- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

As the two-year anniversary of the Vinnell Compound Bombing in Saudi Arabia is commemorated, I am grateful that I survived this brutal act of terror; friends and colleagues weren’t so lucky.

Thirty-five people were killed, including eight Americans, and more than 200 were injured when al Qaeda terrorists detonated a massive bomb at our housing quarters (originally built by the bin Laden family) in Riyadh.

On that night in May 2003, I was suddenly awakened by an enormous sound similar to a sonic boom. I cautiously went to the window and heard a man screaming “Allah,” followed by rapid gunfire and three muffled explosions. Immediately, I knew we were under attack. I slowly returned to my bed, covered myself with the blanket and waited. Without warning, the building shook violently with a thunderous and ear-splitting sound. Glass, debris and choking smoke filled my room. My building was not directly hit, but the impact was so rigorous that all of the windows and doors, in all of the buildings, were blown out.

Today, I still suffer physical and psychological injuries. My right inner ear was destroyed from the impact of the blast, and my balance is permanently distorted.I can’t sleep well at night, not because of the pain, but because of the anger I feel in knowing that these attacks could have been prevented.

As employees of the Vinnell Corp., we were hired by the Saudi royal family to train and modernize the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) so it could effectively safeguard the kingdom against the growing threat of terrorism. SANG is commanded by Crown Prince Abdullah and responsible for securing our quarters.

Under contractual agreements, we were prohibited to carry weapons and act independently to protect the compound. We were virtual sitting ducks without any defense.

Ninety percent of the team recruited by Vinnell for this project were former American military personnel, and our experiences prepared us for this project. Therefore, I can speak with confidence about specific substandard security procedures.

No security cameras monitored the compound, SANG officers were unarmed, Saudi citizens entered freely to use the mosque, and authorities refused to upgrade security after they received clear warnings that Islamic militants were in the final stages of planning for a terrorist attack against Americans in Saudi Arabia. In fact, the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia at the time, Robert Jordan, notified Saudi officials of credible threats against American targets in the kingdom and his warnings were ignored.

Even though al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack, the Saudi terrorists were able to execute their evil plans by capitalizing on the negligent security procedures at the compound.Many Saudi officials have judged their actions in regard to this disaster. The Saudi foreign minster, Prince Saud Al Faisal, admitted, “We have to learn from our mistakes to improve our performance in this respect.” The Saudi royal family needs to be held accountable for its actions, or more appropriately, inactions.

The irony is that the people we were there to train are the exact ones who should be held responsible for this attack. While I was aware of the potential security threats in Saudi Arabia, I was assured that my safety would be a priority and I seized this opportunity so that I could continue to provide for my family. What message is the United States sending to the rest of the world by allowing the Saudi royal family — our friend and ally on the war on terror — to be soft on security and to disregard terror threats?

The behavior of the Saudi government cannot continue.

On May 10, 17 of the families affected by this tragedy filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi Arabian National Guard for their failure to protect the compound and failure to warn us when they recruited our valuable services. We deserve our day in court.

The Saudis referred to this incident as their September 11. However, when the United States suffered our September 11, a victims-compensation fund was set up. Saudi Arabia has refused to do so to date. That is why we have asked a federal court to decide the financial compensation that is appropriate.

This legal battle represents our search for justice and our hope that, in this case, history does not repeat itself.

We must honor the people affected by this tragedy by keeping it alive in our nation’s memory. We must never forget those lives and the sacrifices that the families and the survivors continue to make. If justice is served and the Saudi royal family is held accountable for its negligence, our sacrifices can be honored with dignity.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Rafael Maldonado is a survivor of the 2003 attack in Saudi Arabia.

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