RIYADH (Reuters) – Suspected al Qaeda suicide bombers posing as Saudi police blew up their explosives-laden car in a Riyadh compound housing mostly Arab foreigners on Sunday, killing 11 people and wounding 122, including 36 children.
The powerful blast ripped an avenue of destruction between 200 villas in the compound in the capital just days after Western nations issued fresh terror alerts and Washington shut its missions in the kingdom, the world’s biggest oil exporter.
“The residential Muhaya compound which is inhabited by various nationalities mostly Arabs, was stormed by armed gunmen and a car rigged with explosives was blown up inside the compound,” the Saudi state news agency SPA said.
“Eleven people were killed from Saudi, Sudanese and Egyptian nationalities, among them four children,” SPA quoted an Interior Ministry official as saying. He said 36 children were among the 122 people wounded.
The agency did not say if there were more people missing under the rubble at the compound where the powerful blast ripped an avenue of destruction. It did give any details on the fate of the attackers, estimated by security sources to be at least two.
Diplomats earlier estimated that the blast, which coincided with the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, killed between 20 and 30 people and injured up to 100 in the residential compound.
SPA said four Americans of Arab origin and six Canadians, including one naturalized, were among the injured. The rest of the wounded were from Arab states and Africa, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines, Pakistan, Turkey, Sri Lanka and Romania.
“The attackers got into the compound by disguising themselves as Saudi security. They wore security uniforms and drove into the compound in a vehicle similar to that used by police,” a Saudi security source told Reuters.
SAUDI VOWS TO UPROOT TERROR
Saudi de facto leader Crown Prince Abdullah, in telephone calls with some Arab leaders on Sunday, pledged to hunt down terrorists. “We will uproot terrorism and put an end to it and all who stand behind it,” he was quoted by SPA as saying.
The bombers shot their way into the guarded Muhaya complex and detonated at least one car packed with explosives.
“This is a crime against innocents. It is an al Qaeda operation,” the security source said. Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Islam and of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, is battling a surge in Islamist violence.
In May a triple suicide bombing at Riyadh housing compounds killed 35, including nine Americans, and was blamed on al Qaeda.
ROYAL HOMES NEARBY
A Western diplomat said Interior Minister Prince Nayef and other Saudi royals had homes and palaces near the compound on the western outskirts of Riyadh. It is also located in a ravine and near the desert, allowing militants free access.
The diplomat said the compound might have been chosen as a “soft target” after a recent crackdown on al Qaeda militants.
A Western diplomat said Sunday’s attack may not be the last.
“(Sunday’s explosion) doesn’t mean we should relax, doesn’t mean the threat has disappeared…I can’t say they aren’t planning other attacks.
Bin Laden’s supporters have threatened to attack Saudi rulers and Westerners in the kingdom. Bin Laden last month vowed to strike American targets inside and outside the United States.
The attack underlines concern in oil markets that Riyadh has failed to contain a rising wave of terror which some analysts fear could one day strike the kingdom’s oil export and production facilities.
Major international oil companies contacted by Reuters said they had no plans to evacuate staff after the attack. Some played down its significance, saying militants’ attacks in the past had failed to drive away foreign business.
The explosion gauged a crater five meters (yards) wide and two meters deep. Children’s toys were strewn among the rubble and sofas, baths and beds spilled out onto the road.
Soldiers, police, medics and firefighters rushed to try to find survivors under the debris, using detectors and search lights. Helicopters flew overhead and police sirens wailed.
Saudi forces have killed five Islamist militants in clashes since Monday, when authorities said they had foiled a planned attack on Muslim pilgrims in the holy city of Mecca.
Western embassies have issued security warnings on Saudi Arabia this week, saying “terrorists” were planning attacks in the kingdom. U.S. missions were shut for a security review.