Blast leads to security changes Perry says precautions at Saudi site to include extended safety zone

'We will not be intimidated'

Serial number found on chassis of fuel truck that carried bomb

June 30, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia -- FBI agents were reported yesterday to have uncovered the first leads in the investigation of the bombing here that killed 19 U.S. soldiers, and the Defense Department announced that it would make changes in security at U.S. military installations in Saudi Arabia.

President Clinton, speaking at the end of a gathering of leaders of industrial democracies in Lyon, France, announced that Gen. Wayne Downing, former commander in chief of the U.S. Special Operations Command, would lead an investigation of the

bombing and make recommendations within 45 days on how to prevent further attacks like it.

U.S. officials said that FBI agents searching the wreckage of the bombed apartment complex had found a serial number on the chassis of the fuel truck that carried the bomb and that they expected to identify its owner quickly.

Officials said they assume that the truck was stolen, but they said that serial numbers found on pieces of a vehicle that exploded in November outside a U.S.-run military training center in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, had been valuable in identifying the Muslim militants responsible for that blast. Five Americans and two Indians were killed in that bombing.

The officials said that a hubcap found near the site of the bombing in Dhahran on Tuesday suggested that the truck was made by Mercedes-Benz, which makes many trucks used in Saudi Arabia.

The bombers' getaway car was reported to have been a white Chevrolet Caprice, another common vehicle here.

Defense Secretary William J. Perry, who arrived yesterday in Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi leaders and U.S. military commanders, announced that defense perimeters around the large housing complex that was attacked would be extended -- creating a safety zone that is 400 feet wide, compared with 80 feet wide at the time of the explosion.

The sprawling complex, the Khobar Towers, is home to nearly half of the 5,000-member U.S. military force in Saudi Arabia.

"In addition to that, we will be vacating the rooms closest to the street, so that the rooms that are the most vulnerable will not be occupied," Perry said in a meeting with hundreds of the U.S. soldiers who survived the attack.

He described the new precautions as a "dramatic improvement in safety" and said they would be considered for all other U.S. military sites in Saudi Arabia.

"Moving the perimeters out, more barriers, more fences, more guards, more patrols and, unfortunately, more regulations and restrictions -- all of those things have been under way for the last year, but we will be doing more of them," he said.

Asked if he saw a growing trend toward terrorism in Saudi Arabia, Perry said:

"Two bombings do not make a trend. They do expose a vulnerability. We have to take that vulnerability very seriously."

He said he expected that the Americans and Saudis would capture the bombers. "But we do not know if other cells are out there," Perry said.

"From a military point of view, we have to prepare as if there might be," he said.

As he promised new security measures, Perry continued to defend the precautions taken before the bombing last week, insisting that security had been broadly tightened after the explosion in November in Riyadh.

"It's a wonder more people weren't killed," he said as he stood in the stifling desert heat to inspect the eight-story building hit by the blast, one of its walls all but vaporized in the explosion.

"I think that the barriers we had in place had a lot to do with saving lives," he said.

He stood mute for several seconds, his eyes passing slowly up and down the wreck of the building, the rooms exposed like those in a dollhouse. "It's absolutely devastating," he said. "Concrete barriers that are just thrown away like matchsticks, all that energy absorbed by the building."

In his meeting with survivors of the blast, many of them with bandaged eyes or hobbling on crutches, Perry said he had come to Saudi Arabia to tell U.S. troops that "you are doing a job that is vital for American security, and we're going to keep doing that job."

"We will not be driven out of Saudi Arabia," he said. "We will not be intimidated."

Despite his words, there seemed to be some skepticism in the audience that the Defense Department had done all it could to protect U.S. military personnel in Dhahran.

The Air Force has acknowledged that the Khobar Towers had no alarm system of any sort, that there were no security cameras on the perimeter of the complex and that military guards were reduced to pounding on doors and yelling "Bomb!" to warn residents of the building that an explosion was imminent.

Pub Date: 6/30/96

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