U.S. diplomats ordered to stay indoors in Saudi Arabia

Sunday, December 7, 2003

U.S. officials said the State Department has ordered American diplomats and staffers to remain indoors over the next few days during a heightened alert of an imminent Al Qaida attack.

The officials said the Defense Department has issued similar restrictions to defense and military staffers in the kingdom.

U.S. government staffers and their families were ordered not to leave their homes or compounds except for essential duties. Officials said the restrictions would remain in effect until the Al Qaida alert subsides.

[In Kuwait, sheikdom officials have acknowledged that it received alerts of an Al Qaida attack, Middle East Newsline reported. One alert concerned the prospect of an Al Qaida anti-aircraft missile attack against U.S.-led coalition military planes heading toward Iraq.]

"The embassy continues to be concerned about the current situation in Saudi Arabia," an embassy statement said. "Effective immediately, travel of all embassy personnel and dependents of the Riyad diplomatic quarter should be restricted to essential business only. Similar restrictions will be placed on American personnel and dependents at the consulates in Jedda and Dhahran."

The heightened alert comes amid the interrogation of a suspect in the Muhaya compound suicide bombing on Nov. 9. The raid of the suspected Al Qaida stronghold on Nov. 25 also resulted in the capture of a huge amount of weapons, explosives as well as a video of future targets.

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia released the names and photos of its 26 most wanted terrorist suspects. At the same time, a purported Al Qaida affiliate -- the Brigade of the Two Holy Mosques claimed responsibility for the attempted assassination of a senior Saudi police official over the weekend as part of a drive to topple the regime. The officer was identified as Brig. Gen. Abdul Aziz Al Huwairini.

Officials said Saudi and U.S. authorities have determined that Al Qaida has targeted several U.S. installations and American-inhabited compounds in such major cities as Jedda and Riyad. They said they have evidence that Al Qaida targeted the Seder Village in Riyad for a suicide bombing in late November. There are about 30,000 Americans in Saudi Arabia.

On Thursday, Saudi security forces captured two suspected insurgents during a gun battle in the Taif governorate. One of the suspects escaped.

At the same time, Saudi authorities have detained a British national and American citizen in Jedda. David Heaton is a British national who converted to Islam; Abdul Latif Ibrahim Bilal is a U.S. national and the brother of a leading suspected Taliban agent detained in the United States. Both men were said to have completed a scuba diving course during the month of Ramadan.

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