Saudi Arabia Blast Spotlights US Role In Defending Gulf

FIRST the US Marine barracks in Beirut. Then the World Trade Center. Now yet another Islamic terrorist bombing has struck at Americans.

Yesterday, five Americans and two others were killed and dozens wounded when two bombs exploded outside a US military training facility in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh.

The huge blast, which sent tremors across the whole city, came from a car parked at a US-run center for training Saudi national guardsmen, residents said.

The bombing raised questions about stability in the Arab Kingdom, which is the world's leading oil producer and America's main ally in the Gulf.

A Saudi opposition group, The Movement for Islamic Change, is believed to be behind the attack on the training site where hundreds of US military personnel are based. US warplanes are also in the country to patrol an air exclusion zone over Iraq.

The group, in communiques issued in April and June, said it would use all means available to remove US and British troops from the Islamic world's most conservative country if they did not leave by the end of June.

The group says it wants the overthrow of the regime, the ''invaders'' to leave the country, and the nation to regain its pride and dignity.

Many Islamic extremists have grown increasingly resentful toward Western influences in Saudi Arabia, particularly after the kingdom served as a launching pad for the US-led coalition that crushed Saddam Hussein's Iraqi troops in the 1991 Gulf war.

Saad Fageeh, director of the London office of the larger and most well-organized Saudi Islamic opposition group, Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights, said ''We found that the group, The Movement for Islamic Change, is a legitimate group and might be behind the blast.''

The group claiming responsibility for the attacks also vented rage at the Saudi government in its earlier communiques, accusing it of acting as ''infidel agents'' who have ''opened the land of the two holy shrines and the peninsula of the Arabs to invading colonialist, crusader forces.''

The statement said its movement would target foreign troops, the Saudi royal family, and the Saudi security forces.

THE Saudi government has tightened its grip on Islamic fundamentalist groups that have grown increasingly bold since the Gulf war, speaking out in mosque sermons against the Saudi authorities and distributing leaflets.

US policy critics long have warned that the US was making itself vulnerable by backing a dictatorial monarchy that brutally suppresses radical fundamentalists.

The Saudi government has become increasingly dependent on the US military. The White House, since the 1980s, has supported the sale of sophisticated military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The US and Saudi governments recently signed a contract worth $6.1 billion in defense and transportation contracts.

Saudi Arabia up to now has been regarded as an Arab leader against Muslim radicals. Last year, it jailed some 1,000 fundamentalists of the Wahhabi sect after a protest in Buraida city.

But this is the first blast of its kind in Saudi Arabia. Like many of its oil-rich Gulf Arab neighbors, Saudi Arabia has managed to deflect criticism by spreading petro-dollars. But the policy has failed to contain Muslim militants who see the authorities as corrupt ''enemies of Islam'' and ''puppets of the United States.''

Saudi television showed Saudi officials in their traditional white robes surveying the site. The Ministry of Interior said that experts were collecting samples from the scene of the explosion to gather evidence pointing to the assailants.

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