Sun, Jun 13, 2004 - Page 6 News List

For Westerners in Saudi Arabia, fear a fact of life

`NOT LEAVING' They feel the terror threat, but some Western workers choose to remain and deal with the danger by figuring out how to fit in with the locals


The surge of terror attacks targeting foreigners at the office, in the home and on the street have rattled the nearly 9 million outsiders who play a key role in Saudi Arabia's economy.

Worry is particularly strong among the Westerners working in the oil sector, banking and other high-level businesses. Some have moved up vacation plans and will decide whether to return depending on whether violence persists. Others are leaving for good.

A few insist they will stick it out.

"I'm not leaving," said Peter Birch, a 40-year-old Briton who arrived just a few weeks ago to take a job here with British Aerospace.

Stopping to talk while shopping at a supermarket, he said the killings have made him aware of the need to be cautious, but not fearful. "I feel safe enough despite the killings."

Nicolas Seutin, a 30-year-old lawyer from Belgium, said he is being more careful now and finds it "disturbing to go out in the street."

Trying to make himself less conspicuous, Seutin began 10 days ago to wear the baggy pants and long shirts worn in Pakistan when he bicycles to and from his office.

"When I do that, the street feels less hostile," he said.

"At work, I take out my shoes, socks, suit, shirt and tie out of a bag, change and meet the clients," he said.

Many foreigners are so anxious that they won't speak on the record, in fear of being traced by extremists.

At a villa in Riyadh, the capital, nine mostly Western women sat down for coffee and cakes this week with only one thing on their mind: safety.

Can they trust their lives to the Saudi security personnel guarding their compound? Does the government have a grip on the security situation? How can they blend into an Arab society with their blond hair and non-Arab features.

"Prayer beads or Korans hanging from the rearview mirror, a sheepskin rug, a tissue box and a checkered headdress on the dashboard," a European woman said, giving tips on how to make cars appear more Saudi. Like many in the room, she didn't want even her first name reported.

"I wish my husband would dye his hair black," said Dessa, an Asian woman married to a blond European, commenting on rumors that Western men are growing goatees, darkening their hair color and being fitted for thobes, the long white robes worn by Saudi men.

A 41-year-old American woman said: "I'm not afraid at all because I believe that I can go home and get hit by a bus. This is where our home is, and we've made a decision to stay here as a family."

A few hours after that gathering Tuesday, Robert Jacobs, a 62-year-old American who worked for the US defense contractor Vinnell, was shot to death in his Riyadh home. His family said he chose not to live in Vinnell's housing compound because he had adapted to Saudi life and culture.

Two days earlier, an Irish cameraman was killed and a British TV correspondent was critically wounded when fired on while filming in a neighborhood that is home to many Islamic militants.

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