Riyadh: A New
Front Against US
By John R Bradley
11 November 2003
fortunes in the Gulf were in free-fall after a suicide bombing in Riyadh
late on Saturday that appeared to be aimed at undermining the Saudi
monarchy, the United States' key ally in the region.
No one had claimed
responsibility by last night, but the shadow of the fugitive Saudi national
Osama bin Laden hangs over the outrage. At least 17 people, many of
them Arab expatriates, were killed and 120 others, 36 of them children,
were injured in a massive car bomb attack on a residential compound
Those killed included
Saudis, Sudanese and Egyptians. No Westerners were believed to have
died. Among the wounded were Americans and Canadians, as well as people
from Africa, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey,
Pakistan, Romania and Sri Lanka. Two Britons who lived in the compound
were found unhurt.
The bombing came
a day after American, British and other Western diplomatic missions
were closed because of warnings of an attack. Western diplomats believe
that as many as 30 people may have been killed in the bombing.
out eight bodies from the rubble," a Filipino rescue worker at
the scene of the blast told The Independent. "Most of them were
The attack, the
second spectacular suicide bombing in the Saudi capital in six months,
was made by a person driving a stolen police car. It caused utter devastation,
razing eight villas and blowing out the windows of buildings over an
area covering a square mile.
A day before the
previous bombings on 12 May, a Saudi Islamist group believed to be close
to Bin Laden's al-Qa'ida network called for revenge attacks on US interests
after a huge arms seizure from Islamic militants in Riyadh. Hours before
the latest bombing, the same organisation the Mujahedin of the
Arabian Peninsula urged its followers to strike and destroy Western
and Saudi regime interests .
It was partly because
of that statement, issued on an Islamist website, that the US embassy
in Riyadh and diplomatic missions in Jeddah and Dhahran had been closed
on the day of the attack. Intelligence reports also indicated that the
terrorists had moved from the planning to the operational phase of an
Bin Laden had issued
a fatwa in the 1990s urging his followers to refrain from attacks in
the kingdom because revenues from its oil industry would be needed to
consolidate an Islamic revolution. But the Saudi decision to assist
the US-led war on Iraq changed all that, with Bin Laden for the first
time explicitly calling for attacks inside the kingdom.
The attack is a
clear sign to the Saudi rulers and military that al-Qa'ida is willing
and able to attack in the heart of the kingdom, despite asecurity clampdown
and co-operation between the CIA and Saudi intelligence services.
The bombing provoked
near-universal outrage among Saudis, who awoke yesterday to find gruesome
images of those injured by flying glass on the front pages of newspapers.
No one could understand why fellow Arabs had been the target. Many initially
refused to believe it could have been the work of al-Qa'ida, especially
as the bomber struck in the middle of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Inevitably, conspiracy theories about CIA and Mossad involvement started
If it was al-Qa'ida,
it may be seen ultimately as an own goal. The attack will damage the
support the organisation has in Saudi Arabia, where anti-US sentiment
has been fed by America's support for Israel's continuing crackdown
on the intifada and the occupation of neighbouring Iraq.
The ruling Saud
family is now al-Qa'ida's number one target, and the kingdom has become
the front line in the so-called war on terror. Since 12 May, more than
600 suspected Islamists have been arrested and more than 2,000 suspects
have been interrogated. Saudi Arabia's security forces have lost a dozen
men in their almost weekly battles with al-Qa'ida fighters and killed
more than 15 suspects.
The bombing could
have been launched on the basis of outdated information that the compound
was home to mostly Americans and Britons. Until the late 1990s, it was
occupied and sponsored by the American aircraft and defence manufacturer