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Too close for Saudi royal comfort

Riyadh, Nov. 9 (Reuters): Saudi interior minister Prince Nayef and some other Saudi royals have private homes near the housing compound ripped apart by suspected al Qaida suicide bombers in Riyadh today, a western diplomat said.

“This is an area which has several private residences for members of the Saudi royal family. It was about half a mile from one of the houses of Prince Nayef,” the diplomat said.

Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Islam, is battling a surge in Islamist violence. Supporters of al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden have threatened both Saudi rulers and Western expatriates who hold key jobs in the kingdom, the world’s biggest oil exporter.

The bombed Muhaya compound was about one-and-a-half miles away from the diplomatic quarter in Riyadh where the US and Britain have their embassies.

The diplomat said the compound, housing foreigners mostly from Arab states, might have been chosen as a “soft target” by militants after a recent crackdown by Saudi security forces.

“It could be that a group had a pre-arranged plan to carry out an attack and because of recent arrests acted quickly and chose a soft target. The security at the compound was not extensive,” said the Saudi-based diplomat.

Diplomats said the bombers killed up to 30 people and wounded up to 100 in the devastating attack, which occurred a day after the US warned of terrorist raids and shut its missions in Saudi Arabia. A Saudi security official blamed al Qaida for the attack on the Muhaya residential compound in west Riyadh.

The attack occurred nearly six months after triple suicide bombings at Riyadh housing compounds on May 12 killed 35 people, including nine Americans.

Saudi Arabia blamed those bombings on al Qaida. A purported bin Laden audio tape released last month promised suicide attacks inside and outside the US.

On Friday, the US issued its second security warning on Saudi Arabia in almost as many weeks, saying terrorists were planning attacks in the kingdom. US missions were shut in the kingdom yesterday for a security review.

The warnings were issued before and during Ramazan.

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