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Saudi car bomb kills UK banker

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- A British national has died in Saudi Arabia when a bomb exploded in the car he had borrowed from a friend, British and Saudi officials said.

The victim, named as Simon John Veness, died when the four-wheel drive vehicle exploded outside a residential compound in the capital Riyadh at 8:54 a.m. (0554 GMT) on Thursday, the UK Foreign Office told the Press Association.

The Saudi Press Agency reported local police chief Maj. Gen. Abdullah Al-Shahrani as saying Veness, who was in the car alone, worked at Al Bank Al Saudi Al Fransi.

Police said the car did not belong to Veness and that he had borrowed the vehicle from a friend.

Three Britons survived attack in Riyadh in November 2000
Saudi police say the series of blasts in recent years was linked to trade in illicit alcohol (file picture)  

SPA quoted the general as saying the explosion -- in Prince Turki Street, in Nakheel residential area -- might have been caused by a device planted in his car.

The Foreign Office in London said they were in close contact with both the Saudi police investigating the blast and the family of the victim.

Friends of Veness, who neighbours said had a wife and son, said they did not believe he would have been involved in any illegal activity.

"That's not possible. Simon was a highly respected banker," one friend who declined to be identified told Reuters. "Simon was set to return to London in the first week of July to pursue his career after working in Saudi Arabia for almost four years."

A Saudi security source told Reuters the bombing might be linked to score-settling between people involved in the illicit alcohol smuggling trade in the conservative Muslim kingdom.

"We suspect that the explosion has to do with alcohol smuggling because it is similar to a previous explosion that occurred in Riyadh in the past," the source said.

The oil-rich kingdom was rocked by a string of bombings in late 2000 and early 2001 in which at least one Westerner was killed and several people injured.

News of Thursday's explosion caused concern Westerners working in the kingdom, already on edge after Saudi authorities last week revealed the arrest of 13 people, some of them belonging to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, which Washington blames for the September 11 attacks on the United States.

"You can't help feeling more vulnerable -- especially if you are working for a relatively high-profile Western company," a Riyadh-based Western executive told Reuters.

Five Britons are currently being held on charges relating to the 2000/2001 bombing campaign, although there have been a number of attacks since they were arrested.

One of those Britons, Alexander Mitchell, 44, from Glasgow, was reported in April to be facing death by beheading after a summary trial without legal representation.

Glasgow-born Canadian Bill Sampson was also reported to be facing the death penalty, while four other Britons and a Belgian were said to have been secretly sentenced to up to 18 years in prison for alleged involvement in the bombing campaign.


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