August 8, 2005

Australia, UK warn of attacks in Saudi Arabia

By Laith Abou-Ragheb

RIYADH (Reuters) - Australia and Britain warned on Monday
that militants would soon strike in Saudi Arabia as the United
States closed its missions in the world's biggest oil exporter
for two days in response to threats.

Saudi Arabia, battling a two-year campaign of violence by
supporters of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, said it had no
solid information of any imminent attack.

But Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs told its
citizens to avoid travel to the kingdom, saying militants might
be planning attacks on housing compounds.

"We have received credible reports that terrorists are
planning attacks in Saudi Arabia in the near future," the
department said on its Web site.

"This follows other recent reporting suggesting that
terrorists may be planning to attack residential housing
compounds in Saudi Arabia."

The security warnings, combined with worries the United
States may face a gasoline shortage, helped propel oil prices
to another record high. U.S. light sweet crude was up 56 cents,
at $62.87 a barrel, on Monday.

Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office also said on its
Web site there were "credible reports" militants were planning
attacks in the near future. It said British citizens in the
kingdom should maintain the highest level of vigilance.

The warnings came a day after the American embassy in
Riyadh said all U.S. diplomatic missions would be closed on
Aug. 8 and 9 in response to threats of attacks on U.S.

The statement also warned of "ongoing security concerns in
the region, including for seaborne vessels traveling in the
southern Red Sea."

King Abdullah, who came to the throne this month after King
Fahd died, is expected to continue the government crackdown on
militants, which analysts say has eroded al Qaeda's network in
Saudi Arabia.

Militants have waged a bombing campaign in the kingdom
since 2003 to expel Westerners from Islam's birthplace and
destabilize the pro-Western royal family.

Suicide bombers have hit several compounds housing
foreigners, and militants also staged a daylight raid on the
U.S. consulate in Jeddah. At least 91 foreign nationals and
Saudi civilians have been killed in the violence.

Last month, the United States warned Americans in Saudi
Arabia that militants were planning fresh attacks and later
banned military personnel from traveling around the kingdom.

That warning came as Saudi security forces said they found
an arms cache outside Riyadh with two tonnes of chemicals used
by suspected al Qaeda militants to make bombs.

U.S. diplomatic missions in the kingdom have been closed
briefly several times in recent years because of threats.

Authorities have killed or arrested all but three men on a
list of 26 most wanted suspects published in 2003.

In June, officials listed another 36 wanted men they are
still hunting.