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Militants Kill Five at U.S. Consulate

December 07, 2004|Paul Richter and Rami G. Khouri | Special to The Times

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — Militants blasted their way into the U.S. Consulate compound in the Saudi city of Jidda on Monday in a brazen midday attack that left five consulate employees and four attackers dead.

None of those killed were American. The attackers, believed to be Al Qaeda sympathizers, hurled grenades to break through the outer gate of the compound but were overwhelmed by Saudi security forces before they could penetrate the main building where Americans were working, Saudi and U.S. officials said.

It was the deadliest extremist attack in the kingdom since May, and the first in which militants struck a Western diplomatic facility in Saudi Arabia.

Analysts said the assault demonstrates that although militant cells have been affected by increasing pressure from the Saudi government -- including a raid two weeks ago in Jidda -- they remain capable of mounting deadly operations.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday December 08, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Consulate attack -- The byline on an article in Tuesday's Section A about the assault by militants on the U.S. Consulate in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, gave the name of journalist Ramzi E. Khoury as Rami G. Khouri.

The slain consulate workers were a Saudi, a Yemeni, an Egyptian, a Pakistani and an Indian. One of the workers was a security guard, and the rest were motor pool and general service employees, officials said. One American was hurt, suffering slight injuries during a hurried evacuation.

President Bush said the attacks "remind us that the terrorists are still on the move" around the world.

"They want us to leave Saudi Arabia, they want us to leave Iraq, they want us to grow timid and weary in the face of their willingness to kill randomly, kill innocent people," he said.

The assault began about 10:30 a.m., when three attackers riding in an automobile hurled an incendiary grenade at the main gate of the consulate complex, a large facility that was once the U.S. Embassy, according to officials and reports from the scene. Incendiary grenades are used to start fires and generate thick smoke that can conceal movement, officials said.

The first grenade apparently was intended to distract security forces, because the attackers then drove to the eastern gate of the compound. When they were refused entry, the three men climbed out of their car, throwing grenades and spraying the area with fire from automatic weapons, witnesses and officials said.

Joined by two attackers from a second car, the militants walked through the gate into the grassy courtyard area inside the high outer wall, which is draped with barbed wire. A number of smaller buildings are clustered in the courtyard, in front of the main building.

Adel Jubeir, Saudi foreign affairs advisor, said the gunmen had called a local emergency telephone line, telling authorities: "This is the Fallouja Brigade. We are in the U.S. Embassy.... Tell the security forces not to enter the embassy. We have 17 hostages."

Saudi officials denied that anyone was held hostage. But the attackers' presence threatened about 30 people in the immediate area, Jubeir said. These included employees and Saudis who were in the compound seeking visa or other services.

At the time of the attack, there may have been as many as 100 people within the complex, which covers several acres, Jubeir said.

The attackers hauled down the U.S. flag and burned it, Associated Press reported.

A Saudi official who asked not to be identified said he suspected the "Fallouja Brigade" name had little significance and was chosen by the militants only because of recent news coverage about the U.S. offensive against insurgents in Fallouja, Iraq.

The Fallouja Brigade was also the name of an Iraqi force that was handed control of that insurgent stronghold last spring after an aborted U.S. siege. The force, which worked with the insurgents, was later disbanded.

In a statement, the Saudi government referred to the consulate attackers as "deviants," a term it has used before to refer to members of Al Qaeda and related groups.

Late Monday, a group called Al Qaeda Organization in the Arabian Peninsula took responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on a website often used by Islamists. The statement, whose authenticity could not be verified, said a "squadron" had stormed "one of the bastions of the crusaders in the Arabian Peninsula," wire services reported.

By 11 a.m., about 250 Saudi military vehicles and more than 1,000 Saudi security personnel had encircled the consulate, said Mohammed Sabeel, a witness who works close to the compound.

Snipers were positioned on buildings overlooking the grounds.

After the attack began, most consulate employees sought protection in two bomb-proof "safe havens" in the main building. One of these rooms is in the consul general's office, and the other is adjacent to the public relations department, a consulate employee said.

The consul general, Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, was in her office at the time and heard the gunfire, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

Jubeir said Saudi special forces arrived within 30 minutes of the first shots and took about four minutes to kill three of the attackers and capture the two others.

One of those captured later died, Saudi officials said in televised news reports.

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