The deadly car bombings of residential compounds in Riyadh could be followed by more attacks on Americans, US officials warned, amid stepped up security by Saudi officials and rumours of more attacks in the already jittery capital.
A six-member FBI team arrived in the kingdom yesterday to determine what is needed to help in the investigation into Monday’s attacks, which killed 34 people, including two British people.
Late yesterday, the US State Department issued a new advisory to American citizens in the the Red Sea port city of Jiddah, warning of a possible terrorist attack in the city’s Al Hamra district in the near future. The announcement said the warning expires on June 15.
Robert Jordan, the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said he expects “good cooperation” from the Saudis in the investigation.
“I think both parties have learned from past experiences,” he told journalists at his residence. “There is a sincere, good faith effort on both parts to cooperate, to work as partners to share information without jealousy or petty bureaucracy.”
Monday’s attack “was, if not the Saudi September 11, it was certainly the Saudis’ Pearl Harbour,” added Mr Jordan, referring to the Japanese attack on the American naval fleet in Hawaii in 1941, which brought the US into the Second World War.
“This is a battleground rather than simply a nice place for civilians to live,” he said. “Everyone has to confront that.”
The foreigners killed on Monday included eight Americans, three Filipinos, two Jordanians, two Britons and one each from Ireland, Australia, Lebanon and Switzerland. Seven Saudis were also killed, as well as nine Saudis identified as being attackers, the Interior Ministry said.
Throughout the capital, security was stepped up immediately after the attacks, with armed guards and soldiers stopping and searching cars. Rumours of more attacks abounded in the jittery city days after the deadly strikes.
Saudi cooperation with the US investigators could be critical. Some US experts worry that the Saudis will limit access to suspects and evidence, as they did after the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers military dormitory that killed 19 people.
Before the latest attacks, US intelligence uncovered evidence that groups were targeting Westerners, but there had been no specifics on targets or dates, said a US official.
The official said the US assessment was based on a “calculation and a surmise” and educated guesses “because most intelligence doesn’t draw you a clear picture”.
The “picture we had seen before would have indicated that there was going to be a stream of attacks, and so we have confidence that has begun”, the official added.
The US government is communicating its concern to Americans in the kingdom and is asking the Saudi government for help.
Ahead of Monday’s car bombings, intelligence officials had feared an attack was coming.
Ambassador Jordan sent three letters to the Saudi Interior Ministry requesting enhanced security at residential compounds.
The first letter was sent on April 29, shortly after the Americans received intelligence suggesting imminent attacks aimed at Western interests, soft targets and housing compounds.
The ambassador renewed his concerns in another letter sent on May 7, a day after a raid on a terrorist safe house near Jadawal, one of the three compounds attacked on Monday.
The Washington Post reported on its website yesterday that the view from the second floor of the safe house allowed the presumed attackers to case the compound and study the habits of Saudi air force guards in a tower at the perimeter. The attackers reportedly struck after an air force guard left his machine gun in the tower and went below to have tea with other unarmed security guards.
The newspaper also said that the attack caused no casualties among residents at Jadawal because its security chief had recently begun keeping closed the outer-most of two gates at the compound, which formerly had stood open from 6am to midnight, about 30 minutes after the attacks occurred.
An investigation made the Americans conclude there was a good chance that Jadawal would be a target, and they sent a third letter to the ministry on May 10 specifically citing that compound.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, said Jordan had asked “for increased security at a certain compound”.
“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,” Bandar told American television CBS News.
“Our security agencies, the air force came to the conclusion there were adequate measures there,” he told ABC television yesterday.
But Bandar added: “There is no 100 percent security when a determined, crazy, evil person is determined to die.”
Mr Jordan said there was a “very clear suggestion that this attack was aimed at undermining the (Saudi) government as much as it was aimed at American interests.”
Two of the compounds housed employees of the Saudi national guard, headed by Crown Prince Abdullah, and workers in the air force run by the Defence Ministry that is headed by Prince Sultan.
Both are brothers of King Fahd. The third complex is owned by the deputy governor of Riyadh.