JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Lobbing grenades, militants invaded Jiddah’s heavily guarded U.S. Consulate on Monday, attacking staffers and others in the compound until Saudi security forces stormed in. Nine people, none American, were killed in the attack, which was claimed by al-Qaida.
The bold assault, the worst in the kingdom since May, suggested that a fierce crackdown waged by Saudi security forces has not completely put down al-Qaida in the native land of terror leader Osama bin Laden.
The group Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula said the attack was part of its “war on the crusaders and the Jews … . (aimed at) getting them out of the Arabian peninsula. The Mujahedeen are continuing on their path … they will not weaken … but will be patient.”
In a statement posted on a militant Web site, the group said the attack had been named “the blessed Fallujah battle,” referring to the former insurgent stronghold in Iraq invaded last month by U.S. troops. It also said it was carried out by the “unit of the martyr Abu Anas al-Shami,” who was a spiritual adviser to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most feared terrorist in Iraq.
Monday’s assault began when the attackers sneaked on foot behind a car that was entering the consulate, then lobbed grenades at guards to take control of the gate area, said Brig. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, the Interior Ministry spokesman.
About 20 minutes after fighting their way in, the attackers telephoned emergency services, claimed to be holding up to 17 people hostage and warned Saudi forces not to attack, said Adel al-Jubeir, foreign affairs adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah.
As the call was ending, Saudi security forces stormed the area and fought a short gunbattle, the official said. Al-Jubeir said the fight was over within three or four minutes, and the troops then worked for about three hours after that searching the compound to ensure it was secure.
Employees rushed into a safe area, and the attackers never made it inside the consulate’s buildings, al-Turki said. He denied anyone was held hostage, but said the attackers did hurt those they came across in the courtyard area.
Five consulate employees, all non-Americans, were killed and another four injured, the State Department said. Three of the five attackers also died in the shootout and the other two were captured wounded, the Saudi Interior Ministry said.
A Saudi security official, quoted on Saudi television station al-Ikhbariya, said one of the wounded attackers later died in custody.