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Saudis Say They Want Americans to Stay - 2004-06-20


While the U.S. State Department is urging Americans to leave Saudi Arabia as the result of a series of terrorist attacks and killings, including that of American Paul Johnson, many Saudis say they do not want to see Americans leave the kingdom. Even so, like their own government, they acknowledge there will likely be more acts of terror, despite the killings Friday of four wanted al-Qaida militants.

Morbid, close-up, photographs of the faces of four dead militants killed Friday night by Saudi security forces appeared in Saudi newspapers Sunday morning.

Senior Saudi officials said Sunday there were three reasons they wanted the gruesome pictures published - to prove the four had actually been killed, to act as deterrent to other would-be terrorists, and to show the world the kingdom is serious about fighting terrorism. Officials say the four terrorists killed Friday were involved in the beheading of American Paul Johnson. Mr. Johnson's kidnapping and subsequent death caused the U.S. State Department to re-issue an urgent warning to the estimated 35,000 Americans living in Saudi Arabia to leave immediately.

But many Saudis say they do not wish to see their American friends depart the country.

At an American coffee house in the capital, Riyadh, several men said they were sad to see Americans and other foreigners leaving their country.

Asking that they not be identified, the group of well-groomed men, who appeared to be in their mid-30s, said acts of terror are extremely rare in Saudi Arabia. This man said he tried to use logic in convincing his American friends to stay.

"I have American friends," he said. "They ask me how can we secure ourselves? I said, the percentage to get in a car accident is much, much more than the terror. This is the truth. But, when you hear that about these [terrorist] people, okay it is affecting us because this is something unusual. That's all. We didn't used to hear about that."

The same man said he believes the terrorists are primarily misguided teenagers who have, as he put it, been brainwashed by uneducated, religious fanatics.

Another man said Americans have been good for the kingdom. He said, despite his objections to some U.S. policies in the region, he believes the United States has helped Saudi Arabia develop its oil resources, which has, as he put it, helped Saudi Arabia rise from the sands of the desert to become an international economic power. He too, said he is sad Americans are leaving.

"I would love for them to stay here," he said. "I have friends here. I work with American friends. I wish for them to live a happy life here and a safe life here. When I talk to a normal American citizen, I feel he's different than what they say in the American government. I feel like there is a big, huge, difference between the American government and the citizens of America."

But all of the men sitting in the coffee house said they believe acts of terror will continue in Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future. Consequently, they said they could not blame Americans for leaving. But they added that they hope someday they will come back.

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