Islamic militants threw explosives at the gate of the heavily guarded US consulate in Jiddah in a bold assault, then forced their way into the building, prompting a gunbattle that left at least seven people dead and several injured before the three-hour long crisis was brought under control.
Three attackers were among those killed, while two others were injured and arrested, the Saudi Interior Ministry announced. Saudi security officials also said four of their forces, who apparently stormed the compound after the initial attack, were killed.
The ministry statement did not mention hostages, but Saudi officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said some Indian and Sudanese employees of the consulate were taken hostage and later freed.
In Riyadh, US Embassy spokeswoman Carol Kalin said several local staff members had been killed, but all American staff were safe and none had been taken hostage.
Kalin said it was unclear if any of the US Marine guards inside the consulate were involved in the gunbattle.
"We have accounted for all Americans in the compound in Jiddah and none of them are being held hostage," Kalin said.
As a precaution, she said, the US Embassy in Riyadh and consulate in Dhahran were closed to the public.
Saudi security forces, including snipers, could be seen on the rooftops of buildings around the consulate compound. Thick smoke rose from the compound and helicopters hovered overhead.
The White House was monitoring the situation, spokesman Sean McCormack said.
The statement by a Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, said a "deviant bunch" -- a reference to Islamic militants -- threw explosives at the gate of the consulate, then entered. Saudi security forces engaged the attackers, "killing three aggressors, and two were captured after they were hit," the statement said.
A senior Saudi official in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the attackers took several hostages, mostly Sudanese and Indian, just inside a gate at the consulate where people come to get their visas. The Saudi official said the Indian and Sudanese nationals worked in that area.
During the hostage standoff, the official said, there were some negotiations, but Saudi security forces stormed the attackers when threats were made. There was a brief firefight that ended with the three attackers being killed and two captured, the Saudi official said.