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Americans leaving Saudi Arabia in droves

U.S. nationals in Saudi Arabia have become a priority target of al-Qaida, reports intelligence newsletter Geostrategy-Direct.

Western diplomatic sources said al-Qaida has focused on attacking and abducting Americans in Saudi Arabia more so than other Western nationals. The sources said al-Qaida has targeted Americans in Riyadh to spark a massive flight among the more than 25,000 U.S. nationals in the kingdom.

"There's a growing feeling here that al-Qaida has acquired intelligence information on a range of U.S. executives and advisers who live and work in Saudi Arabia," a Western diplomat said. "This is clearly the assessment of the U.S. embassy in Riyadh."

U.S. officials said thousands of Americans are either leaving or planning to leave Saudi Arabia over the next few weeks. Many families of Americans employed in Saudi Arabia's defense and energy sectors will soon leave for the summer and could be followed by the workers themselves.

The Bush administration has been holding talks with Saudi leaders over the last few days to determine the extent of their protection for the estimated 25,000 Americans in the kingdom. The administration has quietly determined that Saudi authorities are either unable or unwilling to protect Americans employed in the kingdom, officials said.

More than 25 foreigners have been killed in al-Qaida attacks over the last month. During the past week, two U.S. defense executives were killed by al-Qaida in Riyadh. Al-Qaida abducted a third U.S. defense contractor.

After more than three months of warnings, the State Department has urged all Americans to leave Saudi Arabia. Officials said U.S. companies operating in the kingdom have been warned that their employees are under al-Qaida threat.

"We first and foremost have a responsibility to Americans," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Monday. "We've been very forthright and upfront about that in urging Americans to depart."

Boucher acknowledged that the departure of Americans could affect Saudi oil output. But he suggested that this was a Saudi responsibility.

"As far as the maintenance and continued flow of oil and the economy in Saudi Arabia, that is something I think the Saudis will have to describe, what provisions they can make and how they can operate those facilities," Boucher said.

Boucher and other officials refused to give figures of how many Americans have chosen to stay in Saudi Arabia. They said this would only make it easier for al-Qaida to target them. But officials said thousands of Americans have left Saudi Arabia since the May 2003 multiple suicide strikes against Western housing compounds in Riyadh.

The State Department has acknowledged that al-Qaida has been gathering intelligence on U.S. executives in Riyadh. Officials said al-Qaida operatives appear to have focused on Americans working on military projects in the kingdom.

"The recent terrorist attacks on Westerners in Riyadh appear to have involved extensive planning and preparation and were likely preceded by extensive pre-attack surveillance," the State Department said in a June 13 statement.

© 2004

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