December 6, 2004

Gunmen Storm U.S. Post in Saudi Arabia, Killing at Least 5

A group of attackers stormed the American Consulate in the Saudi Arabian city of Jidda today, using explosives at the gates to breach the outer wall and enter the compound, the Saudi Interior Ministry said in a statement. At least eight people were killed in the incident, in which guards and Saudi security forces confronted the group, according to the ministry and news agencies.

Three of the attackers were killed. Five non-American employees were killed, an American embassy spokesman, Carol Kalin, told Reuters. She declined to provide the nationality of those killed, but said they were members of the consulate staff.

Reuters reported that Saudi security officials said four of their men also died in the incident, which would bring the death toll to 12.

Two of the attackers were wounded and detained when they battled with Saudi security forces, the interior ministry said.

The ministry statement referred to the attackers as deviants, a term it has used in the past to describe militants and members of Al Qaeda. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

This was the first attack on a Western consulate in the kingdom, and the first major attack by militants since last May.

In Washington, President Bush said that the attack showed that "terrorists are still on the move".

He was speaking to reporters at the end of a meeting with Sheik Ghazi al-Yawar, the interim president of Iraq, where elections scheduled for Jan. 30 have been foreshadowed by violence.

"They want us to leave Saudi Arabia, they want us to leave Iraq, they want us to grow timid and weary in the face of their willingness to kill randomly, kill innocent people," Mr. Bush said.

"That's why these elections in Iraq are very important," he said.

Television footage broadcast by Arab channels showed plumes of smoke rising from the building located in the Red Sea city. The attack took place at 11 a.m., the ministry said in the statement, which was put out by the government Saudi Press Agency.

"It is still an ongoing situation as far as we know," said a State Department spokesman, Noel Clay, in a telephone interview from Washington hours after the attack. "But there are no reports of American casualties or American hostages. All the Americans have been accounted for and are safe."

As a precautionary measure, the American Embassy and other consulates in the kingdom have been closed for the day, Mr. Clay said.

The television footage showed Saudi security forces taking cover from behind their vehicles outside the compound. Ambulances were in the streets outside the compound.

Witnesses said the militants had hauled down the American flag and burned it after bursting into the mission, The Associated Press reported.

It quoted a Saudi official in Riyadh as saying the gunmen got to an area inside the initial security gate at the consulate compound, which is surrounded by a high wall topped by barbed wire, but were still outside a secondary gate that protects the consulate offices. Numerous civilians were confronted by the attackers and held at gunpoint, and the gunbattle broke out, the official told the A.P.

The attack on the consulate was the most serious on a foreign target in the kingdom since May, when 22 people, most of them foreigners, were killed in an attack on two businesses and a residential compound in Khobar.

In June, an American engineer, Paul M. Johnson Jr., was beheaded by terrorists linked to Al Qaeda who were later shot dead.

In 2003, two separate attacks on foreigners in the capital, Riyadh, killed more 50 people, including suicide bombers.

Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia live in guarded, walled compounds where they cam maintain Western lifestyles. Members of the kingdom's foreign population held a meeting with two senior Saudi princes in June after two months of terror attacks that killed about 30 foreigners.