Riyadh Compound Bombings

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The Riyadh compound bombings took place on May 12, 2003, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. These suicide attacks, attributed to al-Qaeda, were the first of several "spectacular attacks" carried out by that group in 2003, and the deadliest attack on Americans that year. Altogether, some 35 people were killed, and over 160 wounded.

Early in May, the State Department warned that terrorists were in the final stages of planning terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government also warned of this, and issued an alert for 19 men believed to be planning attacks.

Late on May 12, while much of Riyadh was asleep, four vehicles drove through Riyadh; two cars, a pickup, and an SUV. Two carried heavily armed assault teams and three of them were packed with explosives. Their targets were three compounds: The Dorrat Al Jadawel, a compound owned by MBI International and Partners, the Al Hamra Oasis Village, and the Vinnell Corporation Compound, a compound owned by a Virginia-based defense contractor that was training the Saudi National Guard. All contained large numbers of Americans and Westerners.

Around 11:15 PM, a car packed with explosives and five or six terrorists, quietly attempted to gain entry to the Jadawel compound's back gate area. As the guards approached to inspect the vehicle, the terrorists suddenly opened fire, immediately killing one Saudi Air Force policeman and one unarmed Saudi civilian security guard. The attackers sprayed gunfire wildly as they assaulted the inner compound gate, wounding two other unarmed security guards, one of whom managed to secure the gates before fleeing. While the terrorists were still attempting to get inside the compound, their massive explosive charge suddenly detonated, killing all of the attackers and a Filipino worker.

At the Al Hamra Oasis Village and the Vinnell Corp. compound, the assault teams shot the security guards outside the compound gates. They then opened the gates with the security controls and a second team drove their trucks into the compounds. As they fired wildly, they screamed phrases like "God is Great!". They then detonated both of their bombs, devastating the compounds.

Altogether at least 26 people died, including nine Americans. The nationalities of the other dead were seven Saudis, three Filipinos, two Jordanians, and one each from Australia, Britain, Ireland, Lebanon and Switzerland. In addition, nine suicide bombers died, bringing the entire toll from the attacks to 35. More than 160 other people were injured, including more than two dozen Americans.

US President George W. Bush was informed of the attacks while on a national trip, and called them "ruthless murder". Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah condemned the attacks as the work of "monsters" and vowed to destroy the terrorist group that ordered them. After the attacks, Saudi Arabia began a harsh crackdown on terror, arresting more than 600 terrorist suspects and seizing bomb equipment, guns, bomb belts, and thousands of weapons meant for a terrorist campaign around the kingdom.

The US believes that al-Qaeda, who claimed responsibility later, was behind the attacks. Bombings in Casablanca, Morocco four days later led the US to raise its terror threat level from yellow to orange.

There was one more large-scale attack in Saudi Arabia in 2003. On November 8, on the day the US State Department warned of further attacks in that country, a suicide truck bomb detonated outside the Muhaya Complex in Riyadh, killing 18 people and wounding 122. Those killed in the attack were all Arabs, many of them workers from Muslim countries such as Egypt and Lebanon. This attack turned some Muslim support of al-Qaeda away, since it killed mostly Muslims.


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External links

  • Shock and Fear in Riyadh (CBS News)
  • Information on attacks
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