Americans Targeted In Saudi Attack

Saudi special forces and ambulalances leave the Oasis compound Sunday, May 30, 2004, after the security forces ended a siege and freed the hostages. Gunmen opened fire Saturday in separate attacks on three housing compounds in the eastern Saudi Arabia city of Khobar and at least 10 people were killed including three Westerners. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali) CBS

Violence erupted in the Saudi capital and in the western part of the terror-plagued kingdom Wednesday, with American military personnel fired on in Riyadh and police killing two wanted militants in Taif.

A brief U.S. Embassy statement said shots were fired Wednesday morning on two vehicles carrying U.S. military personnel near a Saudi National Guard compound where a U.S. training unit is based. The convoy returned immediately to the compound. The statement said a driver, whose nationality was not given, was slightly injured. It was not clear whether the driver was shot.

"Saudi Arabian authorities are investigating the incident," the statement concluded.

This latest attack could send oil markets soaring even beyond Tuesday's spike of $42 a barrel, an historic high, reports CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Palmer. It's likely to further undermine confidence in the world's largest oil producer.

Saudi security officials had said earlier that no one was injured in the shooting in the southern part of the capital. The conflicting reports could not be immediately reconciled.

The residential compound at one time housed U.S. military servicemen, but is now home to Saudis, other Arab expatriates and some Westerners, a Saudi security official said on condition of anonymity. Calls to the compound switchboard reached an automatic answering service that identifies is as an installation of "OPM SANG" — Office of the Program Manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard. An operator who picked up later refused comment.

In Taif, 465 miles southwest of Riyadh and just south of the holy city of Mecca, Saudi security forces Wednesday killed two key militants with alleged ties to a shooting attack and hostage-taking in eastern Saudi Arabia that killed 22 people, the Interior Ministry said.

The ministry, in a statement reported by the official Saudi Press Agency, said security forces surrounded the two men in a remote area in al-Hada, on the Taif-Mecca highway in western Saudi Arabia, and killed them after they threw grenades and shot at the troops.

There was no immediate word on what involvement the two allegedly had in the weekend violence in Khobar which was said to have targeted westerners.

The identities of the two men were not released. The statement said one of the men was disguised as a woman. It said there were no injuries among security forces.

Saudi authorities began a high-profile crackdown on Islamic militants after a May 2003 attack on a Riyadh housing compound killed 35 people, including nine suicide bombers. Since then, there have been numerous shootouts with militants on Saudi streets.

On Sunday, Saudi commandos and security forces ended a 25-hour shooting rampage and hostage siege in the eastern oil city of Khobar in which the 22 people — mostly foreigners working in the oil industry — were killed. One gunman was wounded and arrested; three others escaped.

In Washington Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher reiterated his government's advice that Americans leave Saudi Arabia.

Boucher said Americans were being urged to leave even though "it's clear that Saudi security forces are very aggressively pursuing the terrorists who are operating in their homeland. They have been successful in preventing several attacks. And, in many cases, that cost Saudi lives as well."

Boucher said the United States and Saudi Arabia were working closely together against terrorism.

Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden has vowed to destabilize the Saudi government, which the Saudi-born extremist views as insufficiently Islamic and which he derides for its close relationship with the United States. Saudi officials have linked militant violence in the kingdom to al Qaeda or to other groups believed inspired by bin Laden.

The Khobar attack sparked increases in already high global oil prices, amid fears that the Saudi government, which controls the world's largest proven crude reserves, cannot protect its vital oil installations.

In Lebanon Wednesday, Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi said his country was taking adequate steps to safeguard its most important facilities.

The Saudi oil minister moved fast to reassure the world his government will bring oil prices down to around $28 a barrel by increasing production, Palmer reports. But that will only work as long as the Saudis can protect key installations.

"The illusion that terrorism threatens petroleum facilities in the world is not true. I assure you that installations in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia are secure because they are under intensive protection to prevent such acts," he said in a speech at the Beirut offices of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.

Naimi was in Beirut for a formal Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries meeting Thursday on production policy. Saudi Arabia is already boosting its own production to try to get prices down, Naimi said earlier that he would urge OPEC to raise its output ceiling by as much as 2.5 million barrels a day, or 11 percent.
  • Brian Dakss

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