Westerners on alert in Saudi after French killings

28th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

RIYADH, Feb 28, 2007 (AFP) - Western embassies in Saudi Arabia have advised their nationals to be on alert after the killing of four Frenchmen left expatriates wondering if this might signal a resumption of anti-Western attacks.

RIYADH, Feb 28, 2007 (AFP) - Western embassies in Saudi Arabia have advised their nationals to be on alert after the killing of four Frenchmen left expatriates wondering if this might signal a resumption of anti-Western attacks.

Several residents on Wednesday said that while they were shocked by Monday's shootings near the Muslim holy city of Medina, they would only be alarmed if a further attack took place.

"If it were to happen again, it would send a ripple of concern across the expatriate community and have a very negative effect," said Peter Howarth-Lees, the British manager of a residential compound inhabited by expatriates in Riyadh.

"At the moment, we don't know if this was an isolated incident, a hate crime by some locals who don't like Westerners," or a precursor of renewed attacks by suspected Al-Qaeda militants such as those which climaxed in 2004, he told AFP.

"Security forces since 2004 have made great strides in taking out a lot of militants operating in the country," Howarth-Lees said.

John Wiese, a 55-year-old Canadian who regularly goes on desert trips, said expatriates were wondering whether the killing of the Frenchmen was "a one-off incident or was linked to the previous campaign" against Westerners.

Wiese said he had planned a desert camping with friends on Thursday but they dropped the outing "not because we are scared, but because we are upset" over the killings.

The four victims were among three French families returning to Riyadh after a visit to an historic site in northwestern Saudi Arabia and were shot dead by masked gunmen in a desert area.

But Wiese said he was still planning to go out hiking in the desert with friends on Friday.

Saudis encountered on desert trips are "open and friendly," he said, recalling a group of locals who were "absolutely wonderful when one of our vehicles had trouble" during an outing north of Riyadh last weekend.

"So far, there has been sadness, shock and anger (over the shootigs) but not so much fear... Everybody feels very positive about what the government has been doing, its zero tolerance toward any aspect of terrorism," Wiese said, referring to the relentless crackdown on militants by Saudi security forces.

"We can't let fear govern our lives. I have faith in this country and the way authorities have dealt so far with the problem of terrorism," said Raymond Romestant, an American resident.

"Forget all labels: we had four people killed -- three or four people are killed every day in every country, four were probably killed in America that day. There are different reasons these things happen," he said.

Andre Maillet-Contoz, a French engineer who knew the victims and occasionally went on desert trips with them outside Riyadh, said he thought the shootings were a case of "bad luck" rather than a planned attack.

But "I will become more cautious now, that's for sure. I will not completely change my way of life, but I will avoid traveling in remote areas," he told AFP.

Two of the victims, Jean-Marc Bonnet and his 17-year-old son Romain, were Muslim, and Saudi newspapers reported on Wednesday that funeral prayers were held for them at the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, Islam's second holiest site.

Bonnet's widow, Zakia Raffouk, was of Moroccan origin.

The French embassy in Riyadh on Wednesday issued a security message reminding the 3,600 French nationals in the country to be cautious and limit their movements.

The embassy "also advises our nationals currently travelling within the kingdom to return to their bases by the most secure routes," the message said.

The US and British embassies also urged their citizens to be vigilant.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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