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At Least 10 Dead in Saudi Bombings

Aired May 13, 2003 - 06:03   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: As we’ve just told you, at least 10 Americans are now confirmed dead in the bombings of three apartment complexes in Saudi Arabia. We just got these pictures in. Take a look. The coordinated attacks on three compounds that were apartment complexes housing mostly Westerners came late last night.
Today, Secretary of State Colin Powell is branding the Riyadh attackers as "cowards."


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: But has the earmarks of Al Qaeda, and I think it's just part of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations' willingness to kill innocent people in order to push forward the criminal agenda, the terrorist agenda that very often has no purpose, has no meaning, other than to strike out in rage.


COSTELLO: Before the death toll was known, Robert Jordan, the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, spoke with CNN's Aaron Brown.


ROBERT JORDAN, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SAUDI ARABIA: I spoke immediately, of course, with senior Saudi officials, who have assured me that all appropriate steps are being taken to both secure the compounds, to increase security at other facilities, to investigate all of the events surrounding this attack, and to pursue those responsible for it.


COSTELLO: All right, we have on the phone a man named Michael. He lives in one of the compounds in Riyadh.

Michael, are you here with us?


COSTELLO: Tell us what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, most people were asleep at the time. It was about 11:20 when the detonations occurred. We were all woken by multiple explosions. I immediately went downstairs -- my bedroom is upstairs -- and found that all of my windows had been blown out, not shattered, but just blown out. And I looked outside, and there were very -- you know, many people coming out of their villas just to see what had happened.

I went over to my co-worker's house, and he is very close to the detonation area, and their windows were shattered, their front doors were blown in. I just wanted to make sure that everybody was safe.

There's about 400 villas, about 4,000-square-foot villas on this compound. It's a very big compound. It's about maybe half-a-mile long and maybe a quarter-of-a-mile wide. So, it's very spacious.

But this explosion occurred at the rear gate, not on the main road, but a rear area. It's a little bit more secluded back there. And there is extensive damage, as you've seen on your broadcast of that area.

We found out that there was probably a group that was intent to enter the compound with strapped-on explosives and automatic weapons. So, their probable intent was to detonate. And as it usually occurs, people come out to see what's happening, and then they would have probably caused...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... massive casualties then.

COSTELLO: Right. Now...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But we -- you know, what happened (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

COSTELLO: Yes, let me interrupt you for just a second, because I want people to understand. You know, we keep saying "compound," but these are really large apartment complexes. Three of them were attacked. And in front of these apartment complexes there are armed guards. Is that correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not on all compounds. I would have to say this would be like a very upscale area in the United States where there is a wall. The wall is about maybe 12 to 14 feet high with the security cameras and lighting around it. It's not really something that we would have in the States a lot. There are metal gates with car barriers that prevent anyone from coming in. You would have to come in, they search your car, they lower the barrier, then you go in, and one car at a time is able to do this.

I really do not know of any areas where I've lived that are like that. Maybe they have a guard at the gate that's checking that. You live there, but there's not the walled-in area.

We have armed guards here, because of the military contracts that we work on. Other compounds may have just the security there, maybe there's a side pistol. But our guards have automatic weapons. We believe that there was automatic weapon fire exchanged, and one of the casualties was one of the guards. And, you know, our thoughts and condolences are to his family, and he was doing his job, and we really appreciate that, and we feel very, very bad for him and his family. COSTELLO: Oh, that's nice of you to say. You say a lot of military contractors lived in these compounds. We are trying to figure out if civilians were the target or if there was some military connection. What do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're all civilian here. The military is on a different compound, and this would be -- and they know this -- it would be very, very difficult to target. That is run to, you know, U.S. military standards for security, and it is extremely difficult to get in there.

COSTELLO: I guess I was...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you know, we attended (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there, and it takes a very long time to get through. You are thoroughly searched, so that wouldn't be an option for them.

COSTELLO: I understand. So, this was just an easier target for them, but a lot of people who live in these compounds are connected perhaps to the military in some way, through military contracts or working on equipment for the military and that sort of thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's affirmative. So, that is one of the reasons, and our compound is that way. The other compound is more of a business -- more of a Western business area. There are people there of all nationalities -- Jordanian, Lebanese, Syrian, Kuwaiti, Saudi. They're from everywhere -- the U.K., the U.S., Australia -- everywhere on that compound, but it's more of a mixed national.

Here, we are mainly Westerners on this compound, mainly to deal with the military.

The other compound, it's just probably because of visibility, it's visible from all of the major highways. It's known as a Western compound. It's a symbol. So, that is probably why.

COSTELLO: Understand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And everybody knows everybody on these compounds, so we have friends there that, you know, we're quite worried about.

COSTELLO: Michael, we know there were warnings issued to Americans, and we know that there were warnings of a possible terrorist attack. Did any Americans that you know living in Riyadh leave? And did you think of leaving?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you know, this is an ongoing situation in the region, and we are well aware of the warning messages that our embassy here gives out, as does the other countries' embassies. And we are not complacent to these, but we take them as a daily -- you know, work environment. It's almost an occupational hazard, if you will.

But when these things happen and when there is an actual credible threat, we do take precautions. And I believe that security was beefed up and local forces were investigating, and it's just that probably because that that cache was found, they may have acted sooner and less prepared than they had planned to. And maybe that is why the damage is not as extensive as it could be.

But we do follow all of the warnings that we get. We try to maintain low profiles. If and when we do go out to town, you know, we do not frequent the areas that are known to be areas that are not so friendly to the Westerners. We try to vary our routine. But this is commonplace here.

COSTELLO: All right, Michael, quickly, are you going to stay or go?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is yet to be decided. We're doing a risk profile now, and we'll see.

COSTELLO: All right, Michael...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going home on vacation anyway, so...


COSTELLO: So this is a good time. Michael, many thanks for calling in to DAYBREAK. We sure appreciate it, and we're glad you and your family are safe this morning.

In case you're wondering, 12,000 Americans live in Riyadh.


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