Saudi Arabia is unsafe for Westerners, says dissident

War against terrorism: Warning for Westerners
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The Independent Online

A leading Saudi Arabian opposition figure is advising British expatriates to get out of the country to avoid rising hatred directed at Westerners.

Saad al-Fagih, the director of the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, who lives in London, said Britons living in Saudi Arabia would be wise to "take as many holidays as they can" and stay away until the war with the Taliban was over. His warning comes after a bomb attack in the town of Al-Khobar last weekend, in which an American was killed, and an incident on Tuesday in which a German couple narrowly escaped a petrol bomb attack.

Mr Fagih claims other acts of violence against Westerners are being covered up by the Saudi authorities and he predicts more attacks while the Allied bombing continues. "Sentiments in the country at the moment are running very high against America and the West," he said.

"British and Americans must take precautions at the moment. My best advice would be to take a long holiday and get out of the country for as long as it takes for the bombing to subside. The longer it continues to escalate, the more chance there is of hatred and violence."

Mr Fagih, a former consultant at the King Khaled University Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, who was jailed for his reformist views, said his organisation had been "astonished" at the level of anger at Westerners and the Saudi royals.

He said: "People who opposed the royal family saw them as bad, oppressive Muslims but now fatwas are being issued that say anyone who gives support to an infidel is an infidel and that is being interpreted as the royal family helping the Americans ... it leaves the royal family very vulnerable to attack."

British expatriates in the kingdom told The Independent they were afraid to leave the compounds in which they lived. Security has become a priority while the social scene has all but dried up as people choose to keep a low profile.

The Foreign Office knows of 25,000 Britons living in Saudi Arabia, but added that many times more had not registered.

Mr Fagih said he had heard of two attacks on Westerners in recent days that had gone unreported by the authorities – a small explosion in a hotel in Riyadh and another at a grocery store in Al-Khobar.

One Briton, who has worked in Saudi Arabia since 1991, said: "Some people are very afraid. I'm not leaving the compound where I live except to go to work ... You go everywhere by car so as not to make yourself a target. But before you get in, you check your vehicle for bombs."

Last November, Christopher Rodway, a British engineer, died in a bomb blast blamed by Saudi Arabia on other Britons.