Mon, May 19, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Saudi expatriate community deals with new dangers


Fearful of new bombings, foreigners kept off the streets in this western Saudi Arabian city, and the king vowed that terrorists would not be tolerated.

Saudi Arabia "will never allow any faction of deviated terrorists to harm the country and undermine the safety of its citizens and residents," King Fahd said Saturday in his first public comments on the Riyadh attacks that killed 34 people, including eight Americans, Monday.

US security officials had warned of possible strikes in Jiddah and a coordinated effort by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network to strike lightly defended targets worldwide.

Within hours of the warning, terrorists struck in Morocco, killing at least 31 bystanders and 10 attackers, and injuring about 100 others, officials said.

Foreigners in Jiddah kept away from crowded areas.

"We don't go [out] anymore because there is concern and we are being cautious," said Nino Roselund, a 31-year-old assistant food and beverage manager from Denmark. "I'm not scared, but I'm not stupid either. I don't want to take a chance."

Businessmen also said they were worried the Riyadh attacks will change the way companies do business in the kingdom.

"Of course we are worried and we are very concerned, especially from a business point of view. Saudis are very good to do business with, but they will have to get rid of this terrorism," said Swiss businessman Henry Gugsell, 54.

Gugsell represents a Swiss textile finishing company that has supplied traditional Arab headdresses for the Saudi market for 30 years. Many royal family members are clients.

King Fahd linked the attacks to government efforts to institute reform in the conservative kingdom. Muslim extremists believe the US is imposing attempts at social reform following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers involved in those attacks came from Saudi Arabia.

"The known truth to all Saudis is that reform has remained uninterrupted and will continue," the king said.

Recent examples include allowing international rights monitors to visit for the first time and a meeting by Crown Prince Abdullah with 40 Saudi reformers. The government also announced this month that it would set up a national human rights group.

In Saudi Arabia, however, there are no elections, women do not enjoy the same rights as men, speech is muzzled and minorities face discrimination.

More than 60 FBI and other US investigators are assisting Saudi authorities with the probe into Monday's attacks in Riyadh, about 300km northeast of Jiddah, the US Embassy said.

The Monday attacks hit three compounds housing expatriates, who make up the backbone of the oil-rich Gulf state's trained work force. The country has 6 million expatriate workers in a population of more than 20 million. The expatriates include about 35,000 Americans and 30,000 Britons, many of whom work in the oil, defense and medical industries.

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