Saudis rebuffed U.S. requests for added security

Thursday, May 15, 2003

The United States has accused Saudi Arabia of failing to provide sufficient security for Americans in the kingdom.

Breaking its silence since the Al Qaida strikes in September 2001, the Bush administration said Saudi authorities refused to cooperate with requests for additional soldiers and combat equipment around compounds in which Americans lived. They said this refusal led the State Department to advise Americans not to travel to the kingdom and urge those in Saudi Arabia to leave.

"We did request additional security for sites," State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker said on Wednesday. "There were clearly some shortcomings in this."

Officials said the Saudi National Guard troops deployed at the Western compounds targeted by Al Qaida were poorly equipped and disciplined, Middle East Newsline reported. They said security guards at the compounds often stood at their stations without their personal weapons.

Officials said the kingdom did not want to acknowledge CIA reports of an imminent Al Qaida threat despite a briefing by a senior White House official sent to Riyad last week. They said that at one point Saudi authorities added police patrols around some Western compounds, but withdrew them after several days.

A U.S. government security team sent to the kingdom late last month identified 300 U.S. installations and residency compounds that required additional Saudi security. Officials said one of the compounds was Jedawal, which was blown up by Al Qaida insurgents on early Tuesday.

U.S. ambassador to Riyad Robert Jordan said the United States had urged Saudi authorities to tighten security around the same Western residential compounds attacked by Al Qaida on early Tuesday. State Department officials said at least eight Americans were killed in the suicide strikes.

Jordan, who had consistently lauded U.S.-Saudi security cooperation, said Saudi authorities ignored several U.S. requests for additional security personnel. He said the Saudi soldiers stationed at the compound operated by the U.S. Vinnell Corp., which trained the National Guard, demonstrated little resistance against the Al Qaida attackers.

"As soon as we learned of this particular threat information, we contacted the Saudi government," Jordan said in a television interview on Wednesday. "We continue to work with the Saudis on this, but they did not, as of the time of this tragic event, provide the additional security we requested."

ABC television said a U.S. team recommended that the Saudi National Guard deploy combat vehicles with machine guns at Jedawal and other compounds. The television network reported that a Saudi air force brigadier general rejected the U.S. request.

"The fact is that Saudi Arabia must deal with the fact it has terrorists inside its own country," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "We're going to continue to push Saudi Arabia to work with us to do more."

Jordan, who was said to have recommended that Washington threaten Riyad with a severance of diplomatic relations, reported an unprecedented level of concern among U.S. and other nationals. He urged non-essential staff and families to leave Saudi Arabia.

"Westerners are very concerned right now, certainly the most concerned I've seen them since I've been here," Jordan said. "There is a great feeling of uncertainty as to the security situation."

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