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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Explosions in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Aired May 12, 2003 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: There have been several powerful explosions in Saudi Arabia and Westerners may, and we say may, have been the target. There are many reports of injuries but there are no immediate reports of fatalities.
State Department correspondent, Andrea Koppel, and national correspondent Mike Boettcher join us now.

First to you, Andrea. What happened?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I just got off the phone with a senior State Department official who has confirmed to CNN that U.S. officials now believe that there were three vehicle explosions that happened at three different compounds that housed expatriates in the eastern part of the capital of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh. Now these compounds are known to house primarily expatriates and mostly Americans.

What we do not know at this stage is whether or not there were any casualties. In fact, at this point, U.S. officials believe that there were no casualties. But they're not on the scene as yet.

There were three powerful explosions heard. They were heard, as I said, in the eastern part of the capital. And what is most alarming to U.S. officials is that they happen now on the eve of the arrival of Secretary of State Powell who is right now in Amman, Jordan, not far away. He's set to arrive in Riyadh on Tuesday in just a matter of hours. That trip, we're told, is still on.

Now in addition, these explosions happened just one week after Saudi officials, in a fairly unusual move, foiled what they said was a terrorist plot. They got all kinds of explosives that they found in a house, AK-47s, passports. They found grenades in a car. And they believe that those explosives were going to be used in a terrorist plot and they really put out an all alerts bulletin for as many as 19 different men, most of whom were believed to be Saudis.

Anderson, they don't have any of these individuals in custody. And in addition, there were reports earlier this month that there were terrorist plots in the final stages of planning. U.S. intelligence has been coming in as recently as this weekend that there were plots, active plots in the works targeting American interests in Saudi Arabia -- Anderson. COOPER: Andrea, I know it is very early right now. This thing happened just a short time ago. Is any linkage being made between those 19 Islamic militants that the Saudis announced they were looking for ever since last Tuesday when those found those 800 pounds of explosives that you talked about and the series of explosions that we know have happened now.

KOPPEL: At this stage, nobody is saying that specifically. Certainly that is on everyone's minds, that there could perhaps be a linkage. But one other thing I should add is that officials believe that due to the fact there were three fairly simultaneous explosions, that this was linked. They do believe linked to al Qaeda -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Andrea Koppel working the story, thanks very much.

Want to check in now with Mike Boettcher. Mike, it seems an extraordinary coincidence that you have this enormous arms cache found just like week and atop of that, May 1, U.S. puts out a terror alert specifically saying Saudi Arabia, big danger. What do you think?

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think one counterterrorism source I spoke to told me that he believes they are connected.

The Saudis were in hot pursuit of these people. They had big plans, a lot of explosives. They thought perhaps that it had been broken up because of the arrests and the capture of some of that large amount of explosives, but apparently not.

Also, I'm told by Middle East terrorism, counterterrorism official that there has been concern that al Qaeda, and specifically Osama bin Laden, had wanted to see some sort of attack. No attacks came during the Iraq war and that he felt disappointed. Now this is an unconfirmed report, according to this intelligence official. But that there was a new impetus coming from al Qaeda to launch something, to have something happen. We don't know yet if this is the case. But that is one of the aspects they're looking at.

COOPER: All right, and one of the aspects I'm sure you'll be looking at later on into this evening. Mike Boettcher, thanks very much. We'll check back in with you later on.

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