4 Suicide Attacks Hit Saudi Capital

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- As an investigation began into the suicide attacks against residential compounds and a business in the Saudi capital, there was confusion Tuesday over the death toll, with numbers that ranged from 20 to nearly five times as many.

Early reports by a Saudi official put the toll at 20. He said that seven Americans, seven Saudis, two Jordanians, two Filipinos, one Lebanese and one Swiss died when four car bombs exploded beginning late Monday night. In addition, nine charred bodies believed to be those of the suicide attackers were found, the official said.

Later an unidentified State Department official in Washington was quoted by news agencies as saying the toll had risen to 90 or 91. But within an hour or two the same official revised the total to come closer to the original tally.

The uncertainty over the toll continued at a State Department briefing in Washington on Tuesday afternoon when a spokesman said, "Ninety-one is a number that has been out there; it's one of the reports."

A Saudi Interior Ministry statement, read on state television, said 194 people were wounded in the car bomb blasts.

U.S. President George W. Bush reacted with anger and resolve.

"Today's attacks in Saudi Arabia, the ruthless murder of American citizens and other citizens, remind us that the war on terror continues," he said at an appearance in Indianapolis.

Bush called the bombings "despicable acts committed by killers whose only faith is hate." The crowd of 7,000 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds roared its approval when he said, "The United States will find the killers, and they will learn the meaning of American justice."

Secretary of State Colin Powell, on a scheduled visit to Riyadh, said U.S. experts, whom he did not identify, would be leaving the United States immediately to help in the investigation.

Powell and the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, condemned what they said were terrorist attacks, and they resolved to increase their efforts to crush those who carry out such acts. The secretary said the attacks had the earmarks of the terrorist network al-Qaida.

"The attacks have all the fingerprints of al-Qaida," Powell said during his visit to the bombed site.

The explosions occurred at private compounds for some of the thousands of foreign business personnel who work in Saudi Arabia.

Live pictures from the scene attested to the power of the blasts. The walls and buildings of one apartment building, once apparently four stories high, were completely blown out, and the blackened exterior walls were blasted completely from their foundation. The twisted and burned wreckage of cars littered the streets.

The compounds are home to American, British, Italian and other Westerners, as well as to Saudis and citizens of other Middle Eastern countries. Some of those attacked were the upscale enclaves that house the high-paid Western executives who run joint ventures and other large businesses in the kingdom. Three blasts came almost simultaneously, just before midnight on Monday local time, and a fourth followed shortly afterward, Saudi officials said.

"The three explosions that occurred in eastern Riyadh were suicide bombings," the Saudi interior minister, Prince Nayef, told Al Riyadh daily, the newspaper's web site reported.

"They were set off by cars stuffed with explosives that were driven into the targeted compounds," he said.

The U.S. Embassy said that at two of the compounds the booby-trapped vehicles came to the rear gate and detonated there, prompting gunfire from security guards, but in some cases the explosives-laden vehicles breached the walls and exploded within the compounds. At the third compound, vehicles crashed through the gates, killing the armed guards on duty.

The Saudi ruling family has warned repeatedly that the failure to promote peace in the region would inflame extremist sentiment and that the occupation of Iraq would only serve to fuel such attacks.

The attackers struck after the State Department issued an extraordinarily specific warning May 1 that terrorists "may be in the final phases of planning attacks" on U.S. targets in Saudi Arabia.

The attacks followed a botched attempt by the Saudi security services to seize a cell that the Interior Ministry accused of being linked to al-Qaida.

A senior Saudi official said that 19 suspected militants, 17 of whom are Saudis, sought in the raid had escaped. The suspects, the official said, had served in Afghanistan or Chechnya and had links to radical clerics.

A huge arms cache including hand grenades, assault rifles, ammunition, disguises and tens of thousands of dollars in cash were seized, a Saudi official said.

United States officials said the nearly simultaneous explosions were reminiscent of al-Qaida attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

According to Saudi officials, the main attack was at the Hamra compound, whose residents comprise roughly equal numbers of Westerners and Arabs.

Diplomats said the wounded foreigners were reportedly from the Hamra compound.

Another attack was at a compound known as Granada, whose residents included employees of a British aerospace company and, possibly, a British school, the Saudi official said.

The third attack, the Saudi official said, was at the premises of the Vinnell Corp., an American consulting group for the Saudi National Guard.

According to The Associated Press, the fourth blast went off early Tuesday at the headquarters of the Saudi Maintenance Co., also known as Siyanco. The company is a joint-owned venture between Frank E. Basil Inc. of Washington and local Saudi partners.

Oil prices jumped more than 4 percent Tuesday after the suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, reignited concerns over Middle East supply, Reuters reported.

U.S. light crude rose $1.15, or 4.2 percent, to $28.50 a barrel, while London's Brent crude rose $1.01 to $25.90 a barrel.