Five Killed, One Held in Connection with Saudi Attack
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
In Saudi Arabia, security forces today killed five people in the capital, Riyadh. They were suspects in last week's failed suicide bomb attack at the world's largest oil processing facility. The Saudi interior ministry says a sixth militant was arrested in a separate raid. An Islamist al-Qaida group has claimed responsibility for last week's attack. If it succeeded, analysts say the damage could have been enormous. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Jetta, Saudi Arabia, and, Peter, what can you tell us about the raid today that resulted in the deaths of these five militants?
PETER KENYON reporting:
Well, according to a statement from the interior ministry and Saudi officials quoted in both state-run and independent media, security teams moved in on two buildings in different parts of Riyadh at dawn today. And at one building in east Riyadh there was an intense exchange of fire, according to the interior ministry. The government says five militants were killed. Officials suspect they had some involvement in last Friday's bomb attempt at the Abqaiq refinery. In the second raid, a sixth militant was arrested. He's now being questioned.
BLOCK: Now, any idea what the evidence is that would link these militants to last week's bomb attempt?
KENYON: We don't. There's no independent confirmation. At this point we have only the government's assertion that they, some or all of these men may have been involved. We'll have to wait and see what evidence is turned up and revealed to the public.
BLOCK: And how did they manage to track them down?
KENYON: We don't know that exactly, but it appears that there was a surveillance camera, or more than one camera, probably, that had pictures of at least one of the trucks involved in the refinery attack, and that may have provided some clues. There have also been some fairly cryptic references to Internet monitoring, that the Saudi government may have used the Web to help focus in on these particular buildings.
BLOCK: Let's talk about the venue where this raid took place, or at least one of them, the alleged militant hideout in a suburb of east Riyadh. I understand that also includes housing compounds that are used by westerners. Have you been able to talk to expatriate workers about how they view all this?
KENYON: I haven't gotten through to them directly. I've talked to some people who have been in touch with them. Yarmuk is the area in east Riyadh, and also home to a number of westerners. One of the reasons it's not so easy to talk to these westerners at the moment is because they tend to stick a lot closer to home these days. There have been attacks in the past on western compounds. As a result, security has been upgraded, and the workers themselves are taking quite a bit more in the way of precautions. Obviously, they were finding out today as we were that there was an alleged militant way station in their area, which has to be a bit unnerving. On the other hand, they also saw the swiftness and the harshness, we must say, of the government raid, which shows how seriously the Saudis are taking this.
BLOCK: The attempted bomb attack last Friday was the first at a major Saudi oil facility. Does that seem to indicate a new phase in what's going on in Saudi Arabia?
KENYON: Well, clearly the Saudis have been wondering if and when al-Qaida or some other terrorist group would get around to attacking some of these huge oil facilities, which are massive strategic targets since Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil producer. On Friday, these attackers did manage to kill two security guards, but their vehicle bombs were stopped well outside the plant itself. What analysts say remains a bit open to question is whether the attackers thought the element of surprise would actually get them into the compound or whether this was some kind of test run to learn exactly what the defenses are. And we've seen in Baghdad, for instance, suicide bomb attacks have evolved and grown more sophisticated over time as U.S. and Iraqi forces erect more blast walls and perimeters. The question is whether they're feeling their way into more sophisticated attacks here.
BLOCK: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Jetta, Saudi Arabia. Peter, thanks very much.
KENYON: You're welcome, Melissa.
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