Until 2003, the Saudi government played down evidence that Islamic radicals were posing a threat to security. That changed after a series of deadly attacks in early 2003. The six million expatriate workers in Saudi Arabia are vital to the smooth functioning of the world economy. They run the country's oil industry and other sectors.
Prior to the May 2003, Al Qaeda bombings, there were several incidents in Riyadh in which explosive devices were placed under vehicles driven by Westerners. These attacks are not believed to have been conducted by an organized terrorist group, but instead by an individual or small group of individuals targeting Westerners. In two incidents in 2002, the devices detonated killing British and German national drivers. In a third case, also in 2002, a device was placed under a car driven by a private American citizen. This device failed to explode.
On 12 May 2003, Al Qaeda conducted a major terrorist attack in Riyadh, simultaneously detonating three large vehicle bombs inside three western housing compounds. Nine private American citizens were killed. Fourteen American citizens were among the hundreds of others who were wounded. Following the bombings, Saudi security forces made a number of arrests of Al Qaeda members and supporters throughout the Kingdom. While these arrests made it more difficult for Al Qaeda to conduct large-scale attacks in the Kingdom, the organization still maintained a presence in the Kingdom and retained the ability to conduct further attacks.
The May 2003 suicide bombings in Riyadh led to the campaign of the government to suppress the Islamist radical opposition. By November 2003 Saudi Foreign Affairs Advisor Adel al-Jubeir said more than 600 suspects had been arrested during the past several months, and dozens of terrorist cells had been destroyed.
A truck-bomb attack on the Al-Muhayya residential compound in Riyadh on 08 November 2003 killed 17 people (among them five children). The attack demonstrated that foreigners of Arab origin, who comprise much of the managerial classes, are more vulnerable than American military installations. Abdulaziz al-Muqrin was believed to have organized the attack. Observers did not rule out the possibility the terrorists targeted the mostly-Arab housing compound by mistake, assuming it was inhabited by Westerners. Several years earlier, a US company had housed its American and European employees there.
The attack one of the few predicted by the American intelligence in advance. Washington had reported that there was "an immediate terrorist threat in Saudi Arabia" and that "the terrorists planning the attacks are moving into the operational phase." Saudi and US cooperation on intelligence provided indications of an imminent attack, but not a specific location.
Khaled Ali Ali Haj, al Qaeda's chief of operations in the Arabian peninsula, had been wanted by Saudi authorities since May 2003, when his name was published days before that month's triple suicide bombings in Riyadh. Haj, a Yemeni, was once a bodyguard of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and he had been on "missions" in Afghanistan, Europe and southeast Asia. Analysts described him as al Qaeda's chief of operations in the Arabian peninsula.
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