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8 killed as militants attack U.S. consulate in Jeddah

Smoke billows from the United States consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Monday after militants attacked it. In the ensuing gunbattle, seven persons were killed and several others injured. — AP

Smoke billows from the United States consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Monday after militants attacked it. In the ensuing gunbattle, seven persons were killed and several others injured. — AP  

MANAMA, DEC. 6. Armed militants today attacked the American consulate in Saudi Arabia's port city of Jeddah, marking the first strike on a U.S. diplomatic facility, six years after the deadly embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

At least eight persons were killed in the attack, including five staff members of the consulate and three intruders, Saudi officials said. Two of the attackers were wounded and arrested.

Asians among victims

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman, Carol Kalin, confirmed that five non-Americans had been killed. "We have five confirmed dead among our locally engaged staff and one of them is a contract (security) guard," she said. She refused to give their nationalities but security sources said they were Arabs and Asians. Ms. Kalin said a handful of other employees were in hospital. A State Department official, who asked not to be named, said some Americans had been lightly wounded. The U.S. consulate in Dharan had been closed as "a precautionary measure."

Earlier reports said that four Saudi national guards were also killed. Speaking to The Hindu , over telephone from Jeddah, L. Ramnarayan, Chief of Bureau of Saudi Arabia's English daily, Arab News, said that one of the buildings in the compound was on fire and black smoke was visible from a long distance. As security forces launched a counter-attack, policemen cordoned off the area. By evening, the operation had been called off, several hours after the intruders breached the sprawling high security compound.

Saudi police during the day had claimed that gunmen had taken 18 local staffers hostage, but diplomats said they were released. CNN quoting Saudi officials in Washington said that an unknown number of third country nationals who worked in the visa section of the consulate, had been taken hostage for some time. Some suffered wounds but all were released.

Saudi authorities hinted that the Al-Qaeda was responsible for the attack. "Members of the deviant group this morning threw explosives at the gate of the U.S. consulate in Jeddah and then entered the compound," the Interior Ministry official said. (In official parlance militants loyal to Saudi-born Al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, are always described as deviant.)

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