- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 22, 2004

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A suicide car bomber destroyed a Saudi security-forces building in the capital yesterday, killing four persons and wounding 148 in the first major attack on a government target.

Facades were torn off buildings, revealing rooms still ablaze. Cars parked nearby were smashed by debris. Clouds of dust and black smoke rose from the seven-story building and settled over the neighborhood.

A Saudi Interior Ministry statement said the attackers tried to drive one vehicle into the building, which housed the headquarters of Riyadh’s traffic department in addition to the General Security headquarters.

The driver exploded the car about 100 feet away from the gate, the Interior Ministry official said.

The bombing came days after a U.S. warning of an attack in the kingdom, which is a key U.S. ally and the world’s largest oil exporter and is battling a tide of Islamist extremism linked to Saudi-born Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was in Riyadh for talks on Iraq and the war on terrorism, but was not hurt in the attack.



A Saudi official said the bombing was the sixth attempt at such a “terrorist attack” in a week. Five others were foiled. Suspected Muslim militants also killed at least five Saudi policemen last week, and a manhunt is under way for gunmen who have fought police.

An Interior Ministry statement read on Saudi television said the four dead included two security officers, one civil servant and an 11-year-old Syrian girl. All but 45 of the wounded were discharged from the hospital, and only three remained in critical condition.

The low fatality figure contrasted with earlier reports that at least 10 persons, including a senior officer, were killed. Witnesses saw the body of the suicide bomber charred inside the vehicle.

The bomber tried to crash his vehicle into the compound in downtown Riyadh at 2 p.m. and set off a huge blast 30 yards from the building when guards tried to stop him, the Saudi Interior Ministry said.

Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, and Interior Minister Prince Nayef visited the wounded and pledged to punish the attackers.

“These criminal acts that are being perpetrated by a misguided faction will be faced with all strength until they are completely uprooted,” the crown prince said.

Last week, Washington ordered nonessential diplomats to leave Saudi Arabia and said other Americans should depart as well, citing fresh signals of attacks on Western interests. The U.S. Embassy closed after yesterday’s bombing, a U.S. official said.

Saudi television showed uniformed security personnel in hospital beds.

“I was in the office when the blast happened. Thank God for everything,” said one bloodied and bruised survivor, breaking down in tears as he gave thanks for his escape.

An hour after the powerful explosion, two helicopters hovered over the scene. Fires raged long after the blast, which left a deep crater and carpeted the street in debris. Emergency workers sifted through the rubble where the building had partly collapsed.

Security sources confirmed that security personnel were stationed in the building that was targeted, although the Interior Ministry said only that it housed traffic officials. Its statement put no figure on casualties, but said they included security forces.

Mr. Armitage held talks yesterday with Crown Prince Abdullah. They also discussed bilateral ties, which were strained after the September 11 attacks, blamed on mainly Saudi al Qaeda hijackers.

Mr. Armitage condemned the bombing and said the United States stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the kingdom in fighting terror.

“I must say on the question of terrorism, we have an absolute identity of views, that we need to root out these terrorists. We’ve both suffered terribly,” he said.

Local people were shocked.

“We were sitting, minding our own business in our homes, when we felt the force of the explosion. … Houses fell on our children and women,” one man said. “What sin have we committed? These people don’t fear God.”

Bin Laden, whose citizenship was revoked, has branded Saudi rulers traitors to Islam and “infidel agents” of Washington.

Last week, one of Saudi Arabia’s most-wanted al Qaeda militants called on Muslims to kill Americans and vowed attacks against Arab U.S. allies. Abdulaziz al-Muqrin warned security and intelligence agents against combating militants.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the Riyadh bombing underscored the need to “take the battle to the terrorists.”

It is vital to “find terrorist networks, share intelligence, bring all elements of our national power to bear, make it more difficult for them to raise money and physically move around within a country, to cross borders between countries and to keep raising the cost for them,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

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