- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — In a bloody attack on the heavily fortified U.S. Consulate here yesterday morning, at least five Islamists shot their way into the compound, battling Saudi security guards for more than three hours. At least nine persons were killed, none of them American.

Saudi special forces stormed the compound at about 1 p.m., after hours of fierce gunbattles, killing three of the terrorists. Two of the terrorists were wounded and captured, and Saudi officials said one of the two men died later in custody.

Five consulate employees were among the dead, and a Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman said eight non-U.S. civilians and five Saudi consulate employees were wounded in the attack.

Earlier, Saudi security officials had said four of their men were killed in the assault, but Adel al-Jubeir, foreign affairs adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah, denied the claim. He said two Saudi special forces personnel were wounded, Reuters news agency reported.

Late yesterday, the Saudi wing of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terror network took responsibility for the attack, calling it part of a campaign to “fight the Crusaders and Jews and to expel the infidels from the Arabian Peninsula.”

The Internet posting said the attackers had killed nine persons in the attack, including two Americans. It was not possible to verify the authenticity of the claim.

Mr. al-Jubeir told reporters that the five attackers approached the gate in two vehicles, and when the first vehicle was stopped at a checkpoint outside, they got out and fought their way into the compound firing guns and lobbing grenades.

He said the attackers called a general emergency line to say they had taken 17 hostages and that security forces should not attack the compound to rescue them. After coordinating with Marines providing security to the consulate, Saudi forces stormed the compound and rescued some hostages, he said.

In Washington, President Bush said the attack showed “the terrorists are still on the move” and linked them to terrorists in Iraq, where violence threatens elections set for Jan. 30.

“They want us to leave Saudi Arabia, they want us to leave Iraq, they want us to grow timid and weary in the face of their willingness to kill randomly, kill innocent people,” Mr. Bush said.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the attack “will not deter us in our fight against terrorism.”

Some of the wounded consulate staff told Reuters that terrorists had tried to use them as human shields.

“They held us hostage for an hour, an hour and a half. We were in two groups of about four and eight,” said Muaffa Jilan Ibrahim, a Yemeni maintenance worker who suffered superficial bullet wounds.

Most of the consulate workers were from India, Sudan and the Philippines.

Carol Kalin, spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, and State Department officials said no U.S. citizens were killed in the attack and one American employee at the consulate was slightly injured.

Two independent sources said Monica K. Lemieux, a vice consul for political affairs, was shot in the back along with her Pakistani driver and a Filipino carpenter who were entering the consulate in a vehicle. The report could not be confirmed.

Security sources told The Washington Times that the terrorists, soon after forcing their way into the compound, went to the room housing the Marines, who provide internal security for the consulate, and set it on fire. Huge plumes of black smoke could be seen rising from the consulate, visible for miles around.

Embassy officials said they had no information that any Marines were involved in the gunbattle.

The consulate, which occupies a huge city block in the Al-Hamra district of the Red Sea port city, had been a regular target for terrorists linked to al Qaeda in the past year, with several drive-by shootings reported in the local press. But many Saudis were shocked that the militants had been successful in entering the consulate grounds despite its heavy security.

The consulate is surrounded by a reinforced 12-foot-high cement wall, with metal spikes on the top.

The State Department sent out a message to the estimated 25,000 Americans still living in the kingdom, warning them once more to take the utmost security precautions following the attack.

The department also ordered the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh and consulates in Jidda and Dhahran temporarily closed to the public. Only essential staff will be allowed at the facilities and only emergency consular services for American citizens will be available, the message said.

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