FBI agents were arriving in Saudi Arabia today amid a row between Washington and the kingdom over security at the residential compounds attacked on Monday night by suspected al-Qaida suicide bombers.
US Ambassador Robert Jordan said that before the strikes he had repeatedly asked the Saudis for more protection at the compounds.
But Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to the US, suggested Jordan had sought extra security for one compound only – and that his country’s security forces had successfully protected the foreigners there.
A vanguard of six FBI agents was arriving in Riyadh today, where 34 people were killed in the synchronised assaults on three residential compounds.
US authorities have insisted the Saudi government failed to co-operate with the calls for tighter security – despite strong intelligence suggesting an attack was in its final planing stages.
Jordan said: “As soon as we learned of this particular threat information, we contacted the Saudi government.
“We continue to work with the Saudis on this but they did not, as of the time of this tragic event, provide the additional security we requested.”
“He asked for increased security at a certain compound,” Bandar responded.
“We have passed it to the right authority, and that compound that he was concerned about was the only place that the evil people who did this attack did not cause injuries except killing the Saudi guards.”
But the top Democrat on the US Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Jay Rockefeller, said more security might not have stopped the attacks.
In the past, he said, al-Qaida “would have a guy with a gun in a truck trying to break through a barrier and do it all himself.
“Here they did it differently. They had people with guns go in, shoot the security” then detonate the bombs.
“It is a big adjustment,” he added. “It is them figuring out how to do things more efficiently.”
US Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts pointed out that the residential compounds were very difficult to protect.
“If you look at the car bombs, they were extremely powerful and you would have to have very, very tough security at levels that probably you would not foresee,” he said.
Saudi’s Foreign Minister, Prince Saud, yesterday revealed that 15 Saudis, not nine as originally reported, took part in the attacks – and he acknowledged that there had been security lapses.
It was months after September 11 attacks in the US before Riyadh confirmed that 15 of the 19 suicide hijackers had been Saudi.
Saudi officials, stung by criticism they did too little to combat militancy ahead of the September 11 strikes, have taken pains to show unusual openness and determination in the wake of Monday’s attacks.
Reporters have been able to watch the forensic experts at work, and local newspapers have carried headlines that did not shy away from using the word “terror” to describe the blasts.
Crown Prince Abdullah has appeared on national television vowing to “put an end” to those behind the attacks and to their supporters – a bold statement that expands the circle by taking on the militants’ sympathisers.
The two Britons were killed in the attacks along with eight Americans, seven Saudis, three Filipinos, two Jordanians, and one each from Australia, Lebanon and Switzerland, according to the Saudi Interior Ministry.
The death toll of 34 included nine the Saudis have identified as among the attackers.
Saudi relies greatly on its population of six million expatriate workers, including around 30,000 Britons and 35,000 Americans, many of whom work in the energy, technology and banking sectors.
Experts on Middle Eastern security said it was unlikely the bombings would lead to an exodus of foreign workers.
But they said civilians and business interests are a soft target for al-Qaida and that the Saudi government must reassure foreign companies it is capable of dealing with the threat.
“The psychological impact of this attack is huge,” said Kevin Rosser, a global terrorism analyst at the Control Risks Group in London, which provides security advice to companies.