Khobar Towers was a housing complex built by the Saudis in 1979 near the city of Dhahran, Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia, but essentially unoccupied until the Gulf War in 1990. During and following the War, coalition forces operating in the Dhahran area occupied the Towers, including service members from the United States, Saudi Arabia, France, and the United Kingdom. Saudi military families currently live in the southern section of the complex. The living quarters are primarily high-rise apartments up to eight stories tall. The complex also includes office space and administrative facilities. The perimeter of the US , French, and British area is surrounded by a fence and a row of concrete Jersey barriers. There is a parking lot outside of the north perimeter which is adjacent to a park and a small group of houses.
In July 1992, Army Forces Central Command - Saudi Arabia (ARCENT-SA) was formally established. Then ARCENT-SA was assigned a dual role as the daily brigade command for the PATRIOT Air Defense Artillery Battalion Task Force rotating in and out of Saudi Arabia as well as the forward deployed headquarters for the Army Forces Central Command with multiple critical logistical responsibilities for contingency operations. Initially, ARCENT-SA was located in the Khobar Towers complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
Prior to the Fall of 1994, the terrorist threat in Saudi Arabia was benign, marred only by three isolated attacks against U.S. military targets in early 1991 during Operation DESERT STORM and the hijacking of a Saudi Airbus in 1994. Two incidents occurred almost simultaneously on February 3, 1991, in Jeddah. Unknown persons doused a U.S. transport bus with kerosene. Individuals fired shots at an other U.S. military bus, injuring three U.S. soldiers and a Saudi guard. On March 28, 1991, an unknown individual fired at least six shots at a U.S. Marine vehicle, slightly injuring three Marines. The internal security picture in Saudi Arabia began to change in late 1994. The volume and tone of reporting on potential terrorist threats became more ominous. The hypothesis was that much of this activity was a product of state-sponsored actions.
In November 1995, a car bomb exploded in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killing five Americans. In June 1996, terrorists attacked the U.S. military complex at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 Americans and wounding hundreds more. The Air Force relocated to temporary facilities at Prince Sultan Air Base, near Al Kharj southeast of Riyadh. Defense Department civilians located in Riyadh relocated to the Eskan Village military compound, south of Riyadh. The Army moved to temporary facilities at two sites in the Dhahran area. The U.S. Army in the Dhahran area, scheduled to receive Harvest Falcon assets, decided to repair and renovate modular housing left from Operations Desert Shield and Storm.
The 4404th Wing (Provisional) initiated extensive force protection measures beginning in November 1995. These initiatives focused on the threat from a bomb penetrating to the interior of Khobar Towers. The Wing did not take adequate protective measures to meet other viable terrorist threats to service members and facilities in the Dhahran area. These threats included attacks by stand-off weapons, assassination and/or kidnapping of individuals, ambush of vehicles, and stand-off bombs.
The security infrastructure and systems at Khobar Towers proved inadequate to deter and defend against the June 25, 1996 terrorist bomb attack. This was despite significant efforts by the United States and Saudi Arabia to enhance security of the facility following the November 13, 1995 bombing of the Office of the Program Manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard in Riyadh.
Two Vulnerability Assessments of Khobar Towers were made by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations prior to the bombing. The first Vulnerability Assessment was completed on July 18, 1995. The second Assessment was completed on January 8, 1996 in reaction to the Office of the Program Manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard bombing in Riyadh. Corrective actions for deficiencies noted in the January 1996 assessment were essentially complete at the time of the bombing. Exceptions included the "...relocating (of) mission personnel to other facilities within the compound, thereby eliminating the concentration of aircrews..." and adding "Shatter Resistant Window Film to all windows within the compound."
The fence surrounding the Khobar Towers housing complex had not changed substantially since US forces first occupied the complex in 1990. The fence was not substantially repaired or upgraded until after the Office of the Program Manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard bombing on November 13, 1995. At that time, the perimeter fence was a chain link fence approximately seven to eight feet high, including three strands of barbed wire or one row of concertina along the top. It was surrounded with Jersey barriers. There were few lights, and no surveillance cameras, sensors, or alarms were in use.
On June 25, 1996, a terrorist truck bomb exploded outside the northern perimeter of Khobar Towers, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, a facility housing US and allied forces supporting the coalition air operation over Iraq, Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. Estimates of the size of the bomb range from the equivalent of 3,000 to more than 30,000 pounds of TNT. The Downing Task Force estimated that the bomb was between 3,000 and 8,000 pounds, most likely about 5,000 pounds. While US Air Force Security Police observers on the roof of the building overlooking the perimeter identified the attack in progress and alerted many occupants to the threat, evacuation was incomplete when the bomb exploded. Nineteen fatalities and approximately 500 US wounded resulted from the attack. The perpetrators escaped.