| Lebanese Nehmeh Muchantaf, who was injured in Sunday’s bombing, comforts his wife at a hospital in Riyadh. (AFP)
Riyadh, Nov. 10 (Reuters): A US official said today the al Qaida network was trying to topple the pro-Western Saudi government and royal family, but Riyadh vowed militants would not destabilise the world’s biggest oil exporter.
“It is quite clear to me that al Qaida wants to take down the royal family and the government of Saudi Arabia,” US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage told Al Arabiya television, excerpts of which were broadcast today.
Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida group is suspected of staging a suicide attack yesterday that killed at least 17 people and wounded 120 in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. In May, a triple suicide bombing on a Riyadh housing complex killed 35 people.
Armitage said yesterday’s attack was shocking but noted Saudi security forces had gone on the offensive since May.
“So from our point of view, the authorities are working 24/7 to try to better the situation,” he said, noting the difficulty was that the defenders must “be right 100 per cent of the time and the terrorists only have to be right once”.
Washington has been pressing Saudi Arabia to combat al Qaida, believed responsible for the attacks on US cities on September 11, 2001. Fifteen out of the 19 attackers were Saudis.
Saudi officials said they would hunt down those behind yesterday’s attack and, along with Washington, blamed al Qaida. “(The attack is) a sign of desperation and not the sign... of someone who is going to succeed in upsetting the social balance or the political structure of the country,” Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki al-Faisal, said.
The bombers yesterday posed as police and blew up an explosives-rigged car in the Muhaya compound in Riyadh.
Security has been stepped up for diplomats and on Western residences in Riyadh. Many compounds for expatriates, who hold key jobs in the kingdom’s oil industry and military programmes, already resemble army camps from the outside.
Ringed by up to 50 soldiers from Saudi Arabia’s national guard, the compounds’ high perimeter walls are topped by razor wire, surrounded with concrete blocks and monitored by close circuit television. Some have machine guns at the gate and armoured vehicles covered by netting near the entrance.
Armitage, who arrived in Riyadh yesterday, said: “I can’t say that last night’s attack was the only or the last attack. My view is these al Qaida terrorists — and I believe it was al Qaida —would prefer to have many such events.” A Saudi security source in Riyadh also said the attack was an “al Qaida operation”.
The blast came only days after Western nations issued fresh terror alerts and Washington shut its missions in the kingdom. Western embassies in Saudi Arabia urged their nationals to remain vigilant after the attacks. In its latest advisory, the US embassy said today it and the consulates in the kingdom will remain closed to the public till further notice.