Pentagon officials weigh changes in base security Precautions in Dhahran failed, they say, because truck bomb was so big

Bombing In Saudi Arabia

June 27, 1996|By NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

WASHINGTON -- Pentagon officials said yesterday that the anti-terrorist precautions at a housing complex in Saudi Arabia failed because no one ever expected a bomb so huge.

"It was an enormous, enormous blast," said Army Gen. J. H. Binford Peay, who heads the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla.

Yet the 5,000-pound truck bomb detonated Tuesday night outside the Khobar Towers in Dhahran was not unprecedented in worldwide terrorism.

The truck bomb that leveled the federal building in Oklahoma City in April 1995 was about the same size -- though officials said Tuesday's bomb left a 35-foot deep crater, four times as deep and three times as wide as the Oklahoma blast.

And bombs that big will not be contained by a 35-yard security perimeter like the concrete barriers that surrounded the Dhahran complex.

In Washington, the 70 yards between the White House and its northern fence was deemed inadequate protection against a potential truck bomb attack.

That is why Pennsylvania Avenue was closed to vehicular traffic a month after the Oklahoma blast.

Pentagon officials said security measures were stepped up at Khobar Towers, which houses nearly 3,000 Americans, after a car bomb in Riyadh last November killed four Americans.

A senior Defense Department official said there had been "suspicious activities in the area over the last several months" -- such as motorists driving by slowly and examining the complex.

But while entry was tightly controlled and surveillance was maintained, there were no limits to public access beyond the barriers.

An Air Force guard saw the bomb-rigged truck approach the barrier and sounded a warning, but there was not enough time to evacuate the buildings.

Defense Secretary William Perry said that, without the security barrier in Dhahran, "there'd be many, many more fatalities."

Peay said the Pentagon will "see if there are increased ways that we can look at this particular challenge."

Kurt Wurzberger of the Fairfax Group, a global security consulting firm, said "distance is your best bet" in deterring vehicle-borne bombs.

But distance is not easy to achieve in urban areas like Dhahran and, he added, "nothing is truly 100 percent" foolproof.

State Department spokesman Glyn Davies said yesterday, "You can't close every road.

"You can't increase your setbacks to such an extent that you have absolutely no contact with the public."

Pub Date: 6/27/96

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