An Irish cameraman working for the British Broadcasting Corp. was killed and a British reporter injured in a shooting Sunday in the Saudi capital, just hours after the foreign minister said the kingdom was doing “everything we can” to protect citizens and residents.
The BBC identified the dead man as Simon Cumbers, 36, and the injured man as BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner, 42.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw condemned the attack on the two journalists and pledged that Britain “will continue to do all we can to support the Saudi authorities in their fight against terrorism.”
The violence came less than a week after 22 people, most of them foreigners, were killed in a shooting rampage and hostage-taking in the eastern Saudi oil hub of Khobar. Saudi security forces captured one of the four attackers in the May 29 assault and are still looking for the other three.
Many viewed the attack as an attempt by Islamic radicals to drive foreigners out of the kingdom, a move that could seriously hurt its oil industry. The attacks last week sent oil price to record highs.
The British Foreign Office has advised British nationals against all nonessential travel to Saudi Arabia. The United States has gone further, urging all of its citizens to leave the kingdom — a move criticized by Saudi officials.
The two journalists had gone to Saudi Arabia last week after the terrorist attacks.
Cumbers was a freelance journalist and cameraman who had worked for Associated Press Television News and ITN, the BBC said. After the shooting, Saudi television showed footage of a dark-haired man sitting, half-upright, in the middle of a street, two bloodstains visible on his white shirt.
Saudi police said unidentified gunmen shot the two men at 5:45 p.m. in the Suweidi neighborhood of Riyadh, an ultraconservative area that has seen several shootouts between security forces and suspected militants.
Saudi authorities vow to fight
Earlier Sunday, in Jiddah, Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal told a news conference that terrorist attacks in the kingdom will not force the government to give up the fight against “this oppressive group that is isolated legally (and) socially.”
Saud’s remarks were the first to reporters by a Saudi official since gunmen in Khobar attacked two office compounds and then took hostages at a hotel in the luxury Oasis housing compound.
About 50 people were at the hotel when the gunmen took it over. The gunmen killed at least nine hostages before they escaped in the early hours of May 30.
Faith in Saudi security shaken
The militants’ escape rattled Saudis and expatriates. Asking how the militants could slip away, many people have expressed a lack of faith in the ability of Saudi security forces to protect them.
Saud said the government is providing expatriates the same — and in some case — more protection than it is giving its citizens.
“I don’t know what other assurances can be given,” Saud said. The safety of the hostages in the Khobar siege, he said, was the first priority of the security forces on the scene, a strategy that was right even if it resulted in the escape of the hostage takers.
“It was the right priority for the security forces to give first priority to the hostages and not to attack prematurely and jeopardize their safety, their lives,” he said.
“These criminals have no inhibition against taking lives,” he added. “That this led to the escape of some of the terrorists is something that happened.”
Official account raises concerns
The official Interior Ministry account of the end of the standoff was that the three gunmen used hostages as human shields to escape Saudi commandos who had landed on the hotel. But some officials have said that the men were allowed to escape because they had threatened to kill all hostages — an account the government is sensitive about because its stated policy is not to negotiate with terrorists.
A U.S. official, speaking to The AP on condition of anonymity Sunday, said he was not aware of any deals with the hostage takers to end the crisis.
The official also said American officials had played no part in Saudi decision-making on how to end the standoff and offered no advice to the Saudi security officials in charge of the operation, as some Saudi officials had said.
He said FBI personnel were sent to Khobar, a standard U.S. procedure to determine the cause of death of an American citizen. An American died in a shooting before the hostage taking.
The U.S. official said seven U.S. military personnel, in the kingdom on a training mission, were in the compound — but not in the hotel — during the standoff and that two of them were wounded. The official said the U.S. Embassy was in contact with Saudi security about the seven during the standoff.
Another U.S. official in Washington said the Saudis were told that some members of a long-standing U.S. military mission were in the compound. So the Saudis “modified” their strategy and did not immediately storm the building, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.