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31/05/2004

Travel warning issued following Saudi terror outrage

The Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to Saudi Arabia after 22 foreign nationals – including a British oil executive – were killed by Islamic militants at the weekend.

Sixty-two-year-old Michael Hamilton was shot dead by Al Qaeda terrorists who entered a residential compound for western nationals in Al Khobar on Saturday. The four-man terror gang ran amok killing at least 13 people before fleeing to a nearby building where they reportedly took 50 foreigners hostage.

The ensuing 25-hour standoff was ended yesterday when helicopter-borne Saudi security forces stormed the building. However, three of the hostage-takers managed to break through a security cordon and are currently on the run – the gang's leader was captured.

It later emerged that nine hostages had been killed in the building, bringing the body count to at least 22.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw strongly condemned the terrorists, saying he was "appalled" by the incident.

He added: "I want to extend my condolences to the families of all the victims of these terrible attacks. The United Kingdom stands with the Government and people of Saudi Arabia in their fight against terrorism."

Britain's ambassador to the country is travelling to the area, and British officials in Al Khobar are also in close touch with the British community and the Saudi authorities, the Foreign Office said.

The Foreign Office has said that it believes terrorists remain "determined to carry out further attacks in Saudi Arabia", and that these may be in the "final stages of preparation". The threat includes, but is not limited to, residential compounds and diplomatic and other official premises, the department said.

Travellers have been urged to take all necessary steps to protect their safety and maintain a high level of vigilance, particularly in public places frequented by foreigners such as hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. Britons should adopt a "low profile" and avoid public gatherings, which could lead to disorder, the Foreign Office advised.

Following last weekend's atrocities, the number of people killed in the kingdom this month stands at least 29 – three of which were Britons. On May 1, terrorist attacks in the Red Sea town of Yanbu resulted in at least six deaths, including two British nationals.

Militants have been able to strike with deadly effect across the kingdom, despite claims by the authorities that the situation is under control.

On 21 April 2004 a truck bomb in a street in Riyadh killed at least five people and injured about 150. On 9 November 2003, terrorists attacked a residential compound in Riyadh killing 18 and injuring more than 80. This attack followed co-ordinated bomb attacks against residential compounds in Riyadh on May 12 last year, which resulted in the death of more than 30 people, including two British nationals – many more were injured.

(gmcg)

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