NBC News and news services
updated 4/17/2004 7:00:04 AM ET 2004-04-17T11:00:04

Saudi police have defused a car bomb in the kingdom, Saudi state television said on Saturday.

The explosive-rigged vehicle is the third police have defused since Tuesday. State television did not say where the vehicle was found or give any details about the incident.

The reports came two days after the State Department ordered non-essential U.S. diplomats and all dependents to leave the kingdom because of security concerns and “strongly urged” private U.S. citizens to do likewise.

On Thursday, U.S. officials told NBC News on condition of anonymity that the “authorized departure” was decided upon because of intelligence indicating that the al-Qaida terror network was planning to launch multiple strikes against U.S. and other foreign targets in the desert kingdom.

The attacks, believed to be a series of truck and car bomb explosions, appeared “imminent,” they said. Although Saudi security forces have fought a number of gunbattles against suspected al-Qaida cells in recent days, operatives with instructions for the attacks could remain at large, the officials told NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski.

It was unclear whether the State Department’s decision was related to the broadcast of an audiotape purportedly by al-Qaida’s leader, Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden, offering a truce to Europeans if they withdrew troops from Muslim nations but vowing to continue fighting the United States and Israel.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, is battling a wave of violence believed to be linked to al-Qaida. At least 50 people were killed last year in suicide bomb attacks on housing compounds in the capital, Riyadh.

Suspected Muslim militants killed four Saudi police officers Tuesday at checkpoints along a road north of Riyadh shortly after security forces defused two car bombs in the capital, a Saudi security source said.

Removal expected by end of week
“It’s in the works,” a U.S. official told Reuters, speaking of the expected decision to order some Americans to leave again. “My expectation would be before the end of the week.”

A second official told Reuters that the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh had asked the State Department for permission to send home people from the embassy, as well as from the U.S. consulates in Dhahran and Jeddah.

“We have continuing credible information of threats against our facilities and Western and American interests,” the official said, declining to elaborate.

In a “warden message” that was sent Tuesday to U.S. citizens in Saudi Arabia, the embassy cited continued threats to diplomatic facilities and housing compounds in the Saudi capital and urged Americans to be vigilant.

“The U.S. government continues to receive credible indications of terrorist threats aimed at American and Western interests in Saudi Arabia, including the targeting of diplomatic and other official facilities and residential compounds in Riyadh,” the message said.

Over the last year, Washington has repeatedly moved to reduce its diplomatic presence in Saudi Arabia and then allowed diplomats and family members back in response to the ebb and flow of threats. On Feb. 20, it announced that it had allowed all workers and family members to return to Saudi Arabia.

The U.S.-Saudi alliance, built on the twin pillars of security and oil, has been strained since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington carried out by al-Qaida. Most of the hijackers were Saudis.

U.S. officials initially complained that they were not getting enough cooperation from the Saudis on fighting al-Qaida, but they said Saudi efforts had increased dramatically since car bombs May 12 ripped apart three Riyadh housing compounds and killed 35 people, including eight Americans.

NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski and Andrea Mitchell and Reuters contributed to this report.

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