Iraqi missiles seen landing in capital of Saudi Arabia WAR IN THE GULF

January 21, 1991|By Boston Globe

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- This capital city, which many retreating Saudi civilians saw as a safe haven at the start of the Persian Gulf war, came under Iraqi missile fire for the first time early today, terrifying hundreds of thousands.

Witnesses said they saw at least two of the missiles strike in the northeastern part of the capital. A Saudi government official, who denied that there were any strikes, acknowledged that some windows in the area may have broken, perhaps by falling debris.

Only hours after wailing sirens gave the city its first real taste of the five-day war, the wailing resumed, this time accompanied by the blunt thump of rocket launches and shoot-downs.

At the Hyatt Regency hotel, employees misunderstood a plan to dim the high-rise's exterior lights and instead shut off those in the emergency stairwell, leaving guests to grope their way downstairs by flashlight.

Moments after trying to stuff scores of the hotel's 380 guests into a tiny basement area near the kitchen, officials gave up the effort.

Among the few who remained in the basement, one of the hotel's Indian employees scrawled "Liar" across a memo posted on a bulletin board that promised to provide everyone who works here with a gas mask. Most employees and a considerable number of guests wrapped towels or plastic bags around their heads as protection against any gas attack.

In the midst of the wailing sirens, a group of officers and reporters slipped the hotel's sliding doors open and stood beside the cool, empty street, staring up at the sky. All they could see, they decided, were birds.

But Riyadh will probably not be reassured quickly. Before last night, U.S. and Saudi officials had confidently said Saddam Hussein's rockets could not reach this city.

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