US bomb victims sue Saudi royal family for 'negligence'

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The Independent Online

The Saudi royal family and its National Guard is being sued for alleged negligence and inept security by the victims of an al-Qa'ida suicide bombing which killed 35 people and injured 200 at a housing compound in Riyadh in May 2003, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

The Saudi royal family and its National Guard is being sued for alleged negligence and inept security by the victims of an al-Qa'ida suicide bombing which killed 35 people and injured 200 at a housing compound in Riyadh in May 2003, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

The victims, former military trainers of the Vinnell Corporation, which has an $800m (£460m) contract to advise the Saudi National Guard, will claim in a legal complaint this week that the terrorist bombing was unchallenged because of non-existent security measures by the Saudis. This was despite repeated and detailed warnings by Robert Jordan, then US ambassador in Riyadh, that Islamic militants were planning an attack.

The writ is being filed in the US District Court of Washington DC on behalf of 17 former and current Vinnell employees who claim they were unable to arm or protect themselves because of the kingdom's laws and their contract with the Saudi National Guard.

They allege the compound was not monitored by security cameras; the National Guard officers were unarmed; clear signals of an attack were ignored; security was not upgraded after the warnings; and security assessments were never conducted.

The lawsuit comes after revelations in the IoS last year that the al-Qa'ida terrorists were secretly assisted by certain members of the Saudi National Guard before the bombing. Former Vinnell employee Lt-Colonel Raphael Maldonado said some members of the National Guard gave a detailed map of the target to al-Qa'ida beforehand. A "training exercise" was also organised by the National Guard to remove security staff and leave the compound "defenceless".

The allegations will revive the controversy over the failure of the Saudi royal family to deal with Islamic insurgents and complacency by some senior Saudis towards al-Qa'ida. Two days before the Riyadh bombing Prince Nayef, the Interior Minister, said publicly al-Qa'ida was not a serious threat inside Saudi Arabia.

The claims for compensation are based on horrific injuries and tragedy. One victim, Jerry Heroth Jr, was sitting on his bed in the Vinnell compound talking to a friend when the bomb exploded. His friend was immediately decapitated in front of him by a shard of glass. Mr Heroth was also injured, but the psychological damage was far worse. He was unable to work and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder which was so severe that he committed suicide. The tragedy has had devastating consequences for his wife and two young children, who are part of the legal complaint.

Two other Vinnell military trainers were killed in the explosion - James Carpenter and Quincy Knox. Both left young families who have suffered mental anguish and needed extensive counselling.

All the claimants sustained serious and permanent injuries, notably multiple lacerations, brain concussion, multiple fractures, burns and loss of hearing and eyesight. But they say that the psychological consequences have been more serious, with all suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Their multimillion-dollar claim for compensation is based on the Saudi government being responsible for security at the compound. All negotiations to create the contract for Vinnell to train the National Guard were conducted by the Saudi regime.

Vinnell, a subsidiary of the US defence contractor Northrop Grumann, denies that its security arrangements were deficient. It maintains the compound was secure. Some Saudi royals admitted there were security lapses. The Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, said: "We have to learn from our mistakes to improve our performance in this respect."

How the Saudi royal family responds to this new lawsuit could be a test of how seriously it is being taken.

Mark Hollingsworth is the author of 'Saudi Babylon: Torture, Corruption and Cover-Up Inside the House of Saud' (Mainstream)

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