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Saudis alter their gun policy

Foreigners may now carry weapons to defend themselves

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JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — The government took a much-requested step toward calming jittery expatriates here by announcing that foreigners would be allowed to carry personal weapons. The unexpected decision comes after two months of attacks by extremists that have killed about 50 people.

"In principle, a citizen has the right to carry a licensed weapon, and so does the resident," Prince Nayef, the interior minister, said Wednesday night. "If he senses danger, he can carry a personal weapon as he does in his country."

Some embassies and a number of security companies had broached the topic of having armed guards patrol the streets of compounds where Westerners live. The broad perimeters of such compounds are protected in most cases by the National Guard, but many residents wanted greater protection within the walls.

The requests, which started with the first attack against foreign compounds in May 2003, grew more fervent after four men got inside an residential compound in Khobar last month by wearing military uniforms and killed 22 foreigners in a daylong rampage.

At least one sprawling compound, figuring that arming foreigners was out of the question, had sought permission from the Saudi government to set up its own interior security patrols using armed former Saudi police or army officers.