Riyadh car bomb attack kills 4 and injures 148

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The Independent Online

At least four people were killed and 148 injured yesterday when a suicide bomber drove an explosives-packed car into a barrier outside the national police headquarters in Riyadh, bearing out US fears of a new terrorist offensive aimed at toppling the Saudi monarchy.

At least four people were killed and 148 injured yesterday when a suicide bomber drove an explosives-packed car into a barrier outside the national police headquarters in Riyadh, bearing out US fears of a new terrorist offensive aimed at toppling the Saudi monarchy.

The attack, which tore the front off the building and sent clouds of dust and dark smoke into the air, came just days after Washington warned that new terrorist strikes were likely against American and Western targets in the country, and non-essential US diplomatic staff were told to leave.

The suicide bombing, about 2pm local time, took place just 30 minutes before a scheduled meeting between Richard Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State, with the Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. The main Foreign Ministry building, where the meeting was held, is close to the police headquarters in the central al-Nasiriyah district of the Saudi capital.

Hours afterwards, however, confusion surrounded the exact circumstances of the bombing. A statement by the Saudi interior ministry spoke of just one car bomb, some 100ft from the main gate of the police building. But other officials earlier said that two cars laden with bombs had been parked even closer to the scene. There were claims several other car bombs were found and defused after a tip-off.

Television pictures showed the seven-storey edifice with its glass façade destroyed and flames raging in the exposed rooms behind. The fronts of surrounding buildings and nearby homes were also damaged, and the blast was heard and felt more than three miles away.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but last month, a message purporting to be from al-Qa'ida turned up on the internet, directly threatening members of the Saudi police, intelligence and security services. It warned that hitting such targets "in their homes or workplace" was "very easy". Since two suicide bombings struck Riyadh in May and November 2003, security forces have been leading a crackdown against Islamic militants, ordered by the Saudi royal family. Last week, Crown Prince Abdullah, who is, in effect, the country's ruler, told the cabinet that terrorism would be confronted and every citizen was now a member of the security forces.

Immediately after yesterday's blast, the Crown Prince paid a visited to some of the wounded in hospital ­ one of them a young man who was unconscious and on a respirator. One wounded man wore camouflage. "Your duty is our pride. God will help us to defeat these people," the Crown Prince said.

The latest attack came days after the Saudi authorities announced they had found three booby-trapped vehicles in Riyadh packed with explosives. The vehicles had apparently been abandoned after a firefight with security forces. That shootout, on 12 April, left one Saudi policeman and one suspected militant dead. On 13 April, again in Riyadh, militants killed four police officers when they opened fire on a security checkpoint.

The two deadly bombings of last year, as well as those this month, have been blamed on al-Qa'ida or related groups. If that is correct, the announced withdrawal of US forces from the kingdom after the Iraq war ­ that theoretically should have satisfied a key demand of Osama bin Laden ­ has conspicuously failed to do so.

Mr Armitage was in Riyadh as part of a tour announced earlier this month by President George Bush, to discuss Iraq with US allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia. There was no indication last night that the deputy secretary was a target of the bombing. But it comes when the close, often fraught US-Saudi relationship is again under the microscope.

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