Riyadh Beefs Up Security for Diplomats

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi Arabia stepped up security for diplomats on Monday and Western residences across the capital Riyadh said they were beefing up defenses after suspected suicide bombers killed at least 17 people in a housing compound.

The United States Embassy was closed to the public for the third day in a row and diplomats said it would not reopen before Wednesday at the earliest.

The embassy, which stands in a diplomatic quarter guarded by a military checkpoint, closed on Saturday after Washington warned that militants were planning imminent attacks.

"The Saudi government has been responsive to our request. They have stepped up security," a U.S. diplomat told Reuters, without detailing the new measures.

The moves came in response to a bombing early on Saturday night at a compound housing mainly Arab expatriates on the desert outskirts of the Saudi capital. It was the second devastating attack against compounds in Riyadh in six months.

Many residential compounds in Riyadh, housing expatriates who hold key jobs in the kingdom's oil industry and military programs, already resemble army camps from the outside.

Ringed by up to 50 soldiers from Saudi Arabia's national guard, their high perimeter walls are topped by razor wire, surrounded with concrete blocks and monitored by closed circuit television. Some have machine guns at the gate and armored vehicles draped in camouflage netting near the entrance.

But at least two said they were further tightening security after militants opened fire on security guards at the Muhaya compound on Sunday and drove a vehicle packed with explosives into the villa complex before detonating it.

"I'm meeting residents right now. We're beefing up our own security," said the manager of a compound which spends 1.5 million riyals a year ($400,000) safeguarding its occupants.

The world's biggest oil exporter is battling a surge in Islamist violence but vows that militants will not destabilize the Saudi ruling family which has embarked on a cautious program of political and economic reform.

The government has blamed Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network for the attack. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said in Riyadh the movement wanted to "take down the royal family and government of Saudi Arabia."

Many people in Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam, were angered by an attack which took place in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and targeted a mainly Arab and Muslim compound.

Newspaper editorials voiced outrage and said Saudis must make their opposition to violence absolutely clear.

"Riyadh has lived through two bloody nights this year," al Watan newspaper declared. "We must at this stage be more honest with ourselves and braver in voicing our opinions.

"We should in all honesty declare against terrorism, not in general but against those terrorists. You are either with the country or with terrorism."