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Terror Attacks in Riyadh

Aired November 8, 2003 - 18:01   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with breaking news out of Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh. Three loud explosions have ripped across a residential compound in the western part of the city. At least 100 people are injured. No U.S. diplomats lived in al-Muhaya compound, but some Americans do. The compound is about three miles from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh. producer Caroline Faraj is in Dubai. She is working her sources in Saudi Arabia. And she joins us right now by telephone. Caroline, what are you hearing?
CAROLINE FARAJ, PRODUCER, CNN: Well, what I hear right now is we've got (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the compound to confirm that at the al- Muhaya compound they heard some shooting was basically heard between the militants or quote, unquote, "the terrorists," according to her as well as the security forces. And then after that, three explosions were extremely heard. And still right now the security forces and the fireman are trying to cover the area because the fire is all over the place.

Now according to the manager of this campaign, she was saying that 200 villas in this compound, only four of them are non-Arab, and the rest are all Arab expatriates living there. And according to her the nationalities of the four non-Arab families are two Germans, one Italian and one French. She also added that most of the people who are basically at that time in this compound were either children or kids, because the families were basically outside the compound due to the fact that it was Ramadan time right now. She confirmed that more than 24 ambulances as well were seen coming in and out of the area. And she is expecting not less than 100, that is either killed or injured were taken out of the compound.

LIN: So approximately 100 killed or injured are you saying Caroline?

FARAJ: Yes, she was saying that it is not less than 100. She cannot confirm whether they were killed or they were injured. But she said that not less than 100. And she is reiterating the fact that most of them are kids (UNINTELLIGIBLE) people inside, yes.

LIN: All right, thank you very much Caroline. It is difficult to hear you and difficult to understand you because there is an echo in the room from where you are reporting, but that is Caroline Faraj working her sources in Saudi Arabia. CNN's Chris Plante is at the Pentagon right now. Chris, from what I gather from Caroline she said at least 100 people injured, possibly even killed. It sounded like Caroline was saying mostly children. Do you have any idea your sources there at the Pentagon who the intended target was? CHRIS PLANTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, quite honestly Carol, the Pentagon is tracking the situation but they are not being very forthcoming if they have any facts available. We did contact a senior State Department official who is tracking the situation. We are told that the compound is a compound of approximately five kilometers, about three miles from where the U.S. embassy is. There are wire reports corroborating what Caroline was saying that the compound apparently houses mostly Arab expatriates, a few Westerners, a small number of Westerners, according to the wire reports from the scenes. This senior State Department official had not immediate take on how many casualties there may have been. The facts are still coming in.

The situation is still considerably murky. But it is worth noting that just yesterday the State Department announced that they continue to receive credible information that terrorists in Saudi Arabia had moved from the planning phase of planned attacks to the operational phase. And that warning was certainly borne out today. The U.S. closed the embassy in Riyadh and the consulates in the east coast city of Bahrain and in the west coast city of Jeddah for fear that the U.S. facilities would be targeted by these terrorists. It is believed that al Qaeda is behind these attacks or at least the planning that had been detected by U.S. intelligence. It is believed that al Qaeda is behind these. So it doesn't come as a complete surprise. But it sounds at this point that the target may be quite unexpected, Carol.

LIN: All right, in terms of how they are investigating this or in what manner can you give us any more on that Chris?

PLANTE: Well, it is, again, at the very early stages. This just took place shortly after 4 p.m. Eastern time, shortly after midnight in Riyadh. And the facts, as I said, are still coming in. Not many Westerners. We are told that there were no U.S. officials housed at this complex. Many foreigners living in Saudi Arabia live in these walled compounds with their families in order to live a lifestyle that may not be entirely in keeping with the Saudi lifestyle. But facts are thin at this point, and quite honestly there is not much more to add right now.

LIN: All right, I appreciate it. Thank you very much. Chris Plante reporting live from the Pentagon.

All right, joining us right now by telephone is Raid Qusti. He in Riyadh. Raid what can you share with us about what you know? I understand you are a journalist there.

RAID QUSTI, JOURNALIST, ARAB NEWS: Yes, I am a journalist working for Arab News. The reports that are coming in are still sketchy at the moment, but we have been told that 20 to 30 people have been killed and the injuries up to 60.

LIN: All right, any idea on who the perpetrator might be?

QUSTI: It is still not clear yet. Things, as you know, it is still in its early stages. I think security personnel are working hard on saving lives at the time being. LIN: Riyadh, give us a sense of exactly what happened. Are you near the location? Did you hear anything? Did you see anything?

QUSTI: I am very, very near to the location. Police are shifting and directing cars to other streets. Believe it or not this might sound silly but onlookers and curious citizens and residents who have flocked to the area in the hundreds are actually preventing rescuer operations in from taking place. You have -- I have seen at least two-dozen ambulances going in. I have also seen special forces units and additional police forces who have been called in to beef up security in the diplomatic quarter.

LIN: Riyadh, give us an idea of what that compound is like. Who lives there? What does it look like? What sort of security make it a likely target?

QUSTI: Compounds in Saudi Arabia and especially after the May 12 terrorist attack are highly guarded and have maximum security. Usually, people who do not live in the compound are not allowed in without an invitation, cars are checked, trunks and hoods are asked to be open. Barricades are put around these compounds. And all compounds to my knowledge are guarded by people from the National Guard after the May 12 terrorist attacks. This compound I have been told it houses several expatriates. I have been told also that no American citizens are living in that compound.

LIN: All right, several Arab expatriates according to our earlier reporting. Raid Qusti, thank you very much. Raid Qusti who is with Arab News in Riyadh, the bureau chief there. We are going to, of course, keep our eye on this breaking news story. As many as 30 to 100 people injured or killed in a series of explosions in a residential compound in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.


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