American shot dead by Riyadh gunmen

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The Independent Online

An American man was shot dead on the streets of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, yesterday, the third Westerner to be killed there in a week.

An American man was shot dead on the streets of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, yesterday, the third Westerner to be killed there in a week.

The victim was reportedly shot in the late afternoon as he tried to park his car at his home, and died shortly afterwards.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Saudi Arabia said the circumstances were still being investigated, but last night most were blaming the Islamic militants responsible for a string of recent attacks on foreign workers.

Witnesses report seeing three gunmen shoot the latest victim in the back, before moving in to fire more shots.

The news came just hours after a leading Saudi minister attempted to reassure European leaders that the threat of terrorism remains under control in the kingdom.

Speaking in London, Saleh bin Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, Minister for Islamic Affairs, said: "Of course it is a problem but it has not reached a stage of crisis in Saudi Arabia. Our assessment of the situation is that it is controllable, but because there are sleeping cells and because the terrorists live in a crowded area, the Saudi forces do not want to hurt local people."

Later there were reports that the Saudi police had found a car rigged with explosives in the capital.

Attacks against Westerners, government targets and economic interests have surged in the past two months, despite a high-profile campaign against terrorists which the government began after suicide bombings last year.

The militants have used a range of tactics, including shootings, ambushes, suicide bombings and swift attacks under the cover of darkness.

They are also trying to avoid killing Muslims. The death of several Muslims and Arabs in a November compound attack in Riyadh horrified Saudi Muslims.

An estimated 8.8 million foreigners work among 17 million Saudis in the kingdom, mostly in the oil sector, banking and other high-level businesses.

Yesterday's shooting is the latest in a series of attacks against foreign workers in Saudi Arabia. On 22 May, a German chef was shot and killed outside a bank in Riyadh. A BBC cameraman, Simon Cumbers, was killed, and the corporation's security correspondent, Frank Gardner, was injured in a drive-by shooting in Riyadh on 6 June.

A US defence contractor was murdered in the eastern al-Khalij district of the capital two days later.

A spokeswoman for the BBC said today that Mr Gardner's condition remained "serious but stable".

Although all Westerners are believed to be targets, the militants have been concentrating on attempting to disrupt the oil industry, vital to Saudi Arabia and the global economy.

An assault last month on a housing complex in the eastern city of Khobar killed 22 people, mostly foreign oil workers, and was claimed by al-Qa'ida.

In April, terrorists attacked the offices of a US energy company in Yanbu, killing six Westerners and a Saudi.

Sheikh Saleh told journalists at the Saudi Embassy in London that ongoing conflict over Palestine was partly to blame for a rise in tensions.

He said: "The conflict in the Middle East has filled many Muslims with hatred because there is an obvious bias towards Israel."

Sheikh Saleh was asked whether there was any truth in reports that sympathetic members of the Saudi authorities have been passing information to terrorists, but refused to confirm or deny the allegations.

The Saudi authorities have tried to reassure foreigners that they are safe, but some countries - including France and Germany - are advising their nationals to stay away.

The Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to the country and says it believes further terrorist attacks are planned. The US has urged its citizens to leave the kingdom.

Last night US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Oberwetter, released a statement expressing his condolences to the families of the victims.

"Those Americans who choose to remain here should exercise the utmost caution as they go about their daily life," he said.

"I applaud Saudi Arabia's determination to bring an end to terrorism in the kingdom."

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