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U.S., French, British troops in Saudi Arabia on alert for terrorism

Saudi bombing graphic

Militaries follow U.S. lead after truck bombing

August 4, 1996
Web posted at: 9:05 a.m. EDT (1305 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- French and British troops are on highest alert in Saudi Arabia, following the lead of the U.S. after the June 25 truck bombing that killed 19 U.S. airmen.

"The French Defense Ministry confirms that French and British troops based in the same installations as the Americans in the Gulf are observing the same security measures," a French government statement said Sunday.

U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry said Saturday that U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region have been on highest alert since the bombing of the Khobar Towers military housing complex near Dhahran. He said he expects more terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, and has ordered about 700 military dependents and their school-age children to leave the country.

A French military source told Reuters that French troops follow U.S. security precautions at shared bases.

"If the Americans decree a state of alert, we follow," the source said.

Damage

More than 4,000 U.S. troops are being moved to a remote site south of the Saudi capital of Riyadh, and spouses and children will no longer accompany most Defense Department personnel working in Saudi Arabia, Perry said.

"We expect more terrorist attacks. The purpose of these attacks is to drive our forces out of the Gulf, and we will not be driven out nor will we be divided from our friends in the region," Perry told reporters in an unusual informal Saturday session in his Pentagon office.

The secretary said the United States has a "flood of intelligence" indicating possible attacks against U.S. forces, which amount to a serious threat.

"We do have, I would say, a flood of intelligence," Perry said. "No one of which is clearly indicative of a specific attack at a specific place, but in aggregate have caused us to raise the threat level in Saudi Arabia to the highest threat level. That threat level translates into 'an attack is imminent.'"

He said the 15,000 military men and women in the region were well prepared. He especially noted that U.S. soldiers who tend the stores of armored vehicles and supplies in Kuwait were keenly aware of the terrorist threat.

"I had a distinct impression they were on a war footing," Perry said, describing a recent visit to Camp Doha, outside Kuwait City.



William Perry

"That threat level translates into 'an attack is imminent'"

-- U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry


Perry outlined the extensive preparations that are being made to move some 4,000 men and women now living near Dhahran to a remote Prince Sultan air base 50 miles south of Riyadh. Perry's order does not affect diplomatic personnel or U.S. civilians living in the desert kingdom.

He said the Saudis have pledged $100 million to pay for the "incremental costs" of moving the troops, matching a $100 million U.S. tab.

Explains comments on Iran

Perry also elaborated on statements he made Friday in an interview with National Public Radio in which he hinted that Iran may have been involved in the June attack.

Perry had said when Saudi authorities complete their investigation into the bombing, he expects they will find "an international connection," and that "possibly" they would conclude that Iran was involved.

He said that by branding Iran a "leading candidate for international terrorism directed against the United States," he was only quoting Iran's own statements supporting terrorism against U.S. forces. He said his remarks had been misinterpreted.

"This is a classic case of adding two plus two and getting 22, " Perry said. He said to tie his statement "to any imminent action is not warranted at all."

Perry said his suggestion of an "international connection" was based primarily on the sophistication of the attack and not on any direct knowledge. He said he was repeating comments made before a Senate committee last month.

"I said then ... and I still believe, simply because of the complex nature of this attack: the size, the military explosive that was used, the military detonator that was used. I believed that, in and of itself, was evidence of outside support, an international terrorist connection."

Denial from Iran

Iran has denied that it had any part in the bombing.

"The prejudicial and irresponsible nature of these charges and defamatory statements against Iran is crystal clear," said a statement on IRNA, Iran's news agency, as monitored by the British Broadcasting Corporation.



"The prejudicial and irresponsible nature of these charges and defamatory statements against Iran is crystal clear."

-- IRNA, the Iran news agency

On Saturday, Perry declined to discuss possible retaliation against those responsible for the bombing. On Friday, he threatened "strong action" in response. (244K AIFF or WAV sound)

Correspondent Jamie McIntyre and Reuters contributed to this report.

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