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Terror strikes Riyadh

By Wolf Blitzer

Saudi civil defense personnel search for bodies in the debris of the Al Hamra compound.

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ATLANTA (CNN) -- The latest suicide bombing attacks against a Western housing complex in Saudi Arabia drive home the continued terror threat to U.S. interests around the world.

Everyone seems to be assuming this to be the work of al Qaeda though there's no official confirmation. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, for example, notes that the attacks have the earmarking of al Qaeda. Other experts note that the bombings were timed to coincide -- a clear al Qaeda trademark. I assume we will know sooner rather than later who exactly was behind this assault.

If it was al Qaeda, it would appear to be somewhat ironic -- coming, as it does, so quickly after the U.S. and Saudi Arabia announced that U.S. troops were pulling out of the Saudi Kingdom in the coming months. That means, for example, that the huge U.S. presence at the Prince Sultan Air Base would be shut down -- among other military facilities in Saudi Arabia. This has been the main al Qaeda demand since the first Persian Gulf War. Osama bin Laden has insisted for years that the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia is an affront to Islam -- given that the two main Islamic holy sites -- Mecca and Medina -- are located there. The attack against these civilian housing complexes would appear to suggest that al Qaeda might now want to see all Americans -- military and civilian -- out of Saudi Arabia.

On the other hand, the latest attacks probably have been in the works for months -- long before the U.S.-Saudi announcement on the military pullout. Al Qaeda and other terror groups often plan terror strikes for months and, occasionally, years. This latest attack clearly was carefully planned.

The investigation is now underway. FBI agents and other U.S. law-enforcement and intelligence officials have been dispatched to Riyadh. That was also the case following the Khobar Towers blast in 1996 that killed 19 U.S. service members and wounded scores of others. U.S. officials were deeply disappointed in what they described as a lack of full Saudi cooperation in the investigation that followed. They are hoping this time around they will get complete cooperation. The Saudi government is certainly saying the right things right now, but U.S. officials say the proof will be in the delivery of that commitment. We shall see.

What is abundantly clear is that the terror underworld has been severely set back by the U.S. and its partners since September 11, 2001, but it hasn't been destroyed. The challenge remains; especially since there were eerie warnings announced only last week that a terror strike was in the works in Saudi Arabia -- warnings that failed to prevent this latest attack.

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