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AFTER THE WAR

Survivor on Attack: 'Worst Nightmare'

May 13, 2003|Josh Meyer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The bursts of automatic gunfire were what drew John Crossley to the window of his villa in the Saudi capital Monday night, but it was the deafening car-bomb explosion soon after that knocked him senseless and landed him in the hospital.

Crossley, in a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times, said he considered himself lucky to have survived the blast, which occurred shortly after 11:30 p.m. in his normally sleepy residential compound in Riyadh. The explosion, one of at least three at compounds that appeared to be part of a coordinated terrorist attack, was far away, he said, yet still blew out the doors and windows of his two-story house.

Other villas were leveled by the force of the blast, said Crossley, 51, a British telecommunications executive. He still did not know the fate of friends and colleagues there, he said hours later at Saudi German Hospital.

"There is severe damage.... It's bad, I'm told," Crossley said as he fielded calls from his neighbors at Al Hamra Oasis Village. "There were a lot of people with injuries, a lot of people in shock. I can't imagine that there were no fatalities."

He paused for a long moment. "It is quite astonishing. What can you say?" said Crossley. "It is your worst nightmare come true."

According to Crossley, a carload of men in a car shot their way into the compound, apparently after trying unsuccessfully to sneak in behind the car of a resident. Guards gave chase, and gunshots echoed through the streets for what seemed to be minutes before the vehicle exploded.

Crossley said he and other Westerners in Saudi Arabia had long ago grown accustomed to going about their daily lives despite the threat of terrorist attack -- even in recent weeks when U.S., British and Saudi officials began sounding ever more frequent and dire warnings.

As the balmy night quiet was shattered by gunfire, Crossley still thought the noise might be firecrackers. So he crawled to the window for a look, quickly realized it was a car-to-car gun battle and ducked for cover.

"The next moment, all hell broke loose. I feel very, very lucky just to be here," he said.

Crossley, who suffered cuts to his face and scalp from glass shards, said his co-workers had long ago sent their families back to the United States and Europe, and that his company and other firms would now most certainly evacuate the employees.

"We expected an attack on our offices. We never expected one at our homes," he said. "The fact that they have attacked three compounds in a coordinated way sends a message to the Western community that we are not safe here. It's like they're saying, 'We can get you any time, anywhere.' "

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