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Debates On Saudi Security Continue - 2003-05-15


A team of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Thursday. They will be helping Saudi investigators search for suspects in Monday’s terrorist bombing attacks at housing compounds where western expatriates including Americans lived. The attacks claimed 34 lives including 8 Americans and 9 attackers.

As the investigation into the attacks gears up criticism continues to mount over security lapses by Saudi authorities. VOA-TV’s Chris Simkins has more on the story.

Could more have been done to prevent the terrorist bombings in Riyadh? U.S. intelligence officials say yes. Just 2 days before Monday’s attack an American security team, lead by Deputy National Security Advisor Steven Hadley, identified one of the housing compounds as a specific target of an attack. U.S. officials say they asked the Saudis to provide machine gun mounted vehicles at the compound entrance and a reaction team inside. But they said their request was turned down. Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. Prince Bandar bin Sultan said his counterpart Robert Jordan had made the request.

PRINCE BANDAR BIN SULTAN, SAUDI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.
“He did absolutely request forcing security at that compound with the Air Force people in it. And we did what was needed.”

But some residents of the 3 compounds say they saw no change in security. Some indicated that at 2 of the housing communities the guards were unarmed when the attacks occurred.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister acknowledged there were gaps in security, saying he hopes to learn from these mistakes. Privately though, some U.S. officials are said to be outraged by the security lapses. But publicly, U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice says they hope the tragedy will lead to more cooperation between American and Saudi intelligence teams.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR
“I’m sure that in the wake of this terrible incident in Riyadh that we will seek to intensify our cooperation. We can always do better, all of us can always do better, and we look forward to working with the Saudi government.”

Saudi officials identified the man they say was responsible for the bombings, Mohammed Al-Juhani. They say he ran an al-Qaida terrorist cell in Saudi Arabia.

So far no group has claimed responsibility for the blasts in Riyadh. But U.S. officials worry the latest terrorist attacks could be the start of a new al-Qaida offensive.

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