Irish worker shot dead in Riyadh as militants pick soft targets

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The Independent Online

An Irish civil engineer was killed in his office in Riyadh yesterday by attackers who stormed in with machine-guns.

An Irish civil engineer was killed in his office in Riyadh yesterday by attackers who stormed in with machine-guns.

The brazen attack appeared to demonstrate that Islamic militants bent on driving foreigners from the kingdom are still able to operate at will, despite efforts by the Saudi government to stop the violence.

More than 90 people, many of them foreigners, have been killed by the Saudi militants over the last year.

The most horrific attack took place in May, when 22 people were slaughtered in the gated community of Khobar Towers, some of who had their throats cut.

Yesterday's shooting was the second killing of an Irish national in two months. On 6 June, Simon Cumbers, the cameraman working with the BBC security correspondent, Frank Gardner, was killed while they were filming in a known militant district in the Saudi capital. Mr Gardner was seriously wounded in the attack.

The civil engineer, who according to reports was 63 years old, had not been identified by last night, and only a few details were available on the shooting.

A Saudi official said at least two armed men stormed the office of the Saudi-owned Rocky for Trade and Construction at about 6.30pm and killed the engineer in his office. Saudi police were investigating the shooting.

Ireland has a community of 1,200 working in Saudi Arabia, which is small compared to the 35,000 Americans and 30,000 Britons in the kingdom.

The Saudis have claimed some success in cracking down on the militants who have targeted government institutions, oil industry sites and foreign workers in the world's largest oil exporter, which relies upon expatriate labour.

The latest sustained wave of violence in Saudi Arabia began on 12 May last year, when car bombs targeted three compounds housing foreign workers, killing 35 people, including nine suicide bombers.

Saudi forces killed a Saudi al-Qa'ida leader, Abdulaziz al-Muqrin, and three other militants after they beheaded Paul Johnson, an American hostage who worked for Lockheed Martin, the US defence contractor.

He was the first Westerner to be kidnapped, on 12 June, and was beheaded six days later. Two other Americans were killed in the week before Johnson's kidnapping.

Government forces have clashed with many suspected militants in Suweidi district, where 15 of the 26 most wanted militants in the kingdom are based. Mr Gardner was filming in Suweidi when he was attacked.

Despite the offer of a limited one-month amnesty, only a handful of militants took up the offer which ended at the end of last month.

They are believed to have links to Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of al-Qa'ida who is the sworn enemy of the House of Saud.

The offer was made after Saudi forces killed a local al-Qa'ida leader, Abdulaziz al-Muqrin, and three other militants after they beheaded the US hostage Paul Johnson.

Saudi authorities have warned that the militants are now going after soft targets because of the well-protected oil industry.

According to Prince Turki, the Saudi ambassador to London and a former intelligence chief who knows Bin Laden: "They will not get to the oil. If they could they would have done it already. We are not much concerned about the effect of these attacks on the oil industry."

He added, in an interview with The Independent: "[The terrorists] want to cut off Saudi Arabia from any contact with anyone.

"Our struggle with these people will continue until every last one of them is caught and brought to justice."

Ireland has advised its citizens against non-essential travel to Saudi Arabia, and the embassy has urged Irish residents to take security measures because of recent attacks. The British embassy has also advised against non-essential travel to the kingdom.

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