteen Saudis did what they did in the attacks in the United States, and 15 Saudis did the attacks here,” he said. Fifteen of the 19 September 11 attackers were identified as nationals of the kingdom.

Prince Saud said he hoped “accusations in the United States about the responsibility of Saudi Arabia in the 9/11 tragedy will cease,” because “nobody can hold us responsible for attacking our country.”

The Saudis said nearly 200 people were wounded, most not seriously, including 40 believed to be Americans.

The Saudi Interior Ministry said the dead comprised seven Americans, seven Saudis, three Filipinos, two Jordanians, and a national each of Australia, Britain, Ireland, Lebanon and Switzerland, as well as one whose nationality had not been determined.

WRC-TV (Channel 4) in Washington reported last night that none of the Americans killed in the Saudi blasts was from the D.C. metropolitan area.

Some of the dead held more than one citizenship, making it difficult to accurately determine the count.

Nonessential U.S. diplomats were ordered out of Saudi Arabia yesterday, and other Westerners made plans to leave, owing to attack fears.

Mike Thomas, a 28-year-old tennis instructor from Wales who visited one of the targeted compounds yesterday to check on his students, said he was “very angry and very hurt.”

“I can’t live here anymore,” he said. “Those people who have done this believe in nothing but hatred.”

John Phinney, a 69-year-old American who has lived in the kingdom for 25 years, said he probably will stay. Mr. Phinney, whose children live in Florida, works for Lockheed Martin Corp., training Saudi military personnel in aircraft maintenance.

“Lockheed has given us the option to leave, but the majority of us are going to stay,” Mr. Phinney told the Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal. “You choose your way of life. I can stay or go back to Florida. I think I will continue on.”

Saudi Arabia has a large population of expatriate workers, including about 35,000 Americans and about 30,000 Britons, to help train its security forces, run its oil industry and develop its infrastructure.

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