Saudi military forces on highest state of alert

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi Arabia has placed its military and security forces on high alert.

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz said the security forces were placed on the highest state of alert over the last 24 hours. The minister said the alert was issued in Riyad and all major Saudi cities in wake of a string of Al Qaida suicide attacks against U.S. defense compounds in Riyad.

In the oil-rich region of the Eastern Province, Saudi reinforcements arrived to patrol Dhahran and man roadblocks in the area, Saudi media reports said on Wednesday. Thousands of U.S. nationals work for Saudi Aramco and the U.S. consulate in the city was closed, Middle East Newsline reported.

On Wednesday, the casualty count that stemmed from the Al Qaida attacks remained in dispute. Saudi Arabia reported 30 people were killed in the Al Qaida attacks. U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney said 91 people were killed. Later, a State Department official said up to 50 people were killed.

"Twenty-one people were killed in the car bombs in Riyad last night," the Saudi Interior Ministry said in a statement on late Tuesday. "Nine charred bodies were also found at the sites, and they are believed to be those of the terrorists."

Saudi officials said the suicide attacks were staged by an Al Qaida cell composed of at least 19 Islamic fugitives, 17 of them Saudi nationals. Last week, they said, authorities raided a safe house used by cell and which contained more than 350 kilograms of weapons and explosives and well as tens of thousands of dollars. The weapons were believed to have been smuggled from Yemen.

The Al Qaida cell, the officials said, was trained in Afghanistan and fought against the United States in 2001. They said the insurgents also participated in the war against Russia in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

Officials said Al Qaida had targeted U.S. nationals and interests in the series of suicide bombings. But they said that the huge majority of the casualties were Arab and other Western nationals.

"I pledge to my fellow citizens and to the friends who live among us that the state will be vigilant about their security and well-being," Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz said in a televised address. "Our nation is capable, by the grace of God and the unity of its citizens, to confront and destroy the threat posed by a deviant few and those who support them."

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