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Sunday, November 16, 2003

BBC NEWS | Programmes | From Our Own Correspondent | Overhasty clean-up in Riyadh

Overhasty clean-up in Riyadh
by Bill Law
In Riyadh

The young Saudi soldier was sitting cross-legged on a rug. He gestured to me. "There's something over there you might want to see."

I was inside Riyadh's al-Muhaya compound, wrecked by a massive car bomb 36 hours earlier.
At least 17 dead, 122 wounded, most of them Arab expatriates from places like the Palestinian territories and the Lebanon. Among the dead 5 children in this latest savage attack attributed to al-Qaeda.

All around me earth-movers and diggers were frenetically dumping shattered concrete and twisted metal into waiting lorries. A survivor waved a hand in the direction of a pile of rubble. "That was my house, until yesterday".

I asked him if his family was alright. "Yes," he replied, "but my neighbour and his family were killed."

What did he think of the people who did this, I asked.

He turned away from me, angrily. "I can't say to you what I think of these people."


Over to my left a soldier with white plastic gloves bent down and picked up a smoke-blackened hand gun.


Terrorist weapon? Who knows. The Saudis were hell-bent on cleaning up al-Muhaya compound as quickly as they could.
Intense forensic examination? The cordoning off of the bomb site? The kind of in-depth investigation that went on at Ground Zero in New York or at every IRA bomb that's ever gone off in Britain? Forget it.

Human suffering

The soldier beckoned me again saying: "Over there on the other side of the building is a foot... Do you want to film it?"

I didn't have a camera. I didn't find the foot. I didn't want to find it. But the cloying scent of death hit me.


My neighbour and his family were killed. I can't say to you what I think of the people who did this
Al-Muhaya resident
As did the realisation the Saudis were cleaning up the bomb site with scant regard for those who had survived and those who had not.
I couldn't help but think the remains of some of the victims were still in the rubble being carted off.

As another lorry pulled away, I glanced down... a child's tricycle lay in the street, alongside a blue rubber ball. The blast had torn open many of the flats.

Inside was ordinary life, utterly disrupted - a dining room table set for a breakfast that never happened, a man's jacket fluttering in the breeze from a shattered upstairs window.

Residents with cardboard boxes, allowed back for the first time, were picking up what few personal possessions they could carry out and asking themselves the question Saudis are asking over and over: How could men who cite the Koran as their justification kill fellow Muslims?

Infiltration

The terror war has finally come home to Saudi Arabia, there should be no room left for denial.

There should be no longer any sense that the terrorists could be understood - even forgiven - because they attacked only western targets.

But already the conspiracy theories are doing the rounds.


Some are saying the extremists have been infiltrated by the CIA and Mossad because, as one Saudi lawyer put it me, "who benefits from these attacks?"
And then he answered his own question - "Only the Americans, only the Israelis."

A bizarre response made more bizarre by what I had seen at the clean up at al-Muhaya compound.

The compound is just a kilometre or two away from the palaces of many of the senior princes of the ruling House of Saud.

The blast on Sunday morning did more than rattle their windows. It shook them to the roots.

One western diplomat with a taste for history said it felt like the run up to the French revolution - A gilded aristocracy out of touch with its people was losing control of the situation.

Official line

The Saudi Government has promised to crush the militants with an iron fist, but a hardline cleric I spoke with said that would only provoke more attacks.


And the question hanging in the air is whether this government which for so long had denied it even had a terrorist problem can not put down those people who have thrived in a climate of political repression and religious extremism, a climate the House of Saud helped to foster.
Many people here fear they cannot.

The soldier told me he was surprised I had been able to get into the compound. They were not letting any journalists in.

The next day though, the ministry of information escorted a bus load of journalists to al-Muhaya.

By then, most of the ruined flats that had taken the full brunt of the explosion had been pulled down; the massive crater left by the car bomb had already been filled in.

It was almost as if a glass of milk had been spilled. Mop it up quickly and perhaps everyone will forget the mess.


Monday, November 10, 2003

�A Scene of Utter Devastation�


The article talks about 'Filipino rescue workers' which sums up one of the problems in this country - they can't even clear up their own mess unfortunately......


‘A Scene of Utter Devastation’
Raid Qusti & Essam Al-Ghalib



Interior Minister Prince Naif inspects the blast site. (AN photo by Raid Qusti)

RIYADH, 10 November 2003 — Crown Prince Abdullah, deputy premier and commander of the National Guard, yesterday vowed to root out terrorists and their supporters. He made the comment while talking to Arab leaders who called him to condemn Saturday’s terrorist attacks in Riyadh.

“We will intensify our campaign to clamp down on terrorists,” the Saudi Press Agency quoted the crown prince as saying.

Interior Minister Prince Naif also reaffirmed the Kingdom’s determination to hunt down those linked to the suicide attack at a housing compound here. “We will get the perpetrators no matter how long it takes,” he said while inspecting the devastation at the Al-Muhaya Compound.

“The people who were behind this must stop these heinous acts or give themselves up. It would be better if they gave themselves up because sooner or later we are going to catch them,” Prince Naif said.

Prince Naif said the perpetrators were acting on the orders of others but did not elaborate.

“Let everyone here and abroad know that this country will not be shaken, because we derive our strength from God,” he said.

The Shoura Council also denounced the terrorist attacks.

“The Al-Muhaya Compound... was stormed by armed gunmen and a car rigged with explosives was blown up inside the compound,” an Interior Ministry spokesman said. He added that one vehicle was used in the attack, an American sedan. Reports earlier said the gunmen were disguised as police officers.

Saudi Television put the death toll at 17, including five children. Prince Naif said that of the 200 injured, “most have been discharged from hospitals, except 25 to 35 people still receiving medical treatment.”

The Interior Ministry spokesman said those killed in the blast were Saudi, Sudanese and Egyptian. They included four children, he added. Four Americans of Arab origin and six Canadians, including one naturalized, were among the injured, he said. The rest of the wounded were from Arab states and Africa, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Turkey, Sri Lanka and Romania.

Residents of the Al-Muhaya compound spent most of the day retrieving what they could from the remains of their homes. Many walked around the compound with their bodies bandaged and clothing bloodied searching for remnants of what used to be “a fairly good life,” in the words of one 17-year-old Lebanese.

“I have lived here for two years and considered this to be a safe compound because 95 percent of the residents are Arabs. There are only four non-Arab families that I know of that live here. Now I don’t know where in Saudi Arabia I can feel safe. I want to leave,” he said.

Describing the events of the early morning, a 16-year-old Lebanese told Arab News: “I was sleeping when my mother came to wake me up. I immediately heard the shooting and told my mother to call father and tell him not to come to the compound because we didn’t know what was going to happen to us. Right when she was calling him the bombs went off.

“We live a good distance from where the blast happened, but the door flew off the hinges and the windows shattered. Some of the broken glass flew into my forehead. After the blast, the shooting continued for 10 minutes. Then 15 or 20 seconds later, I heard the big bomb, and then everything went crazy. Then the shooting started again for 10 more minutes. Some of the units were completely demolished and on fire. The people living there didn’t stand a chance.”

By early afternoon, cranes had moved in to sort through the rubble and to remove the wreckage. Filipino rescue workers employed by the municipality lay exhausted just meters away from two exploded vehicles that carried the death and destruction into the lives of these men, women and children.

One rescue worker told Arab News: “I have been here since eight o’clock this morning and have helped recover at least eight bodies, most of them children. Many of the remains were torn to pieces and decapitated. I just don’t want to see any more dead babies.”

The Al-Muhaya Compound, reportedly owned by Abdullah Al-Muhaya, a Saudi Army general, was used by Boeing until approximately seven years ago. Since then, the compound has housed mostly Arab expatriate employees of various companies. The compound is located in a valley atop which are several royal palaces which showed signs of minor exterior damage despite being up to one kilometer away.

The houses and vehicles closest to the compound’s only entrance were riddled with hundreds of bullet holes, a sign of a gunbattle between National Guard soldiers and the terrorists. Approximately 150 meters down a small two-lane road, past the compound’s main entrance, there is now a five-meter wide crater that is three meters deep. Two-story buildings within 50 meters of the crater have been reduced to a pile of broken cement and twisted metal.

Arab News learned that five hospitals received injured people from Saturday night’s blast: King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center (KFSHRC), Medical Specialist Hospital, Kingdom Hospital, King Khaled University Hospital, and Riyadh Central Hospital.

Hamoud Al-Otaibi, a media officer at KFSHCR, said the hospital received 41 cases from the explosion that occurred in the compound.

At the Medical Specialist Hospital, a Lebanese national was undergoing surgery. One female relative was weeping in the aisle wearing a hospital gown.


Aljazeera.Net - Saud v al-Qaida: Only one can suvive

Saud v al-Qaida: Only one can suvive
by Shaheen Chughtai
Sunday 09 November 2003 1:38 PM GMT



The deadly bomb attack on a housing complex in Riyadh represents the latest battle between the Saudi Arabian monarchy and its armed opponents in a war to eliminate the other.



Just a year ago, the Riyadh government was still insisting - on the record - there was no al-Qaida presence in the country.

Bearing in mind 15 of the 9/11 hijackers were supposed to be of Saudi origin, this denial rang hollow with the rest of the world.

The truth is, of course, quite different. The crackdown on suspected members of underground opposition was in place long before Saudi admitted last summer, publicly, it had a problem.

Dozens of plots have been allegedly foiled and scores of suspected armed dissidents have been arrested or killed in confrontations.

But Saturday night’s bombing, which has killed at least five people and left about 100 wounded, is the third such attack in the past six months.

Two devastating bombings of residential compounds in May killed 35 people - a month after a Saudi-born dissident Usama bin Ladin exhorted his followers to rise up against the Riyadh government.

Fuelling support

Political dissidents say the Saudi government, an undemocratic monarchy that has long rejected calls for more transparent representative government, fuels support for al-Qaida by crushing all dissent.

“It’s a myth to say their supporters are just frustrated, unemployed or poor young men, or have psychological problems, “ says Dr Saad al-Fakih, London-based leader of the opposition Islamic Reform Movement. “Many are quite wealthy and comfortable.”

Supporters of groups such as al-Qaida are motivated by political and religious leaders, he told Aljazeera.net. Usually, they begin merely by seeking greater democracy and transparency.

“But the Saudis don’t allow freedom of expression,” he says, “and when people try to express their anger they are crushed. The regime is basically telling them they have two choices: either they can remain as slaves, or they have to turn to violence.”

Soft targets

Al-Qaida’s choice of targets may seem counterproductive - even more so in the case of Saturday’s attack on a compound apparently inhabited mostly by Arabs.



“If it turns out that most of the casualties are Arabs … there will be an adverse reaction across the region,” says Dr Rosemary Hollis, head of the Middle East Programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

But several private residences belonging to the Saudi royal family were reportedly nearby, as were the US and other foreign embassies – all much more heavily guarded but close enough to make a point.

Analysts say such “soft targets” present al-Qaida with an opportunity to destabilise the regime, sending a message that it is too weak to provide security.

“It will deliver a shock to the economy, deter foreigners coming to work and investment,” says Hollis. “In this way, they hope to undermine the regime.”

Sympathy

Many Saudis have been disturbed by the increasingly bloody conflict. According to the government, several suspects have been turned in by their families which they believe shows al-Qaida’s support is waning.



The May bombings led to a surge of support for the authorities, which al-Fakih says the government manipulated to great effect. But the Saudis, says Hollis, have found themselves facing a classic dilemma.

“It’s always a fact when authorities confront insurgents, or violent opponents, if you become too heavy-handed, you create new problems,” she says. “The Saudis face quite a task.”

Al-Fakih says the authorities quickly squandered public sympathy for the victims and the subsequent support for the government’s response through its oppressive tactics.

And the Saudis’ persistent crackdown on any dissent, such as recent pro-democracy protests, has fuelled resentment of the monarchy and support for al-Qaida.

“Recent images of riot police beating women protesters just adds to this support,” says al-Fakih.

Controversial

Nonetheless, the choice of such targets – Saturday’s attack produced bloody television images of wounded women and children – remains controversial not only for al-Qaida’s supporters but for many armed insurgents as well.

“There are those who will say anyone killed will become a martyr to the cause, not a child killed in a random act of violence”

Dr Rosemary Hollis,
head of the Middle East Programme, Royal Institute of International Affairs


Hollis says in such circumstances, there will be some even among al-Qaida’s ranks who will regard such an attack as a mistake or politically counterproductive.

“But there will be others who will reconcile this to their consciences,” she says.

“There are those who will say anyone killed will become a martyr to the cause, not a child killed in a random act of violence.”

Inevitable violence

And such violence casts a morbid shadow over Saudi Arabia’s future. Al-Fakih’s says the prospect of a peaceful resolution is impossible because the monarchy is too unpopular to survive a transformation into a more open democratic regime.

“The moment they allow more transparency and freedom of expression, this will lead to their demise,” al-Fakih says. “So they can only introduce cosmetic changes, not real reforms. This makes a clash inevitable.”

Although one of al-Qaida's purported aims was to rid the kingdom of US troops, who departed this summer, the presence of American advisers and intelligence staff remains unacceptable for the radical group, says al-Fakih. The regime remains a US puppet in many people's eyes, he says.

In his taped messages, Usama bin Ladin has made it clear how he sees the war between al-Qaida and the House of Saud will end.

“We expect for the ruler of Riyadh the same fate as the Shah of Iran.”


Aljazeera
By Shaheen Chughtai


Tuesday, November 04, 2003

BBC NEWS | Business | Saudi Arabia's foreign workforce

Saudi Arabia's foreign workforce

Foreign workers have been a key element in Saudi Arabia's economy since the earliest days of the state's 71-year existence.

Economic development in the oil-rich country was led by the US oil majors. And oil revenue channelled to the Saudi Government was ploughed into huge development projects masterminded by foreign contractors, using large foreign workforces.

Today, there are many fewer US and European workers in Saudi Arabia than during the oil boom years of the 1970s and early 1980s.

The Saudi Government has less money and less need for landmark projects, some key industries - such as oil exploration and production - have been nationalised and the local workforce has developed to the point where the country needs foreign capital and expertise rather than foreign workers.

But there are still more than five million expatriate workers in a country with a population of about 24 million.

And Saudi Arabia has such a young population - 45% are under 15 - that foreign workers make up more than half of the total workforce, according to some estimates.

The government's stated aim is to reduce the total number of foreigners in the country to less than 20% of the population within 10 years.

Aramco's Americans

Most of today's foreign workers come from the Asian subcontinent, the Philippines and other Arab countries. Many of these people are employed in unskilled jobs traditionally shunned by Saudis.

There are also tens of thousands of Americans and Europeans.

There are 40,000-45,000 US citizens in Saudi Arabia, of whom about two-thirds are workers, the US embassy in Riyadh says.

The biggest employers are in oil, finance and trading.

Saudi Aramco - the formerly US-owned national oil company - is by far the biggest individual employer of Americans. The company has about 2,000 US workers, based mostly in and around the Eastern Province oil town of Dhahran.

Conspicuous

About 12,000 Americans live in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, where the bombings took place.

They are split in small numbers among a large range of employers - some working in Saudi-owned businesses and others in companies such as Saudi American Bank where the element of US ownership is much more conspicuous.

The UK embassy in Riyadh says about 30,000 British nationals live in Saudi Arabia, working in all sectors of the economy.

The biggest single employer of Britons - with about 2,500 - is defence contractor BAE Systems.


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