By Nigel Thorpe
Senior English Editor
Albawaba.com - Amman
The trail of three bombings that occurred in Saudi Arabia over the past two months left in their wake one person dead, five injured, and an unsolved mystery as to the bombers’ motives.
In the first explosion, on November 17th . Christopher Rodway, a British engineer was killed and his wife June injured by a car bomb as they drove through the commercial center of the Saudi Capital. The man, who was a technician at a Saudi military hospital in Riyadh and had been working in Saudi Arabia with his wife for eight years, died in hospital from his injuries. His wife, who only suffered minor injuries, was later discharged from the King Faisal Hospital.
Soon after this first bombing a team of British detectives traveled to Saudi Arabia to assist the Saudi authorities in their investigations.
The second blast four days later on November 21st, also in Riyadh, injured three Britons and an Irish woman when an explosion ripped through their car. A British embassy spokeswoman refused to name the three Britons but told Reuters that they had suffered only minor injuries, The embassy was, she added, working with Saudi authorities in the investigation of the bombing. Saudi Arabia’s Okaz newspaper said that the car was being driven down Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Street when it blew up. Okaz also quoted Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Ahmed bin Abdulazziz as saying that one man was in hospital with leg injuries while the other man and woman had been treated for minor injuries and discharged. A photograph of the bombed four-wheel-drive car published in another local paper, Al Eqtisadiah, showed the front of the car totally blown off. The Okaz quoted Prince Ahmad as saying that security authorities had started their investigations and were investigating the possibility of a link to the previous incident, especially since circumstances were similar and so were the nationalities,
British explosives experts believe that the crude simple type of explosive device used in both incidents points to a link between the two bombings.
In mid December, a third bomb attack severely injured David Brown from Edinburgh, Scotland in the eastern town of Al Khobar when a small parcel placed near the windscreen of his car exploded in his right hand as he tried to remove the device from his car. Brown’s wife, who was with him at the time, was not hurt. Mr. Brown, in his mid-30s has worked in Coca-Cola’s customer service department in Saudi Arabia for more than two years. Brown was transferred to the King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital, Riyadh, for further treatment. Bashar Al Qadi, Coca-Cola International public affairs manager for the Middle East and North Africa, said “his condition is not life-threatening, but he has sustained burns on his face and other parts of his body. We are concerned about David’s condition, we are not speculating about the motives.“
After the third bombing, a Saudi source said that it was not clear whether the bombing was linked to the two earlier attacks in connection with which several people, including an American, had been detained. A government minister in London, however warned British citizens in Saudi Arabia to be on their guard and added that a possible connection between the three Saudi explosions was being investigated.
Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain then added that “The safety of the British community in Saudi Arabia is of paramount concern to us. This is a serious incident. British citizens in Saudi Arabia have been given guidance on their security, in particular vehicle security by the embassy. It is too early to speculate whether there might be a link to the previous bomb attacks but clearly the possibility is being investigated.”
The attacks on Westerners in the Middle East have heightened concerns that Westerners might have become targets of the rising ant-Western sentiment which has been fuelled by the killing of hundreds of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers over recent weeks.
No one claimed responsibility for the attacks and Saudi officials have always maintained that the incidents had a personal rather than a political motivation. British diplomats, however, had expressed their concerns. A Riyadh-based British diplomat told the Gulf News in late November that “terrorists now target the Britons. We (British citizens) have lived and worked in Saudi Arabia for more than 50 years and nothing like this has happened before.” The embassy said that once it received more information, it would update a security advisory to the 26,000 British citizens living in Saudi Arabia. Speaking to Gulf News on condition of anonymity, the British diplomat said the increased alert among the Americans in the Gulf “has made the terrorists aim their attacks against Britons.”
On February 4th, Saudi Arabian television showed a Briton, a Belgian, and a Canadian confessing to the two bombings in the kingdom which killed one Briton and injured four other people. The confessions, voiced over by Arabic translations on ArabSat channels, were given by each of the three men separately as they sat behind a desk and used charts and diagrams to clarify the sequence of the first Riyadh bombing.
A man who identified himself as Alexander Mitchell, a Briton, said he and the Canadian man, named as William Sampson, carried out the first bombing which killed Christopher Rodway and injured his wife in Riyadh. Mitchell said he was involved together with Sampson and the Belgian man, whose name was unclear in the Arabic translation, in the second car bombing on November 22.
Although Mitchell and Sampson confessed to planting the explosives in the two cars and detonating the bombs by remote control devices, they were silent as their motives.
Mitchell referred in a mysterious way to “orders that he had received to place the bombs.” Both Mitchell and the Belgian said they worked at Saudi military hospitals. Sampson said he worked as a marketing consultant at the Saudi Industrial Development Fund.
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz, commenting on the confessions before they were aired on Saudi television said that the authorities “knew who ‘the source’ for the explosives was and would reveal further details at a later stage.
"You will notice from the confessions that there are questions as to who is behind these bombings. "I would like to assert that the source of the explosives and many other facts is known to us but for the interest of the investigation we decided not to reveal that now," Prince Nayef said.
Prince Nayef did not mention, however, the third bombing in December in eastern Saudi but emphasized that no Saudi citizens were involved in the incidents. He also stressed that the motives behind the explosion were criminal rather than political.
The three accused would be tried, he added, under “Islamic law, we do not have a judiciary but the Sharia,” and concluded that a verdict would be released when the investigations were complete.
The penalty for murder, under Sharia law is public execution by decapitation. With the agreements of the victim’s family, and payment of substantial “blood money” this extreme penalty can be commuted. To date, no Western has been executed in Saudi Arabia.
The “personal criminal motives” of the three alleged bombers remain unclear, but Saudi newspapers are linking the incidents to the illegal manufacture and trading of alcohol which is banned in the conservative Muslim kingdom. Large amounts of money can be made by distilling home-brewed alcoholic drinks to make a type of illegal spirit know to expatriates as “Sid”. Whether, sadly, the bombings are related to Sid-related factors and personal vendettas remains to be seen.
According to a CNN report, the British, Canadian and Belgium embassies have not commented on the televised confessions’ but have been allowed access to their accused nationals.
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