Suicide bomber hits near US Consulate in Saudi Arabia

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A suicide bomber carried out an attack early on Monday near the U.S. Consulate in the western Saudi Arabian city of Jiddah, according to the Interior Ministry.

The ministry said the attacker detonated his suicide vest when security guards approached him near the parking lot of a hospital. The attacker died and two security men were lightly wounded, according to the ministry statement, which was published by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. Some cars in the parking lot were damaged.

Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki was quoted in the statement as saying the guards noticed the man was acting suspiciously at an intersection on the corner of the heavily fortified U.S. Consulate in Jiddah, near the Dr. Soliman Fakeeh Hospital and a mosque. Most of the consulate’s staff had reportedly moved offices to a new location.

The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia confirmed there were no casualties or injuries among the consular staff. The embassy said it remains in contact with Saudi authorities as they investigate.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Interior Ministry did not say whether the bomber intended to target the U.S. diplomatic compound, adding that an investigation is underway to determine his identity.

The state-run news channel al-Ekhbariya, quoting the Interior Ministry, said the bomber was not a Saudi citizen, but a resident of the kingdom. It gave no further details on his nationality. There are around 9 million foreigners living in Saudi Arabia, which has a total population of 30 million.

Footage aired on the channel after the attack showed crime scene investigators and police casing the area for evidence and dusting for fingerprints. Al-Ekhbariya said security forces detonated six explosive devices found at the scene.

A 2004 al-Qaida-linked militant attack on the U.S. Consulate in Jiddah killed five locally hired consular employees and four gunmen. The three-hour battle at the compound came amid a wave of al-Qaida attacks targeting Westerners and Saudi security posts.

More recently, Saudi Arabia has been a target of Islamic State attacks that have killed dozens of people. The extremist Sunni group views the Western-allied Saudi monarchy and government as heretics. Saudi Arabia is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria.

In June, the Interior Ministry reported 26 terror attacks in the kingdom in the last two years. IS affiliates have targeted minority Shiites and security officials.

Monday’s attack came just days before the end of the holy month of Ramadan, during which observant Muslims fast daily from dawn to dusk.

The U.S. Embassy regularly issues advisory messages for U.S. citizens in Saudi Arabia. In a message issued Sunday and another one issued after the attack Monday, the embassy urged Americans to “remain aware of their surroundings, and take extra precautions when travelling throughout the country.” It also advised citizens to “carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia.”

In neighboring Kuwait on Monday, security forces said they had arrested several suspects with alleged ties to IS, including an 18-year-old man who was planning to attack a Shiite mosque in the final days of Ramadan. Officials did not say when the arrests took place. An IS affiliate claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing carried out by a Saudi man last year in one of Kuwait’s oldest Shiite mosques. That attack killed 27 people.

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