Terrorist truck bomb kills 11 Americans at facility in Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON (AP) — A truck bomb exploded Tuesday night at a U.S. Air Force housing complex in Saudi Arabia, killing 11 Americans and injuring about 160, officials said. President Clinton vowed, “The cowards who committed this murderous act must not go unpunished.”
Declaring “America takes care of its own,” Clinton dispatched an FBI team to assist in the investigation.
The explosion hit a U.S. military housing area at the edge of a Saudi base near Dhahran in eastern Saudi Arabia. British, French and Saudi troops are based there as well, but it was not clear what casualties they might have suffered.
A senior Defense Department official, speaking on condition he not be identified, said a U.S. airman who was in a security observation tower at the housing complex had reported the truck as suspicious, and an attempt was made to evacuate two apartment buildings. But the blast went off before people could get out, the official said.
The death total made it the worst blast involving Americans in the Middle East since the 1983 bombing in Beirut, Lebanon that killed 241 American servicemen.
The Defense Department official who described the incident to reporters at the Pentagon stressed that the information on casualties was preliminary and that the totals could climb.
At the Pentagon, officials said that in addition to the deaths, about 60 of the injuries were considered serious.
Besides the U.S. Air Force personnel living in the housing area, there also were Army soldiers who operate a Patriot air defense unit.
A statement issued by the U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, said a fuel truck exploded outside the northern fence of the Khobar Towers on King Abdul Aziz Air Base near Dhahran in eastern Saudi Arabia.
At the State Department in Washington, spokesman Glyn Davies said a tanker truck was driven to the northeast corner of the compound and the driver or drivers fled.
“Moments afterward, the explosion occurred,” he said.
Clinton said, “The explosion appears to be the work of terrorists. If that is the case, like all Americans I am outraged by it.”
Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, campaigning in Cleveland, said he wanted to “express my sorrow, obviously, to those who might have been injured.”
Clinton spoke tersely and angrily. “Let me say again, we will pursue this,” he said. ” Those who did it must not go unpunished,” he said before striding from the briefing room at the White House.
First word of the bombing came from Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall at a House National Security Committee hearing. Government sources reported that most of the 160 injured were Americans, but they said they did not know the nationalities of those killed.
Saudi state television reported a number of people were killed and injured in a bomb explosion outside a military building near Dhahran that was used by “foreigners.”
In Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, the official Saudi Press Agency said a number had died in the blast.
Officials at the Pentagon said the Air Force’s 4404th Air Wing is based at the site. At least 2,000 Americans are stationed there.
The explosion occurred less than a month after the Saudis beheaded four Muslim militants convicted of setting off a car bomb last Nov. 13 at a U.S.-run military training facility, killing five Americans and two Indians.
The men, all Saudi Arabians, were executed despite threats from underground extremists to attack U.S. interests in the kingdom if the four were punished.