Thursday, March 08, 2007

Saudi authorities warn foreigners of attacks

Embassies issue travel warnings to nationals

Compiled by Daily Star staff.

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have warned foreign embassies that a group blamed for last month's killing of four French nationals could strike again, diplomats said on Wednesday.

"We received a message from the Saudi foreign ministry, addressed to all embassies and diplomatic and international representations in Riyadh, stating that the group responsible for the killing of our compatriots on February 26 might perpetrate other similar acts in town or elsewhere," a French Embassy spokesman said.

"We have reacted immediately by informing our nationals of the warning which urged foreigners in general to be cautious and to call police as soon as they notice that they are being monitored," he said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour Turki could not provide immediate comment.

Some French residents in Riyadh said they received text messages on Tuesday from their embassy informing them of the Saudi warning.

Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday it had arrested some suspects in the killing of the four French nationals and gave 24 hours to two Saudi nationals to turn themselves in.

Abdullah Sayer al-Mohammadi and Nasser bin Latif al-Balawi have not abided by the ultimatum which expired at 0500 GMT on Wednesday, Turki said.

The ministry offered 7 million riyals ($1.9 million) for information leading to the arrest of the two men whose pictures were published on front pages of local newspapers.

The four French nationals, including a teenager, were killed on February 26 during a desert trip in the Arab country. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Saudi authorities said that two attackers perpetrated the killing which was the first attack on foreigners since 2005.

The US and British embassies in Riyadh also urged their citizens to be vigilant in the wake of the killings.

In a new warden message posted on its Web site, the US Embassy said it had been notified by Saudi authorities that "embassy personnel should defer travel to desert areas in northern Saudi Arabia from Medina, north to Qurayat, and in the vicinity of the ruins at Madain Saleh until further notice."

The slain Frenchmen were returning to their homes in Riyadh after visiting the historic site of Madain Saleh, a popular destination for Western expatriates.

The US warden message said that since May 2006, US diplomatic personnel had been restricted from "recreational activities" outside the city limits of Riyadh, Jeddah on the Red Sea, and the Dahran/Dammam/Khobar area in the east.

"The embassy recommends American citizens living in Saudi Arabia consider this information and take appropriate personal security precautions," it added.

Saudi Arabia has vowed to crack down on Islamic militants and condemned the attack.

Islamic militants swearing allegiance to Al-Qaeda launched a violent campaign to topple the US-allied Saudi monarchy in 2003, carrying out suicide bomb attacks on foreigners and government installations, including the oil industry.

Some of the estimated 100,000 Western residents in the kingdom left after the earlier attacks, reducing the number to around 60,000, but many have since returned, diplomats said.

Tough security measures and a powerful publicity campaign helped crush the violence but analysts and diplomats have said the underlying drives of radical Islamic ideology and anger at Western policy in the region remain strong. - AFP.

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