A car bomb which killed at least five people and wounded more than 80 in an upmarket Riyadh neighbourhood bore the hallmark of an al Qaida attack, Saudi officials said today.
The Saturday night blast came after gunmen exchanged fire with security guards, a Saudi Government official said.
An Interior Ministry official said that two security guards – from India and Sudan – were killed.
The Lebanese Embassy in Riyadh added that three Lebanese - a woman, a six-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl – were also killed.
The Interior Ministry official said 86 people were wounded, most of them children and women, in a compound of about 200 houses where most of the residents were Lebanese.
Some Saudis also live there, plus a few German, French and Italian families.
The Interior Ministry official said the compound attack was by a suicide car bomber and similar in style to a series of May 12 car bombings in Riyadh compounds housing foreigners that were blamed on the al-Qaida terror network and that killed 35 people, including nine suicide bombers.
Some witnesses said Saturday’s car bombers used what appeared to be a police car.
Immediately after the explosion, there were widely conflicting reports of the death toll. Early today, Al-Arabiya TV, quoting unnamed Saudi sources, reported the discovery of an unspecified number of bodies belonging to attackers involved in the blast.
The Interior Ministry official said he did not know how many attackers were involved.
In comments published today on the website of Saudi daily Okaz newspaper, Interior Minister Prince Nayef said they could not rule out a connection to suspected al-Qaida terrorist cells targeted in recent sweeps, as a number of suspects from those cells were still at large.
Al-Qaida, led by Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, has long opposed the Saudi royal family, accusing it of being insufficiently Islamic and too close to the West, particularly the United States.
In London today, the Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki al-Faisal, condemned yesterday’s attack as the work of an “evil cult” whose “sole aim is the destruction of the kingdom.”
By targeting foreigners’ housing compounds, the attackers were targeting the backbone of the Saudi economy.
Saudi Arabia is home to six million expatriate workers. The kingdom relies on foreigners in its oil industry, security forces and health sector.
Saudi officials have been cracking down on homegrown militants since the May 12 bombings in Riyadh.
In the past week, police clashed with suspected al-Qaida sympathisers in the streets of the sacred city of Mecca on Monday, killing two militants and uncovering a large cache of weapons.
Three days later, two suspected militants blew themselves up in Mecca to avoid arrest and a third suspect was killed in a shoot-out with security forces in Riyadh.
Saturday’s attack occurred a day after the US Embassy issued a warning that terror attacks could be imminent in the tense Gulf kingdom.