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Learn meaning american justice { May 14 2003 }

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May 14, 2003
Bush Condemns Saudi Blasts; 7 Americans Are Dead

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, May 13 At least 20 people, including seven Americans, were killed in the synchronized truck bomb attacks here on Monday night, Saudi officials said today, and President Bush vowed to hunt down and punish those responsible. Nine additional bodies appeared to be the charred remains of some of the attackers, the officials said.

The explosions blasted apart buildings in three residential compounds, which were heavily populated by Americans and other Westerners, shearing off facades, knocking down palm trees and creating heaps of twisted steel and rubble. About 200 people were wounded, most of them not seriously, Saudi officials said.

Mr. Bush angrily condemned the attacks. "These despicable acts were committed by killers whose only faith is hate," he said today during a trip to Pierce City, Mo., to view recent damage from tornadoes. "The United States will find the killers, and they will learn the meaning of American justice."

Crown Prince Abdullah, in an address to Saudis, swore to "confront and destroy" the attackers. "If those murderers believe that their bloody crimes will shake even one hair on the body of this nation and its unity, they are deceiving themselves," he said. "If they believe they will shake the security and stability of our country, they are dreaming."

While the Bush administration ordered all nonessential diplomatic employees and their families to return home, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that it was sending agents to Saudi Arabia to assist with the investigation.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, accompanied by Saudi leaders, toured an apartment complex with its entire front side blown off. The blast left a crater 10 feet deep. Furniture and clothing were strewn about and a nearly obliterated truck was turned upside down. The pungent stench of explosives hung in the torrid air.

Mr. Powell, who arrived in Riyadh late this morning for a previously scheduled meeting with the crown prince, seemed shaken by the scene. "This was a well-planned terrorist attack, obviously," he said somberly, with the wreckage arrayed behind him. "The facility had been cased, as had the others. Very well executed. And it shows the nature of the enemy we're working against. These are people who are determined to try to penetrate facilities like this for the purpose of killing people in their sleep, killing innocent people, killing people who would try to help others."

Like other officials, Mr. Powell said there was no evidence that Al Qaeda had carried out the attack, but he said it had that group's "fingerprints."

Mr. Bush said the White House had suspicions about who was responsible for the attacks. "I can't say for certain it was Al Qaeda, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was," he said.

Last week, the Saudi police raided a suspected Islamic militant cell here, but the 19 suspects escaped in a shootout. Today, a Saudi official said the government suspected that at least some of the 19 being sought last week took part in the bomb attack. He added that the government had expected a strike in the country for at least six weeks, based on intercepts and people it had apprehended.

American officials said the three attacks were almost identical in method. In each case, a vehicle sped to a lightly guarded entry gate of one of three large residential compounds in the northeastern part of the sprawling capital. Gunmen shot their way past the sentries and stormed the guardhouses. After they opened the gates and removed other barriers, a second car or truck packed with explosives made its way into the compound, following similar routes to the center before setting off an explosion.

A primary target was the Vinnell Arabia compound, home to 500 employees of the Vinnell Corporation, of Fairfax, Va., a subsidiary of the Northrop Grumman Corporation, which trains members of the Saudi National Guard. The seven Americans who were killed had lived in one of the apartments in the complex. They have yet to be identified. By a stroke of luck, 50 of the 70 residents of the building were away that night on a training exercise, a United States official said.

A military officer at the Vinnell Arabia compound, which was visited by Mr. Powell, said that all of the attacks took place within a few minutes of each other, at about 11:20 p.m. local time, and that it appeared that the truck at the Vinnell complex contained 400 pounds of an explosive material like RDX or Semtex. He said it was possible that some of the attackers had fled at either the compound entrance or from the second vehicle before it exploded.

The other two compounds were identified as Al Hamra and Gedawal, both occupied by some of the thousands of foreigners working for businesses and trade organizations. Saudi officials estimate that between 15,000 and 35,000 foreigners live in Riyadh, most of them in compounds with 20-foot walls that provide the privacy that enables them to lead normal Western lives free of Islamic strictures.

Family members whose apartments were blown up at Al Hamra said this evening that many of their colleagues had left the country before the recent war with Iraq and returned in recent weeks with a renewed feeling of security.

"Before the war, they asked us all to leave," said Jelal Berkel, 39, an employee of Saudi Snack Foods, a subsidiary of Frito Lay. "But we said we feel secure in the compound. What a mistake."

He said he and his wife, Elif, heard a loud clicking sound late at night, at first thinking it was firecrackers. It turned out to be automatic gunfire. When they went to the window, they said they saw an orange light filling the sky, followed by an explosion and then intense heat. The blast blew open their windows and doors.

"It looked like a cruise missile or a Tomahawk or Scud missile fell into the place," Mr. Berkel said.

The Berkels said they were leaving Saudi Arabia immediately and predicted that other foreigners would follow. They seemed puzzled by their own recent complacency. Mrs. Berkel said the security gate to their compound, which had been closed during the war with Iraq, had been left open recently.

"You believe what you want to believe," she said. "We thought it was very secure. We were just so happy and relaxed that everything was back to normal."

While some people may have drawn the conclusion that tensions had died down after the recent Iraq war, the United States issued an unusually specific warning on May 1 that terrorists "may be in the final phases of planning attacks" on American targets in Saudi Arabia.

Since the Persian Gulf war of 1991, when Saudi Arabia joined with the United States to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait, Al Qaeda has sought to force the American military out of Saudi Arabia, accusing the royal family of allowing infidels too much influence over territory that contains Islam's holiest sites. In an effort to reduce tensions after the Iraq war, the United States announced plans to draw down its forces in the country.

One of the main objectives of Mr. Powell's trip was to patch up American relations with Arab states suspicious of American motives in the Iraq war. To that end, he was trying to get Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to put pressure on the Palestinian leadership to crack down on terrorist attacks against Israel.

The Arabs were disappointed with Mr. Powell's diplomacy, complaining that he had wrung too few concessions from Israel. The secretary heard about the bomb attacks around midnight but decided to go to Saudi Arabia anyway, perhaps out of concern that to cancel would have been a blow to Saudi prestige.

Upon arriving here, Mr. Powell met the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, at the Riyadh airport. Prince Saud noted that the victims of the attacks were both Americans and Saudis. "It shows, but it is no consolation, that these things happen everywhere," he said.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company | Home | Privacy Policy | Search | Corrections | Help | Back to Top

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