Jeddah attackers ‘broke in through entrance for mail’




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 7 December 2004

Armed militants who burst into the grounds of theUS consulate in the western Saudi city of Jeddah yesterday had identified the most vulnerable entrance and overcome intense intelligence efforts to thwart such attacks, Saudis said yesterday.

According to a senior Saudi security official, the attackers drove a car to within a short distance of the consulate, but were prevented from getting close to the heavily guarded compound by road blocks and security checks.

Initial reports suggested they had detonated a bomb and blown up the car to allow their accomplices to break in to the compound, but the official said this was not the case.

“The attackers were not able to get through the external security cordon in their car, so they walked to the consulate and on foot approached the entrance that gives access to the mail room of the complex,” the official said. It was unclear whether the attackers tried to hide the weapons and grenades that were used to break into the compound and attack staff, he added.

“It was when they reached the perimeter that they used grenades to bomb their way through the mail entrance, and into the garden of the consulate. As soon as they got in, there was a fire-fight between the attackers and the National Guard contingent that was guarding the complex within the perimeter wall,” the official said.

A US official said some of the attackers also got into the compound through the main gate, though it is unclear how many used this entrance or whether they detonated grenades to force their way in. “It is not clear whether it was a bomb or they just sort of fired their way in,” he said.

The Saudi security official said the National Guard contingent inside the compound was rapidly reinforced by a unit from the Saudi Special Security Force.

According to eyewitnesses, the attackers were able to pull down and burn the US flag flying in the grounds of the consulate, during exchanges of gunfire that left at least eight dead including five non-American consular staff and three attackers.

Two of the attackers were wounded and arrested, a Saudi interior ministry official said.

Another senior Saudi official, close to the interior ministry, said as many as 13 people might have been involved in the attack, though it is unclear where those not arrested or killed escaped to. Nor is it clear whether the car used was wired to explode.

But the ability of the attackers to breach the intense security that is a feature of all US and other diplomatic missions in the kingdom has exposed the vulnerability of western interests, despite big improvements in the Saudi security apparatus.

“The attack is most likely to have been planned from inside the kingdom, as it was a complex operation,” said Saad al-Fagui, a UK-based Saudi dissident. He said that even with a major effort by the Saudi intelligence service to infiltrate the Islamist opposition, details of the attack had not leaked out.

Jonathan Stevenson, a terrorism specialist at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said of Saudi government efforts: “Even though they have rolled up a fairly large number of people, I don’t think they have dismantled the [terrorist] infrastructure.”



© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.