8 die in attack on U.S. consulate
Al Qaeda suspected, U.S. official tells CNN
Monday, December 6, 2004 Posted: 1:50 PM EST (1850 GMT)
Smoke rises in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Monday.
(CNN) - Eight people have been killed in a gunbattle between Saudi security forces and five gunmen who attacked the U.S. consulate in the port city of Jeddah. Saudi forces killed three of the gunmen and captured two others, both of whom were wounded, the Saudi Interior Ministry said.
Five consular employees - four local staff members and a contract guard - were also killed. Four other local staff members were injured and recovering in hospital, U.S. officials said. The U.S. Embassy said no Americans were killed or suffered any serious injuries. The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, as well as the consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran, will be closed Tuesday because of the incident, according to a warden's message distributed to all American citizens living in Saudi Arabia.
The message also American citizens to "exercise utmost security precautions" in the wake of the attack. In Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush said the incident showed "terrorists are still on the move" trying to get the United States to leave Saudi Arabia and Iraq. A U.S. State Department official told CNN al Qaeda was suspected in the attack.
Asked who the gunmen were, the Saudi Interior Ministry official said they were "wanted" but it was unclear if they were al Qaeda members. The Interior Ministry said the militants threw explosives at two gates of the sprawling, walled consulate and then entered, exchanging fire with guards.
A Saudi official said several members of the Saudi security forces were killed and several others wounded. In addition, he said some Saudi civilians who were at the consulate were hit by the gunfire. A senior Saudi official in Washington told CNN's Andrea Koppel an unknown number of third-country nationals who work at the consulate were taken hostage for a time. Some suffered wounds but all were released. A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said no Americans had been taken hostage.
The Saudi official said they believe a grenade was "thrown in as a diversion." The attackers "stormed into part of the consulate" known as the visa section, where they took the third-country nationals hostage. A reporter who went to the scene, Mohammed Al-Khereiji of the newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, said that the attackers entered through the south gate, where mail is delivered to the consulate. He said grenades were used and a fire broke out in the compound but was later extinguished.
A senior Bush administration official said there was gunfire, an explosion and then more gunfire as the attack was launched around 11:15 a.m. (3:15 a.m. ET). Khaled al-Maeena with Arab News in Jeddah said ambulances could be seen going to and from the area around the consulate, and helicopters had been circling overhead. In April, the State Department ordered "non-emergency employees and all dependents of the U.S. Embassy Riyadh and Consulates General Jeddah and Dhahran ... to leave the country," because of ongoing security concerns, and urged Americans to defer travel to the kingdom.
"The U.S. government continues to receive indications of terrorist threats aimed at American and Western interests, including the targeting of transportation and civil aviation," an earlier travel warning from December 2003 said. "American citizens in Saudi Arabia should remain vigilant, particularly in public places associated with the Western community," it said.
It said Americans who "travel to, or remain in, Saudi Arabia despite this travel warning" should register with the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh or at the consulates in Jeddah and Dahran. As recently as August, a vehicle from the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah was hit by gunfire from a single assailant while driving in the city. The two occupants of the vehicle - the driver and a consulate American employee, were not injured in the attack. Al Qaeda-led suicide attacks struck Riyadh housing compounds in May and July of 2003, killing 40 people, most of them Muslims.