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Four Bombings Strike Western Enclaves in Saudi Capital City

By Neil MacFarquhar with Douglas Jehl

the new york times -- KUWAIT CITY

Four separate attacks involving explosions and small-arms fire struck Western targets including residential compounds in the Saudi capital of Riyadh overnight Monday, causing an undetermined number of casualties, Saudi officials and diplomats said.

Initial press reports put the number of injured from the explosions believed caused by car bombs as high as 50, but embassy officials were unable to confirm that number.

“We can confirm that there are casualties, but we can’t confirm the numbers or the extent,” said John Burgess, the counselor for public affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh. A senior Saudi official said the number of wounded in Riyadh had been “high.”

Three of the blasts came almost simultaneously just before midnight local time, and a fourth followed shortly afterward, Saudi officials said. Several hours later, the State Department said it did not “have any confirmed reports of American casualties.”

There were no official reports of deaths from the attacks. But reports from Saudi Arabia, citing hospital officials and residents of the compounds, who included American, British, Italian and other Western citizens, as well as Saudis and other Arabs, said that dozens of people had been wounded and some appeared to have been killed.

The attacks came just days after the State Department issued an extraordinarily specific warning on May 1 that terrorists “may be in the final phases of planning attacks” on American targets in Saudi Arabia. A Saudi raid last Tuesday on a suspected al-Qaida hideout uncovered a large weapons cache, but 19 suspected militants sought in the raid managed to escape.

U.S. officials said on Monday that initial suspicions were that the al-Qaida terrorist organization was behind the attack. They said the near-simultaneity of the explosions was reminiscent of the 1998 attacks by al-Qaida on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Officials with access to early reports suggested that the attacks had been carried out with some precision. In each case, they said, the attackers appeared to have shot their way into and out of the compound, and possibly used car bombs to set off large explosions.

A State Department spokeswoman, Nancy Beck, said on Monday night: “We are deeply concerned about the reports of explosions in Riyadh. At this time we are working closely with the Saudi authorities to determine the facts.”

While there were no confirmed reports of American casualties, Beck said, the State Department was advising Americans in Riyadh “to remain at home until we can ascertain the facts and the nature of any ongoing threat.”

A Reuters report from Riyadh on Monday night quoted a hospital administrator as saying he understood from colleagues that people had been killed in the attacks.