A bomb ripped through a building filled with U.S. and Saudi military personnel Monday, tearing off the facade and engulfing the wreckage in flames. Six people were killed, including five Americans.
At least 60 people were wounded, including more than 30 Americans. It is not clear whether the attack was aimed at the Saudis, the Americans or both.
President Clinton pledged “enormous effort” to bring the bombers to justice. He sent a dozen FBI agents and evidence specialists to help investigate what he called “this hideous act.”
The damaged building housed a U.S. program that provides advisers to modernize the Saudi military.
Two groups claimed responsibility for the attack, but neither could be verified, said U.S. Ambassador Raymond Mabus. One is the little-known Islamic Change Movement, which demanded last spring that Western forces leave or it would “exert all available means to evict these forces.” The second group is the previously unknown Tigers of the Gulf.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, is a close U.S. ally, and the countries have extensive military ties. But some Muslims oppose the presence of U.S. and other Western forces in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest shrines.
While open opposition to the ruling al-Saud family is not permitted, some underground groups have threatened to strike against the deeply conservative Saudi leadership and the Western forces.
The U.S. Embassy spokesman, Jeff Thomas, said late Monday the death toll among Americans had risen to five after a critically injured victim died in the hospital. He said a number of Americans were in critical condition, but gave no specific figures.
A Pentagon official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 34 Americans were injured and some were taken to hospitals.
The Pentagon identified one of the dead Americans as retired U.S. Army Maj. Wayne Wiley, 55, who was a civilian Army employee. It didn’t give his hometown. Another Pentagon official said two of the dead Americans were noncommissioned officers in the U.S. Army.
King Fahd convened his Cabinet, which “expressed its condemnation of this criminal act, which is foreign to our society, beliefs and religion,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The damaged three-story building was the headquarters of a $5.6 billion U.S. Army program, paid for by the Saudi government, that provides military and civilian advisers to the Saudi National Guard.
The National Guard, led by Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz since the early 1960s, has nearly 80,000 troops and is fiercely loyal to the ruling family.
The 22-year-old U.S. aid program was intensified after the 1991 Gulf War. During the war, several hundred thousand U.S. troops were sent to defend Saudi Arabia.
U.S. officials said some 200 people - half of them Americans - were inside the building Monday when the bomb went off at 11:30 a.m.
The Americans live in the same complex, behind the damaged building. Their homes were not destroyed, but windows were blown out in nearby buildings.
It was unclear whether the explosives were packed in a car as early reports suggested. There were reports of a second blast, but that wasn’t confirmed.
MEMO: Changed in the Spokane edition.