Marine contingent sent to guard 'vulnerable' U.S. consulate

Friday, December 10, 2004

ABU DHABI The United States has sent a Marine Corps unit to bolster security at a key consulate that came under attack on Dec. 6, after Saudi Arabia had warned it had security vulnerabilities.

Officials said a Marine unit has arrived in Jedda to increase security at the U.S. consulate. They said the unit, composed of 50 soldiers with urban warfare training, has specialized in counter-insurgency missions.

Meanwhile, Saudi officials said Riyad had warned the United States that the consulate in Jedda could not be properly secured. They said the facility was exposed on several sides to both vehicle and pedestrian traffic, Middle East Newsline reported.

"This was not a new request," a Saudi official said. "We have been concerned by the vulnerability of the consulate for a good few months."

On Dec. 6, Al Qaida insurgents stormed the U.S. consulate in Jedda, killing at least five people. Four of the five insurgents said to have participated in the attack were killed and one was captured.

National Guard deputy commander Prince Miteb Bin Abdullah said he met with U.S. diplomats on Nov. 7 to discuss the prospect of moving the facility. Miteb said the consulate was under threat as it was positioned between four main thoroughfares.

U.S. diplomats said they would consider the Saudi request, the prince said. Miteb also said the consulate was not properly secured, saying the facility should have contained a multi-layered entrance, rather than merely one gate.

The Marine unit, officials said, would help defend the perimeter of the consulate. U.S. embassy spokeswoman Carol Kalin said the Marine unit arrived in Jedda on Dec. 8. Ms. Kalin said the Marines would reinforce the consulate's defenses.

The Marines would be part of the Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team, a unit established by the State Department to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities abroad. Officials said security at all U.S. missions in Saudi Arabia would be enhanced and that the Jedda consulate would be reopened when the Marine reinforcements were ready for deployment.

U.S. officials said the arrival of the unit came amid a review of security at the Jedda consulate. They said Marines acted quickly in sealing the consulate building and firing toward the Al Qaida attackers. They also said the Marines coordinated with Saudi security forces in an effort to end the siege.

The State Department said it was reviewing security in wake of the unprecedented penetration of a diplomatic facility in Saudi Arabia.

Officials said Al Qaida had conducted extensive reconnaissance of the consulate to determine its points of vulnerability.

"It's clear that some of these people have been looking at our procedures," U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Oberwetter told a news conference on Dec. 7. "They clearly understood how our cars entered the compound and in my view had scoped it out."

Oberwetter said the United States would not move its Jedda consulate. But he pledged to bolster security.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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