A car bomb was detonated by remote control near the Interior Ministry in central Riyadh — killing a bystander, according to Saudi TV — followed soon after by an explosion when two suicide attackers tried to bomb a troop recruitment center.
The gunmen who set off the ministry blast fled, but then engaged in a gunbattle with police in northern Riyadh that killed seven militants and wounded an undetermined number of officers, police said.
The attacks came two weeks after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden called on his followers to focus attacks on his homeland. While damage to the Interior Ministry was minor, it was a bold assault on the government body at the center of Saudi Arabia's war on other Islamic extremists.
Prince Ahmed bin Abdel Aziz, the deputy interior minister, told Saudi TV the attackers were all Saudis. He said they were "terrorists (who) took a great risk, because they know that their end is imminent."
The violence sparked a jump in oil prices in afternoon trading in New York, helping push the price of a barrel of light crude up nearly $2 a barrel to $43.64.
The first explosion went off around 8:30 p.m. near the Interior Ministry, a huge modern high-rise in a complex that includes a luxury hotel. Two militants set off a car bomb by remote control in a traffic tunnel near the ministry, police said. A limousine driver was killed, Saudi TV said.
Shattered glass littered the ground near the ministry, and several damaged cars — including a blood-splattered taxi — sat outside.
A half hour later, a second explosion shook the city. Two suicide bombers tried to drive into a troop recruitment center about five miles away, but they came under fire from police and set off their explosives prematurely. The two bombers died, but there were no other reports of casualties.
The two militants behind the ministry blast, apparently joined by accomplices, later fought with police in a northern district of the capital. The gunmen, armed with automatic weapons and grenades, holed up in a building and were killed while fighting with officers who surrounded the structure, police said.
An Interior Ministry official said several policemen were wounded, but did not give a specific number. Abel Rahman al Sewilem, head of the Saudi Red Crescent Society, told Saudi TV that four to five people were injured. He did not say whether they were police, attackers or bystanders or provide any other details.
The explosions took place at night, when few employees were at the ministry or the recruitment center. Past militant attacks, including some claimed by al Qaeda, appeared designed to maximize casualties, but drew heavy criticism when many of the dead were Arab and Muslim.
Extremists have staged a number of attacks recently, but none on the scale of dramatic operations early this year and last year that killed dozens.
Early Wednesday, a suspected militant was killed in Riyadh after tossing a bomb and shooting at security agents, a security official said. On Tuesday, another suspect and a bystander were killed in a shootout in the same Riyadh neighborhood, an Interior Ministry official said. One suspect was captured in that incident.
The extremists' biggest attack recently came Dec. 6, when militants said to belong to al Qaeda's Saudi branch stormed the U.S. consulate in Jiddah, killing nine people.
Ten days later, bin Laden issued his audiotape — his first message in years directed specifically at Saudis. He praised those who carried out the consulate raid and urged his followers to attack the kingdom's oil installations to weaken both the West and the Saudi royal family.
Saudi forces have cracked down on al Qaeda — killing and arresting a large number of its suspected top figures in the country — after the large attacks early in the year.
In May, gunmen attacked oil company compounds in Khobar, 250 miles northeast of Riyadh, and killed 22 people, 19 of them foreigners. Earlier the same month, attackers stormed the offices of an American company in Yanbu, 220 miles north of Jiddah, killing six Westerners and a Saudi.
On April 21, a suicide bomber struck a government building in Riyadh, killing five people. In November 2003, a suicide bombing at a Riyadh housing compound killed 17 people, most of them Muslims working in Saudi Arabia.