Fourth Frenchman dies after Saudi ambush

27th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

MEDINA, Saudi Arabia, Feb 27, 2007 (AFP) - A French teenager wounded in an attack that killed three compatriots in Saudi Arabia lost his fight for life Tuesday amid shock over the first strike against Westerners in months.

MEDINA, Saudi Arabia, Feb 27, 2007 (AFP) - A French teenager wounded in an attack that killed three compatriots in Saudi Arabia lost his fight for life Tuesday amid shock over the first strike against Westerners in months.

The 17-year-old, whose father was also killed in the ambush, died after undergoing surgery to extract a bullet from a lung overnight.

"He passed away now," the director of King Fahd Hospital in the Muslim holy city of Medina, Mutawakkel Faleh Hajjaj, told AFP.

The youngster's age had earlier been given as 22 but a French diplomatic source said he was just 17.

The four French expatriates were killed by masked gunmen near Medina Monday as they stopped en route back to their homes in the capital Riyadh after a trip to the historical site of Madain Saleh, a popular destination for Westerners.

French President Jacques Chirac expressed shock following the attack, the first in three months against Westerners in the oil-rich kingdom, which was rocked by a spate of bombings and shootings blamed on suspected Al-Qaeda militants starting in May 2003.

Chirac "firmly condemns this hateful act," said a statement from his office.

The dead were among nine French expatriates who were ambushed in a desert area some 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Medina

Two of them died on the spot, Hajjaj said. A third victim was driven to a nearby medical centre by his wife in defiance of a ban on women driving in conservative Saudi Arabia but was pronounced dead on arrival.

One of the survivors recounted how hooded gunmen had got out of a jeep and then opened fire on the men in the group as they sopped to picnic on their way back from Madain Saleh, said Dr Khaldoun Mounla, medical counsellor for the French consulate in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

Three women, including the dead 17-year-old's mother, an 11-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy were not targeted, he said.

A French source said the two were siblings.

Saudi security men were posted at the hotel in Medina where the traumatised survivors and French diplomats spent the night.

A French diplomatic source said there was a possibility the survivors would be taken back to Riyadh Tuesday.

He said Saudi authorities were ready to provide any assistance required by consular staff.

The group were all members of three families. Two of the victims worked for electric firm Schnider and the third was a teacher at a French school in Riyadh.

Chirac on Monday thanked Saudi authorities for helping the victims and underscored "the importance that is accorded to shedding full light on this tragedy, to ensuring that the perpetrators are arrested, brought to justice and punished and to ensuring the security of our compatriots."

Between 4,000 and 5,000 French nationals live in Saudi Arabia, Mounla said.

The Saudi interior ministry said the victims were shot dead on the road between Medina and the northwestern city of Tabuk.

"A group of French residents including four men, three women and two children came under fire from an unidentified car while on their way back from a trip and as they stopped in a desert area for rest," it said.

The attack was the first to target Western expatriates since a Briton was wounded in a knife attack in November in the eastern industrial city of Jubail.

Laurent Barbot, a 45-year-old French engineer who worked for electronics group Thales in Jeddah, was shot dead in September 2004.

The same month, a British national was killed in a shooting in Riyadh.

The attacks subsided after security forces launched a relentless crackdown on suspected sympathisers of Al-Qaeda in the Gulf country, homeland of the network's fugitive leader Osama bin Laden.

But gunfights between security forces and militants continue despite periods of calm.

In December, gunmen killed two policemen in the centre of the Saudi commercial capital of Jeddah before escaping through a security cordon thrown up around their hideout.

In December 2004, suspected Al-Qaeda gunmen stormed the US consulate in Jeddah, triggering a bloody three-hour siege and a shootout that left five staff and four attackers dead.

The interior ministry announced in early December that it had detained 136 Al-Qaeda suspects, mostly Saudi nationals, in raids over the previous three months.

Saudi Arabia said in February 2006 that it had thwarted a bid to blow up the world's largest oil processing plant at Abqaiq in eastern Saudi Arabia.

US officials said last October that they feared possible attacks on oil installations in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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