Security Beefed Up: Riyadh On High Alert

RIYADH, 23 April 2004 — Security has been stepped up across the capital after Wednesday’s bomb blast. Government offices, hotels, housing compounds, shopping malls, banks and embassies are all in a high state of alert.

Most government offices and the commercial organizations imposed tighter restrictions on visitors, who were asked to produce ID. Major government installations and hotels were put under the special guard of the mobile police and truckloads of special forces with mounted machine guns.

“We are a bit more vigilant, but there is nothing to be alarmed about,” said policeman Marzouk Al-Otaibi, who is providing security in the Kingdom Center and Al-Mamlaka Mall together with four colleagues.

“There is no security problem as far as the Kingdom Center is concerned,” he added.

This reporter was asked to show his iqama and press ID by a private security officer, who photocopied the documents before agreeing to speak to Arab News.

“The commercial banks are also reviewing security following the bomb explosion,” a banker said. “They have already installed surveillance cameras, metal detectors, telephone recording systems and fire-fighting equipment to deter any attack.”

“To my knowledge, the local banks have reported no security problem or attack in the recent past, except a hoax call, which created alarm at the headquarters of a local bank a few months ago,” he added on condition of anonymity.

Najib Khudairy, a security equipment supplier, said some hotels have been using imported bomb detectors, which cost about $80,000 or more and hired more private security personnel. Hotel security could not confirm this to Arab News, saying it was “a sensitive issue.”

Khudairy said security companies are also training their staff and supplying them with walkie-talkies so they can quickly report any suspicious activity to the police. Security personnel of hotels and malls were also seen searching cars and luggage.

At Al-Faisaliyah Tower, a guard said on condition of anonymity that security has been beefed up around the building. Visitor’s cars were not allowed into the tower’s outer courtyard yesterday. Sources said most security had already been in place since last year’s attacks and there were few changes.

Some hotels have also been conducting mock security exercises in cooperation with the Civil Defense Department.

The capital’s malls and supermarkets yesterday saw plenty of shoppers despite the attacks yesterday.

“I was shocked to hear about the bombing, and we were worried on hearing news of the explosion,” said Michael Hill, an aircraft technician with British Aerospace, at a local supermarket. But he added: “Saudi officials are doing their best to make Riyadh a safer city to live in.”

Housing compounds, the targets of previous attacks, have also beefed up their security again, according to Askar Ali, the manager of Najd Compound. Ali said security officials have also intensified patrols around the compounds.

The capital’s 50 or so compounds are clustered around the ring road and therefore make relatively easy targets for terror attacks. Some compounds have reported anonymous calls threatening the workers or hoax bomb calls.

Elsewhere in the country, however, there is no sign of any increased precautions. In Jeddah, at hotels such as the Intercontinental, Hilton and Sheraton, security guards continued to check the trunks of arriving cars but did not look inside the vehicles, apparently sure that terrorists would never think of putting a bomb there. At shopping malls in the city security was equally no more than a token show.

A member of Arab News was asked by one security guard at a north Jeddah mall what he had a in a carrier bag, but when told that there was nothing he waved him on without checking.

There is no visible change in security arrangements around the cities in the Eastern province either. People, though concerned and worrried, are continuing with their lives normally. Security officials say they are already on alert, but life at the beach and other public places is unaffected.

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