- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2003

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Three explosions rocked a residential compound in the Saudi capital last night, killing at least two persons and wounding 86, in what a government official said was a suicide car bombing.

The attack came a day after the U.S. Embassy warned that terror attacks could be imminent in the tense Persian Gulf kingdom, and America’s three diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia were closed yesterday as a result.

Just before the midnight blasts, an unknown number of attackers broke into the upscale compound of about 200 houses, a Saudi official said, and gunfire was heard.

An Interior Ministry official told the Associated Press the attack was a suicide car bombing. He said two persons were killed, both security guards, and 86 were wounded. The official said he believed it was carried out by al Qaeda because of similarities to a May 12 attack in the capital that killed 35 persons.

However, immediately after the explosion, there were widely conflicting reports of the number of dead. An official at a Riyadh hospital said dozens of people were killed, but, when contacted again, said only that some people were dead.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Amanda Batt said from Washington that one American was wounded and one was unaccounted for. The U.S. Embassy was to remain closed today and American diplomats will restrict their movements to the diplomatic quarter, about three miles away.

Diplomats and officials said most of the residents of the compound’s 200 villas were Lebanese. Some Saudis also live there, plus a few German, French and Italian families.

Officials at the King Khaled Specialist Hospital and the King Faisal Special Hospital & Research Center said the two hospitals received 38 wounded persons.

Flames could be seen still burning at the compound several hours after the explosion. Al Arabiya television showed shots of bloodied men and women being treated at hospitals.

State-run Saudi TV aired live footage from the devastated section of the residential compound, showing collapsed buildings, piles of rubble, twisted metal and debris spread over a large area.

TV footage showed a large crater, apparently gouged out by an explosion, as emergency workers poured over the bomb-blast site, which security forces had sealed off.

Huge flames were seen leaping into the night sky as helicopters hovered overhead, beaming searchlights down onto the bomb-ravaged area.

The Saudi government official said the explosions took place in the Muhaya compound. He said the attackers traded fire with the guards and he said there were apparently three explosions.

Most of the wounded were believed to be children because their parents were out shopping during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, he said.

The May 12 attack on Western residential compounds in Riyadh that killed 35 persons, including the nine attackers, was blamed on the al Qaeda terror network, and Saudi authorities have arrested hundreds of suspected militants throughout the country since. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the September 11 attacks were Saudis.

In the May attack, gunmen also broke into residential compounds before explosions were set off.

In the latest attack, diplomats reported one big explosion about midnight, followed by two smaller ones 15 seconds apart. The streets were crowded with late-night crowds because of Ramadan, when Muslims fast during the day and have dinners and parties late into the night.

Dozens of police cars and ambulances raced toward the site of the blasts, sirens wailing. Traffic was tied up across the city.

Hanadi al-Ghandaki, manager of the targeted compound, told Al Arabiya that about 100 people were wounded, mostly children “because most adults were outside the compound at that time.” She did not elaborate.

Rabie Hadeka, a resident inside the compound, told Al Arabiya that “about 20 to 30 people have been killed and 50 to 60 injured.”

She told Al Arabiya that “shattered glass was spread everywhere after we heard three very strong explosions.”

Police said the explosions were three miles from an entrance to the Saudi capital’s diplomatic quarter.

“We heard a very strong explosion and we saw the fire,” Bassem al-Hourani, who said he was a resident at the targeted compound, told Al Arabiya in a telephone interview.

“I heard screams of the children and women. I don’t know what happened to my friends, if anybody was injured,” he said. “All the glass in my house were shattered.”

Almost all the foreign embassies in Riyadh — including the U.S. Embassy — and most diplomats’ homes are inside the diplomatic quarter, an isolated neighborhood whose entrances are guarded. But there are several residential compounds housing Western businesspeople relatively near the diplomatic quarter.

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