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Shooting: Brits rethink Saudi work

Workers at BAE Systems in Riyadh focus on support for Tornado jets of the Saudi air force.
Workers at BAE Systems in Riyadh focus on support for Tornado jets of the Saudi air force.

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Britons in Saudi Arabia are reassessing whether to continue working there after one of their colleagues was shot dead.

BAE Systems employee Robert Dent, 37, was killed by a gunman who pulled up alongside his vehicle at a traffic light in the capital of Riyadh on Thursday.

A Saudi man -- identified as 30-year-old Saud bin Ali bin Nasser, a Toyota sales agent -- has been arrested in connection with the incident, the Saudi Interior Ministry said.

Less than two weeks ago, a BAE engineer was shot at while driving his car in Riyadh. It is believed another vehicle followed the man's car and that gunmen shot at him five times as he pulled into his home compound.

A bullet smashed his windscreen, and the man suffered cuts to his face and hands from flying glass

The shootings have renewed concerns for the safety of Westerners in the region, including employees of BAE Systems, which has been in the country for more than 30 years.

The British defence giant employs about 5,500 people at various sites in Saudi Arabia, about half of whom are locals and the rest mostly British expatriates.

Workers at the Riyadh plant concentrate on support for Tornado jets of the Saudi air force.

Even before Dent's death, concern over instability in the area had led BAE to give workers who returned to the UK this month for the Muslim festival of Eid to stay in Britain rather than return to Saudi Arabia.

"Given the ongoing uncertainty regarding security, we have given them the opportunity to stay here in Britain. I don't know how many will," said BAE spokesman Mike Sweeney.

"Mr Dent's family are very, very upset. We are saddened by this tragic event and the loss of a colleague and we're doing everything we can to support the family."

Dent, originally from the Liverpool area in northern England, worked as a commercial officer at BAE's Riyadh headquarters, where he had been based for more than a decade.

He had been on a day off when he was shot dead on Khaled bin al-Waleed Street in the Granada district between 1300 and 1500 GMT on Thursday.

Dent was married to his wife, Lisa, for about 13 years, and the couple had a young daughter and a son, his uncle Leslie told the UK Press Association.

"He was just a good family man. He was a quiet man. He was a lovely man. He loved his children to bits."

Dent's parents, Bob and Denise, were holidaying in Spain when they heard the news and were now on their way home, he said.

BAE workers are understood to have been warned previously by bosses to be extra vigilant following a rise in tension, especially among Saudi youths who have access to guns.

Western diplomats suspect that groups sympathetic to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden are behind a string of attacks against Westerners in Saudi Arabia since late 2000.

The Saudi government blames gangs fighting over the illegal liquor trade.

Two bombings in the capital in late 2000 killed 48-year-old Briton Christopher Rodway and injured four other people.

In June 2002, an Australian working for BAE in Saudi escaped unhurt after being shot at five times by a sniper in the city of Tabuk.

Concerns about anti-Western sentiments have grown in the country since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and the subsequent war on terrorism, which many Saudis see as an assault on Islam.

Bin Laden, whose Saudi citizenship was revoked in 1994, has called for the overthrow of the Saudi royal family and demanded that U.S. troops leave the country, which was home to 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers.

Washington has criticised the country of being lax in the fight against terrorism. Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia said it had referred 90 Saudis to trial for alleged al Qaeda links.

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