BAE on standby to evacuate staff as terror threat mounts in Saudi

Clayton Hirst
Sunday 20 June 2004 00:00 BST

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BAE Systems is considering whether to pull some of its 2,000-strong UK workforce out of Saudi Arabia, as the threat of terrorism intensifies.

BAE Systems is considering whether to pull some of its 2,000-strong UK workforce out of Saudi Arabia, as the threat of terrorism intensifies.

The defence giant provides services to the Saudi air force in a contract worth over £2bn a year. But a BAE spokesman in Saudi Arabia admitted that the recent spate of terrorist attacks meant the company was considering whether expat workers should be sent home.

"We are reviewing the situation of the UK workers. At the moment everything is possible and decisions will be made to an extent based on the advice given by the Saudi and British authorities," said the spokesman.

Saudi Arabia faces a "high threat of terrorism", according to the Foreign Office. It is advising against "all but the most essential travel to Saudi Arabia" and has arranged for "non-essential" workers and their families to leave the country.

BAE, run by chief executive Mike Turner, classes its workers as "essential". But the spokesman added: "The safety of our employees is the most important thing - that is why we are reviewing the situation. And to be frank, there is a lot of concern from our workers.

"We are not used to things happening this way. The tactics of the terrorists are changing and we don't know what will happen next."

The kingdom and the West were shocked on Friday night by the apparent beheading of an American engineer, captured by al-Qa'ida militants in Saudi Arabia. This follows the killing of a BBC cameraman and the attack on an oil facility in the centre of Khobar, which killed 22 people. Analysts believe that Western workers in Saudi Arabia are now being actively targeted by al-Qa'ida.

BAE has 4,800 people working in Saudi Arabia on the Al Yamamah project. About 2,000 are from the UK. Al Yamamah is BAE's single largest contract, signed 20 years ago. Saudi authorities pay BAE in oil.

BAE is sending its employees regular text messages to their mobile phones, with updates on the security situation.

Many Western firms are reported to be losing faith in the security protection offered by the Saudi National Guard and are turning to private security contractors for extra protection.

Nick Day, chief executive of Diligence, the corporate security specialist, said: "There is a real concern whether the Saudi authorities can cope with the upsurge in violence. I believe that the situation will get worse before it gets better.

"Our advice to Western workers is keep a low profile, don't wear a tie, black out windows in the car, even grow a beard."

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