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Saudis make al Qaeda pledge


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RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia says it will make al Qaeda pay for suicide bombings that killed 34 people including seven Americans and will hunt down the masterminds with FBI help.

But the U.S. ambassador to Riyadh criticised the kingdom for failing to respond swiftly to U.S. demands for tighter security at the housing compounds for foreigners which the attackers stormed on Monday, killing at least seven Americans.

The U.S. embassy, which is sending home all but essential staff, said it would evacuate any of the 40,000 Americans in the country who wanted to leave.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal promised to find those behind the bombings, the first major attack on U.S. targets since the United States waged war on Iraq to stamp out terrorism and oust Saddam Hussein.

"Saudi Arabia is committed to...striking with an iron fist all who are tampering with the country's security," he told a news conference in Riyadh on Wednesday.

"Whoever did this will regret it because they have unified this country's determination to extract this cancer (terrorism) and ensure that it doesn't return."

U.S. President George W. Bush said the bombing meant the war on terror launched after September 11, 2001, was far from over.

A U.S. official said a team of FBI agents was waiting in Germany for Saudi approval to head to the kingdom.

Saudi officials said the prime suspects in the blasts were a group of 19 al Qaeda suspects, who disappeared in Riyadh last week after a shootout with police. A high-level Saudi security official said the army was erecting checkpoints all over the vast desert kingdom.

"We believe this group is behind the terrorist attack and suspect that they have links to al Qaeda," he told Reuters.


Officials and terror experts said the attacks bore all the hallmarks of Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, the group blamed for the 2001 attacks on America which prompted a U.S.-led war on Afghanistan to try to root it out.

The British Foreign Office said after the blasts there was a "high threat" of more attacks against Western interests in Saudi Arabia. It said two of its citizens were missing.

In a U.S. television interview, the U.S. Ambassador in Riyadh Robert Jordan criticised the Saudi authorities for not responding quickly to U.S. requests for more security.

He also said the conservative Muslim kingdom where Saudis sympathise with bin Laden had a "long way to go" to ending terror attacks against foreigners.

But Prince Saud, who refused to discuss any details about the attacks, said there was no way the kingdom could have ignored the U.S. demands "if they were feasible".


Despite the heightened security threat, many Western firms said they had no plans to walk away from the lucrative business to be had in the world's biggest oil exporter, which also has a huge defence budget.

The bombings were carried out just hours before a scheduled visit by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has been on a Middle East tour to explain U.S. policy after the overthrow of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and has travelled on to Moscow.

Monday's attacks could widen rifts between Riyadh and Washington, deepening American suspicions of an ally now seen as a source of Islamist militancy, and fuelling the resentment of many Saudis at U.S. policy towards Iraq and the Palestinians.

Despite this anger, many Saudis said innocent expatriates living in their country did not deserve this.

"What does this have to do with Islam? These criminals are harming us Muslims more than anybody else," said Nala al-Dhaher, a Saudi woman who lost her brother and friends in the attacks.

Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador in Washington, said in a statement of condolence to victims' families that the perpetrators had committed a "crime against humanity".

Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Abdullah denounced the attacks and vowed they would not destabilise the kingdom, where there have been several anti-Western attacks in recent years.

Assailants drove, guns blazing, into three guarded housing compounds for expatriates shortly before midnight and set off huge car bombs.

The bombers killed two Saudi soldiers and wounded two others at the main gate of one well-defended compound housing employees of U.S. defence contractor Northrop Grumman Vinnell subsidiary before blowing the front off a four-storey building housing unaccompanied or bachelor employees.

The company said seven U.S. citizens and two Philippine nationals were killed. Of the 70 men who usually sleep in the building, 50 were out in the desert that night on an exercise.

Yahoo News

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