'Saudi hands' blamed for for '96 bombing Foreign groups absolved in attack on U.S. military

May 23, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

CAIRO, Egypt -- There was no foreign involvement in the bombing June 1996 that killed 19 U.S. military personnel at their housing complex in Khobar in eastern Saudi Arabia, the Saudi interior minister said yesterday.

The statement, the first definitive Saudi finding in the nearly two-year investigation, seemed to rule out earlier hints that Iran or the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley had played a role in the worst anti-U.S. terrorist attack ever in the Persian Gulf.

On the evening of June 25, 1996, a truck pulled up to a fence separating the Khobar Towers housing complex from a public parking lot. The driver jumped into an accomplice's car, which sped away, and the truck bomb detonated within minutes, sheering off the front of the apartment tower closest to the explosion and sending deadly shards of glass through the entire camp.

The bombing "was executed by Saudi hands" and "no foreign party had any role in it," Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdelaziz said in an interview conducted in the capital, Riyahd, with Kuwait's Al-Rai Al-Amm newspaper.

Prince Nayef, a half-brother to King Fahd, has promised that full findings of the Saudi investigation will be announced soon.

The United States has complained repeatedly about the level of cooperation in the investigation, particularly Saudi authorities' refusal to let FBI agents interview suspects in Saudi prisons. FBI Director Louis J. Freeh has traveled to Saudi Arabia several times in unsuccessful efforts to win permission for his agents to talk to suspects.

Besides those killed, the blast injured 384 people, including 109 Americans.

U.S. forces remain in Saudi Arabia to carry out monitoring of no-fly zones in southern Iraq.

In the wake of the Khobar bombing, U.S. officials transferred the 5,000 Air Force and other service personnel to a far more secure headquarters in the midst of a Saudi air base 100 miles south of Riyahd; "force protection" against terrorism was made a watchword for U.S. commanders around the world.

Pub Date: 5/23/98

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