Scene of Saudi attacks upscale, gated communities
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (CNN) -- The housing compounds in Saudi Arabia that were attacked Monday night in suicide bombings were described by residents as upscale, gated communities.
Saudi officials said the assailants shot their way into the communities before detonating their loads in the suicide attacks. As many as 10 Americans were killed, along with people from other nations. Prince Turki Al Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to Britain, told reporters that the death toll from the bombings was at least 20.
Explosions took place in three locations -- Jedawal, Courdoval and Hamra, according to diplomatic sources.
U.S. Embassy spokesman John Burgess said Americans live in the compounds, which are about four miles from each other in the eastern suburbs of the Saudi capital, a city of 4.3 million people.
An Australian woman who lives at the Jedawal compound said she was watching television when she heard gunfire. Two trucks then rammed the rear gate and exploded, littering the compound with debris, she said.
"The sky lit up, and I just fell to the ground," said Helen, who declined to give her last name, citing her husband's work for a U.S. military contractor. "The whole villa shook -- six bedrooms, eight bathrooms. The whole house shook like a cardboard box."
Most of the residents at the compound are Americans, she said, although some are Saudis. Jedawal has 440 villas and is surrounded by a heavy metal fence and armed guards.
Suleina Nimer, a reporter for the Al Hayat newspaper, said a witness told him he saw the attackers shoot an unarmed guard at one compound, enter it and detonate the vehicle. Nimer said there were "many casualties."
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who arrived Tuesday in Saudi Arabia on a tour of the Mideast, planned to survey the damage at one of the worst-hit sections.
The attacks came shortly after a U.S. State Department warning to Americans living in Saudi Arabia.
On May 1, the State Department warned Americans living in Saudi Arabia that "terrorist groups may be in the final phases of planning attacks against U.S. interests in Saudi Arabia."
"The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer nonessential travel to Saudi Arabia," the warning said.
At the time, U.S. officials told CNN that the information on which the travel warning was based was "credible" and "al Qaeda-related." Fifteen of the 19 hijackers involved in September 11, 2001, attacks were from Saudi Arabia, as is al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. (Special report)
In March, before the U.S.-led war in Iraq began, the State Department authorized the departure of the families of staff members at the U.S. Embassy, Burgess said.
U.S. officials are working with Saudi authorities to speed the arrival of U.S. security and consular affairs officials to the scenes of the explosions.
The American School in Riyadh will not open Tuesday, and one State Department official advised Americans in the capital to "remain at home" until authorities are able to "ascertain more of the facts and the ongoing threat."
Anti-American and pro-bin Laden sentiments have been strong in some parts of the country.
Bin Laden's anger with the United States stems in part from a decision by Saudi Arabia -- home to Islam's holiest sites -- to allow U.S. troops to be stationed there during the Persian Gulf War.
After the Gulf War, the U.S. military presence became permanent. During the U.S.-led war in Iraq, the Saudis refused to allow coalition forces to attack Iraq with aircraft based in their nation.
In a major policy shift, Washington announced last month that its U.S. Combined Air Operations Center would be moved from Saudi Arabia to nearby Qatar. (Full story)