BA halts stopovers in wake of attacks

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The Independent Online

British Airways cancelled all overnight stays in Saudi Arabia for its crews yesterday while the Foreign Office advised Britons remaining in the country to tighten security in response to Monday night's suicide bomb attacks.

The airline said crews operating flights between London and Riyadh or Jeddah would stay overnight in Larnaca, Cyprus, which was also used by staff during the Iraq war.

Despite warnings from the Foreign Office that the threat of further attacks remained high, a BA spokeswoman said: "We haven't seen any rush in bookings from people wanting to get out of Saudi Arabia since the attacks. We're fairly busy on the routes, but then we usually are. These are services mainly used by business executives and expatriates."

Most British companies operating in Saudi Arabia, already accustomed to vigilance, took a similar view. "Business as usual means constant security," said a spokesman for GlaxoSmithKline, who added: "Since 11 September, we have had heightened security, which we keep under constant scrutiny and continue to do so."

Ian Thomas, of Amec, an engineering company with about 60 British and 2,000 other, predominantly Filipino, staff at a gas separation plant in the east, said: "We have had security measures in place for quite a while and the guys are very aware of the situation."

Some firms, such as Corus, said that all the guidance necessary was being offered to support local staff, but many of the larger companies, including Shell and Exxon, were unwilling to comment on security for staff, stating that all employees had been accounted for, while conceding that communication had been limited.

The Foreign Office advised Britons in Saudi Arabia to increase their security and be careful when visiting tourist spots, such as hotels and restaurants. A statement warned: "Following three suicide bomb attacks in Riyadh on 12 May, there remains a high threat of further large or small-scale attacks against Western interests in Saudi Arabia. Terrorist attacks could involve the use of chemical and biological materials."

Britons have long been warned of the threat of attacks in Saudi Arabia after bombings involving expatriates. As tension grew in the run-up to the Allies' invasion of Iraq, the Government advised against non-essential travel. The advice was revised on 2 May to warn that an attack might be in the "final phases of planning".