Saudi Attack Prompts Plea To Leave

A Saudi policeman guards U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Oberwetter as he prepares to enter a press conference in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia Monday May 3, 2004. Unidentified gunmen opened fire Saturday while being chased through the city by police after the militants went on a shooting rampage that killed at least six people, including five foreigners. AP

The U.S. ambassador on Monday urged Americans to leave Saudi Arabia after a weekend shooting rampage that killed five Westerners, while an embassy spokeswoman confirmed that the body of an American victim had been "badly mutilated."

Ambassador James C. Oberwetter met for an hour with Yanbu's American community at the Holiday Inn, its facade pocked with bullet holes from gunfire exchanges as police chased the assailants in Saturday's violence.

Participants said his message was clear: We cannot protect you here.

"I'm very, very frightened. We still don't know whether we are going to stay or not, but I think it's really time for us to leave," said an American teacher who, like most others, would not give her name.

She and her husband decided to stay after past bombings and attacks in Saudi Arabia, she said, but this time was different. Some other teachers at the American school where she works saw the body of one of the victim's being dragged down the street, she said.

The meeting was closed to journalists, but at a news conference, Oberwetter confirmed he had urged the Americans to leave the country.

"While we are doing this urging, the U.S. government is not in a position to cause that to happen," he said. "Those are individual decisions by private Americans and by those companies."

The violence began Saturday when four men sprayed the offices of oil contractor ABB Lummus Global Inc. with gunfire, then tied the body of one of the victims to the bumper of a car and headed for the Ibn Hayyan Secondary Boys School. Traumatized Saudi schoolchildren recounted how the attackers summoned them with gunfire to watch the body being dragged.

Two Americans, two Britons, an Australian and a Saudi died in the attack, which ended with gunbattles as police gave chase. All four attackers — who police said were Saudi brothers — were killed.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Lisa Swenarski said the body of one of the Americans was "badly mutilated," but she could not confirm the body had been dragged.

"We're still trying to determine what happened to him," she said. American and company officials have not yet identified the dead.

ABB officials have said all their foreign staff would be transferred out of Yanbu. A Western diplomat said their flights out were expected later Monday.

"I'm looking forward to going home now," said Ken Henderson, an engineer with the Houston-based oil contractor.

Henderson, 50, of Long Beach, Texas, said he will return to the kingdom later, but to work in his company's office in Khobar, in eastern Saudi Arabia.

ABB employees gathered at the Holiday Inn before the ambassador's meeting. The Americans, Australians, Indians, Filipinos and Britons were working out departure details for the company's 90 foreign workers plus family members.

"My wife is crying and begging me to come home. … We are all going home," said Dennis Guades, a 36-year-old Filipino engineer desperate to see his 2-year-old son, D.J. "I need a job to support my family, but I don't want to die."

Guades, among about 30 Filipino employees, wasn't sure if he would return.

Saudi troops have deployed heavy weaponry to guard foreigners' houses and offices in Yanbu, 220 miles north of the Red Sea port of Jiddah. Troops patrol the streets in armored vehicles and government officials have vowed to hunt down terrorists who have struck four foreign targets in Saudi Arabia in the past year.

Seventeen people were killed in a suicide bombing at a housing compound in the capital on Nov. 8, and in May, suicide bombings at three housing compounds in Riyadh left 35 dead, including 9 suicide bombers.

A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that one of the attackers was reportedly on the kingdom's list of most-wanted terrorists, although he gave no further details.

Oberwetter praised Saudi Arabia's response to the wave of terrorism and pledged U.S. help in its effort. More than 600 suspects have been detained in the Saudi crackdown.

Updating an alert issued last month, the State Department had warned on Thursday that, "citizens should remain alert to the continuing threat of anti-American violence, including possible terrorist actions against aviation, ground transportation and maritime interests, specifically in the Middle East, including the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa."
  • Brian Dakss

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