Saudis face up to security
failure By Breffni O'Rourke
PRAGUE - The bold attack on the US Consulate in
the Saudi port of Jeddah shattered a calm that had
lasted some six months. The raid was carried out on
Monday by as many as 13 gunmen and was the first major
attack on foreigners in the kingdom since last spring
and the first ever on a foreign diplomatic mission
In the last attack in May, 22 people -
most of them foreigners - were killed by militants who
took over a resort complex in Khobar. In June, militants
in Riyadh, the capital, kidnapped and later beheaded
Paul Johnson, an engineer for a US defense company.
Since May, Saudi Arabian authorities had staged
a crackdown in which they said they killed or captured
more than half of the people on their most-wanted list
of 26 extremists. They had suggested that the situation
was now in hand following the attacks on foreigners.
But as Paris-based security analyst Walter Posch
puts it, Monday's attack delivered a contrary message:
"This was a symbol and a sign that [the terrorists] are
still functioning, and that embassies are always
An Internet statement in the name
of al-Qaeda's Saudi wing said the "squadron of martyr
Abu Annas al-Shami breached the bastion of the
Crusaders" in what it called "the blessed Fallujah
attack", a reference to the bloody US offensive against
the Iraqi Sunni city. The authenticity of the statement
could not be verified.
Saudi authorities say
they have identified three of the four attackers killed.
None of them are on a most-wanted list of suspected
al-Qaeda sympathizers issued by authorities last year. A
statement from the Interior Ministry says authorities
are still trying to determine the identity of the fourth
attacker killed. It did not identify one attacker who
was wounded and captured by Saudi forces. Al-Qaeda
claims the other attackers escaped.
the European Union's Institute for Security Studies,
says that, despite Saudi claims to have the situation
under control, it is extremely difficult for security
forces to root out flexible and decentralized networks
like al-Qaeda. "The fight against al-Qaeda is not over
and will not be concluded for the foreseeable future.
And we should not forget that they obviously have a
serious base in Saudi Arabia."
The attack in
Jeddah was achieved with an element of surprise, showing
that neither Saudi nor US intelligence has been able to
infiltrate those terror cells effectively.
State Department Deputy spokesman Adam Ereli gave some
details of the attack, in which the gunmen arrived at
the consulate in broad daylight and used a
military-style frontal assault: "The attackers attempted
to drive their vehicle onto the compound via one of the
gates, but they were prevented from entering the
compound by security measures in place. When their
vehicle was not able to enter the compound, they got out
of the vehicle, fired their weapons and fought their way
onto the compound on foot."
an outer security wall but never entered any consulate
buildings. The exact number of gunmen is not clear, but
some reports have said it was as high as 13.
Abdul Khaliq Abdullah, a United Arab
Emirates-based political analyst, was quoted by
Associated Press as saying the significance of the
attack was that the consulate's perimeter was
penetrated. "They managed to go through the security,
which should have been as tough and as solid as a
shield," Abdullah said. "It shows that American targets
in Saudi Arabia, no matter how well protected, are
vulnerable to these kind of attacks."
of the consulate's security measures did work as
planned. When the shooting started, most staff were able
to retreat to specially designated safe areas inside the
building, which were not reached by the attackers.
The nationalities of the consulate staff members
that were killed included a Yemeni, a Sudanese, a
Filipino, a Pakistani and a Sri Lankan.
Expressing regret at the loss of life, the State
Department's Ereli spoke of the commonality of the
threat posed by terrorism: "This incident is yet another
reminder that we are all in this together. This was an
attack not just on the US Consulate in Jeddah, but on
all of us - American, Saudi and other nationalities, as
were represented by our foreign service nationals
[non-US consular employees], who work on behalf of
dialogue, who work on behalf of understanding, who work
on behalf of dealing with the world's problems in a way
that stands in marked contrast to the hatred and
violence preached by those responsible for this attack."
Analysts note, however, that the incident did
illustrate the capacity for a quick response by Saudi
special forces. They were on the scene promptly,
arriving by helicopter and engaging the attackers in a
sustained gunfight until the consulate was cleared. The
US has temporarily closed its diplomatic offices in
Saudi Arabia in response to the attack, and the State
Department has warned that more attacks in Saudi Arabia