Facebook Twitter

Some staying put in Saudi Arabia

SHARE Some staying put in Saudi Arabia

MANAMA, Bahrain — Amid new security fears, some American citizens in Saudi Arabia said Friday they are being more cautious but were in no rush to leave the kingdom — despite a U.S. State Department recommendation.

Washington on Thursday ordered the departure of nonessential U.S. government employees and family members from Saudi Arabia and also urged private citizens to depart.

Jack Smith, from St. Louis, said that although the new warning was "a cause of concern," he felt safe in his heavily guarded housing compound.

"I am not packing my bags yet," Smith, 48, said by telephone from Riyadh, the capital. "The Saudis are doing what they can to squash them (terrorists), and they are also protecting our compounds quite well."

Saudi Arabia relies heavily on 6 million expatriate workers, including about 30,000 Americans, to run its oil industry and other sectors. The pay is good, so workers aren't quick to leave.

Thursday's State Department order followed an embassy advisory the day before warning American citizens in the kingdom of continued "credible indications of terrorist threats aimed at American and Western interests in Saudi Arabia."

The threats include the targeting of diplomatic and residential compounds in Riyadh, a message on the embassy's Web site said. It noted that there have been a number of violent clashes between security forces and heavily armed militants in various neighborhoods.

"American citizens in Saudi Arabia should remain vigilant, particularly in public places associated with the Western community," the message said.

David Bell, who recently moved to the kingdom, said he was not leaving but was heeding the embassy warning.

"There's a risk everywhere, but at least I have a wall around me," said Bell, who works for an Arab company that manages a housing compound.

"I am respecting the kingdom's traditions and its people and trying not to stick out in the crowd and be vigilant," said the Chicago native, who lives in the southwestern town of Abha.

At times of increasing terrorist threats in foreign countries, nonessential U.S. official personnel often have the option of departing at government expense or staying put.

But Thursday's State Department order was mandatory. The number of Americans affected was not disclosed, but there are believed to be more than 200 nonessential U.S. officials and family members in the kingdom.

The order was issued hours after Secretary of State Colin Powell said the situation in the kingdom was worrisome. "We are concerned. The threat level has gone up," he told reporters Thursday.

The U.S. Embassy said it would arrange to evacuate the Americans in the coming days. "The threat is at a critical level," spokeswoman Carol Kalin said.

But Smith, who is general manager of an information technology firm, said he felt the terrorists were "desperate and on the run."

"I am still not convinced that there is a military-like force that was going after foreigners," said Smith, who has lived in Saudi Arabia for more than 15 years.

Earlier this week, five Saudi policemen were killed by militants in two separate incidents.

Last year, the country was rocked by two terrorist bombings at Riyadh foreign housing complexes in May and November. The combined death toll was 51. Both attacks were blamed on Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network.

Patty Abercrombie, 53 of Miami, Okla., lives in the Jadawel compound, which was attacked last May and is now guarded by heavily armed men and armored personnel carriers. She said the new warnings prompted her to travel "sooner than planned" to take her dog, Austin, back home.

"Although it's a lot safer in the compound now, I am a little worried," she said, adding that her husband was retiring and moving back home for good in July.

"I hope we can make a safe exit from here," Abercrombie said.