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Witnesses recount assault in Saudi Arabia
Updated: 2004-05-31 10:42

The gunmen went from house to house, rifling through papers, studying home decorations for clues, asking probing questions as they hunted down foreigners to kill.

As they recounted Saturday's attack on offices, homes and a resort in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, survivors told of a careful, cold-blooded search for victims followed by unthinkable violence. In all, 22 people died.

One hotel guest recounted how he hid under his bed, listening to the clinking of grenades on tiles before they exploded. Others recalled the terrifying questions: "Are you a Muslim? Give us proof."


For an Iraqi-American engineer who identified himself only as Abu Hashem, 45, the ordeal began with the sound of gunfire as he was leaving the Oasis housing compound for work that morning. He rushed home, taking his wife and two children to a neighbor's house.

A video grab from Saudi television shows a destroyed vehicle after an attack by militants in the Saudi city of Khobar, May 29, 2004. [Reuters]

He went went looking for a security guard and came across four lightly bearded Saudi men who looked 18-25 years old.

"I asked them, 'Are you guards?' They said, 'we are.' Then they said, 'Are you a Muslim?' and I said 'yes.' They said 'Give us proof,'" Abu Hashem recalled.

He quickly realized they weren't guards, and showed them his residency papers, which specified he was a Muslim.

"Then, they said, 'You are American,' and I told them I am an American Muslim. They said, 'We do not kill Muslims,'" and became polite, apologizing for breaking into his home.

Abu Hashem said they lectured him on following a proper Islamic lifestyle and told him: "We are defending our country and we want to take it from the nonbelievers."

As he walked with them, Abu Hashem saw the body of a Western cook who had been slain.

Abu Hashem returned home as told, listening to gunshots until Saudi forces evacuated his family Saturday evening.

"The encounter was very painful because these guys had different attitudes," he said. "They have one attitude toward Muslims and another for non-Muslims. Islam does not sanction this."


Another resident of the Oasis compound, Abdul Salam al-Hakawati, a 38-year-old Lebanese corporate financial officer, said he, his wife and 2-year-old son hid upstairs after hearing gunfire Saturday morning. Downstairs, he heard gunmen rummaging around before one said, "This is a Muslim house" — apparently seeing the framed Quranic verses on his walls.

Saudis hide behind a wall they watch the shoot out between the police and the gunmen at the Oasis compound, Khobar, Saudi Arabia Sunday May, 30, 2004. [AP]

Al-Hakawati said a young man in his early 20s, carrying a machine gun and wearing an ammunition belt, came upstairs, spotted him and greeted him in Arabic. The young man asked if he was Arab and Muslim.

When he said yes, al-Hakawati said the gunman told him: "We only want to hurt Westerners and Americans. Can you tell us where we can find them here?"

Al-Hakawati responded that he was new in the compound. The gunman said goodbye and, as he left, told al-Hakawati: "Our holy war is against Americans and Westerners, not against Muslims."


Baskar Benkataramani, a 44-year-old Indian computer project manager on a business trip, says a routine call to the Oasis Hotel's front desk saved his life.

There was a "security situation," he was warned.

"Stay inside your room," the receptionist said. "Use the double-lock on the door and keep the key inside the keyhole. Do not open the door for anybody."

Moments later, he heard gunshots, screams and loud explosions.

"There was banging at my door. I looked through the peephole and saw a hotel staffer with two guns stuck to his head on either side," he said Sunday after returning home to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Terrified, he hid under the bed in absolute silence.

"I could hear the clink-clank of grenades, as they rolled on the tiles before exploding."

He used his mobile telephone to contact a colleague who was with security forces outside the hotel.

"I was getting restless. I asked him if I could jump out of the window. Perhaps I would have broken my legs, but at least I would stay alive," Benkataramani said, but was advised to stay put.

As the siege of the compound continued, he locked himself in the bathroom and placed towels and sheets over the mirror and against the door, fearing an explosion.

Early Sunday morning, Saudi security forces broke down the door to his room and banged on the bathroom door, identifying themselves as police. An armed escort took him to the 5th floor, where other guests were waiting to be evacuated.

The hotel's interior was a scene of carnage: broken doors and smashed glass, with bloodstains on the floor and walls.

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