WASHINGTON -- Nonessential American diplomats and the families of all US officials in Saudi Arabia should leave, the State Department said yesterday, stepping up its warnings about risks in the country.
Private US citizens also should consider departing, the department said. Americans making plans to go to Saudi Arabia were advised to defer any such travel in light of "the potential for further terrorist activities."
The departure of US officials and family members was voluntary, with the US government covering the expenses.
"We remain fully confident that Saudi authorities are doing everything they can to protect their citizens and foreign nationals in the kingdom against terrorist attacks," department spokesman Lou Fintor said. He said the department's decision was "based on the reality that the terrorist threat in Saudi Arabia remains at a critical level."
Security was tight in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, with a heavy police presence in the city and armored personnel carriers and heavily armed soldiers outside Western housing compounds and at key intersections. Police and soldiers manned roadblocks and checkpoints, and there was beefed-up security outside the diplomatic quarter, where a number of Western embassies are located.
Americans who travel to the kingdom or remain there despite the warning were told to register with the US Embassy in Riyadh or the consulates in Jiddah and Dhahran.
"The US government continues to receive indications of terrorist threats aimed at American and Western interests," the department said. Americans in Saudi Arabia were advised to remain vigilant, "particularly in public places associated with the Western community."
No single specific threat or piece of intelligence led to the department's action, said a US counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Instead, the decision was based on a review of the entire terrorism picture in the kingdom.
There are some 200 to 300 nonessential US officials and family members in Saudi Arabia, and about 30,000 US citizens in all.