Sun, Jul 04, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US orders families, non-emergency staff out of Bahrain

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

The US Defense Department issued a mandatory evacuation order on Friday for non-emergency employees and family members of American military personnel in Bahrain, because of concern about planned attacks by extremists on US and Western targets in the Gulf state.

The kingdom is home to the US Navy Fifth Fleet.

Approval

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved the "temporary relocation," lasting at least 30 days, after the State Department issued an advisory about planned attacks.

"Credible information indicates that extremists remain at large and are planning attacks in Bahrain," the advisory stated.

"At this point, it is a mandatory departure," said Pentagon spokesman Jim Turner. "However, we are monitoring the situation closely.

"Commanders constantly assess the threat and take measures as appropriate to protect service members, civilian employees and their families."

The non-emergency employees and family members of US military personnel were expected to relocate to the US, Turner said.

Earlier, American citizens in Bahrain were urged to consider leaving.

Neighboring Saudi Arabia has been hit by a wave of suicide bombings and shootings of Westerners carried out by Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

It is less than two weeks since Bahrain arrested six men on suspicion of supporting al-Qaeda and planning attacks in the Gulf state, but then freed them because of lack of evidence.

No details

The US Embassy in Manama gave no details about the threat in Bahrain, but mentioned the suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia, which hit residential compounds.

Scores of Westerners and other foreigners -- who form the bulk of the workforce in the world's largest oil exporter -- have recently left Saudi Arabia for Bahrain to escape a string of al-Qaeda attacks.

Pro-Western Bahrain is linked to Saudi Arabia by a causeway and its largely liberal, tolerant society and less restrictive lifestyle make it a haven for foreigners.

But Bahrain has seen several violent protests against US policy in the Middle East, including demonstrations organized by Shi'ite Muslim opposition groups.

In February last year, five Bahrainis were arrested and accused of planning "terror" attacks in the kingdom.

Last month, the US State Department warned about the possibility of militant attacks in the oil-rich Gulf region after a kidnapped American was beheaded in Saudi Arabia.

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