Tragedy in Dhahran U.S. bombing victims: G.I.s are targets wherever they resist terrorism.

June 27, 1996

DHAHRAN IS WHERE oil was first discovered in Saudi Arabia, a bustling oil port and headquarters of the Saudi national oil company. Dhahran is also home to a giant Saudi air base hosting U.S. forces, from which U.S. planes bombed Iraq during the gulf war of 1991 to protect Saudi sovereignty and from which they now patrol Iraq's air space. From Dhahran, the U.S. projects power that disquiets such rogue regimes as Iran, Iraq and Sudan.

Rounding up the usual suspects in Tuesday's terrorist attack in Dhahran will be a formidable task. Motives for harming the U.S. are strong wherever its power is resented and resisted. Yet without the U.S. presence, the Middle East would suffer more anarchy. Even at peace, U.S. volunteer service personnel are sent into harm's way in a routine rotation of duty.

Finding, exposing and snuffing out the culprit organization is a vital task for Saudi national security and for U.S. security. That does not mean mindless retaliation. Guessing won't do.

The best working assumption for pursuing leads relates to the car bombing last November of a Saudi military training center in which five Americans and two Indians were killed. Saudi authorities tried and last month beheaded four men who confessed and allegedly implicated two Saudi defectors in exile. One of those denies it; the other disappeared.

The revelation of that trial was that the defendants were Saudis. This was an admission by the monarchy that home-grown dissidence exists, and that not every crime can be pinned on foreign workers suborned by hostile regimes. Now, perhaps in reprisal for those executions, a bomb-rigged fuel truck was parked near a high rise apartment complex housing American, British and French personnel, killing 19 Americans and injuring 386 persons.

Saudi Arabia is not a model democracy. The Dhahran bombing was an attack on its rulers but also on all oil consumers and on American support for a civil world. Defects in the Saudi regime are not made right by terror and tyranny. No sympathy for dissidents can dilute the need to identify, confront and dismantle the terrorists. Every cooperation the Clinton administration can offer the Saudi regime in this is necessary. The U.S. cannot have its policy made by terrorists.

Pub Date: 6/27/96

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