French Nationals Shot Dead in Saudi Arabia in Al Qaeda terrorist attack
February 26, 2007
February 26, 2007 - 7:38 PM
French nationals shot dead in Saudi
By Andrew Hammond
RIYADH (Reuters) - Three French expatriate workers were shot dead during a trip to the Saudi desert on Monday in what appeared to be the first militant attack on foreigners in three years, the government said.
An Interior Ministry statement said a group of nine French nationals were fired on after a car stopped them near Medina in the west of the vast desert country.
"They are all residents who work in Riyadh and who had gone on a desert trip," Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki told Saudi television, adding the attackers escaped.
Militants swearing allegiance to al Qaeda launched a violent campaign to topple the U.S.-allied Saudi monarchy in 2003, with suicide bomb attacks on foreigners and government installations including the oil industry.
There had been no major attacks targeting foreigners since 2004, when the violence was at its height. Frenchman Laurent Barbot was shot dead in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah by suspected al Qaeda militants in September 2004.
The Saudi wing of al Qaeda resurfaced earlier this month threatening new attacks on Westerners in the kingdom.
The spokesman said the group, thought to number 26, had split into two after a night in the desert near Medina, with some returning to Riyadh and the nine French nationals staying behind because some of them were Muslims who hoped to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Western diplomats said the group may also have visited the historical site of Madain Saleh, north of Medina.
The government statement said two men died at the scene and a third died later in hospital. One other is still in hospital in Medina. Saudi television said initially four had died.
Officials said the attackers had singled out the men in the group, which included women and children.
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy confirmed the deaths.
The last major attack was in February last year when militants attempted to storm a major oil facility at Abqaiq in the east of Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter.
Officials say more than 136 militants and 150 foreigners and Saudis, including security forces, have died in the violence which officials had said had been stamped out thanks to toughened security measures and a powerful publicity campaign.
The Saudi wing of al Qaeda recently threatened to renew its campaign of violence.
"For some time now, we have been preparing some quality attacks which will shake the foundations of the crusaders (Westerners) in the Arabian Peninsula," said the group's Web magazine, reappearing after a nearly two-year absence.
A senior Western diplomat told Reuters last week that Saudi authorities had taken impressive measures to crush the mini-insurgency in 2003 and 2004, but that the underlying causes were still there for it to re-emerge at any point.
"They ran a successful campaign, they act on intelligence and never let the grass grow under the terrorists' feet," the diplomat said. "But they still have got a long way to go on winning hearts and minds."
Analysts say the causes include widespread radical Islamist ideology in Saudi Arabia, which imposes a strict form of Sunni Islam as state orthodoxy, and anger at the inability of Arab and Muslim governments to challenge U.S. foreign policy widely seen as unbalanced and favouring Israel.
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