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Saudis in 'total war' on terror

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Saudi officials prevented what would have been a much larger attack.
Saudi Arabia
Acts of terror
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(CNN) -- The Saudi ambassador to the United States says his nation is now in "total war" against terrorists following a car bombing that ripped through the capital Riyadh, killing four people and wounding 148 others.

Wednesday's bombing marked the third terror attack in the kingdom in less than a year.

"This shows that this group is evil, and they consider everybody their enemy," Prince Bandar bin Sultan said after meeting with U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice at the White House.

"We are going to fight them hard."

He added: "It's a total war with them now. And there will be no compromises, and we're not going to give up on them."

A senior Saudi official said the government believes al Qaeda terrorists were behind the bombing, which heavily damaged the old Saudi General Security building housing offices of the Interior Ministry.

The official noted that authorities had recently defused five other bombs, and that simultaneous bombings are an al Qaeda trademark.

"Who else sends suicide bombers to blow up cars in the midst of urban centers? Who else has publicly said we are going after the Saudi state," this official said.

"Who else has publicly said they are planning to do more of these things? You put it all together and that's the end of it."

A group that says it is sympathetic to the aims of al Qaeda says it is behind Wednesday's bombing.

The group, called The Brigade of the Two Holy Shrines, has claimed responsibility for two other attacks in Saudi Arabia, both of them assassinations of security forces.

The claim, posted on a Geocities Web site, then reappeared on a number of Islamist Web sites, according to Paul Eedle, a specialist on al Qaeda's use of the Internet.

The bomber attempted to drive his explosive-packed car into the Traffic Department at the old Saudi General Security building around 2 p.m. local time when most workers were ending their days, the Saudi Interior Ministry said.

The attacker was stopped by officers about 30 meters from the building, and set off the explosion, the ministry said.

Television pictures from the scene showed the entire front of the five-story building had been shattered. Burned-out and damaged cars littered the area.

The area is near the Saudi Information Ministry and the headquarters for the security forces that guard the Saudi royal family.

The bombing killed a civil servant, two security officers and an 11-year-old Syrian girl, as well as the bomber, the Interior Ministry said.

Earlier, hospital officials had said as many as 10 people had been killed in what the official Saudi Press Agency called a "wicked crime."

Most of the wounded were treated and released. But 45 remained hospitalized Wednesday night and three of those were in critical condition, the ministry said.

Saudi authorities have been battling domestic Islamic militants since May 2003, when triple suicide bombings at residential compounds housing Westerners in Riyadh killed 23 people.

Then, in November, a car bombing struck a mostly Arab neighborhood near Riyadh's diplomatic quarter, killing at least 17 people.

Seven Saudi police officers and three militants -- including a man U.S. officials called a senior al Qaeda leader -- have died in gun battles since March.

On Tuesday, security forces reported that they had defused five truck bombs that had been found in and around Riyadh in the past week. Police had set up several checkpoints in Riyadh during the search.

A Saudi official said the planning of the latest attack "was not as effective as it could have been," citing the fact that several individuals abandoned their vehicles when chased by authorities, and did not have a back-up plan.

The "clumsiness" of the attacks, including the fact that the bombers might have had the wrong target, indicate the operation was undertaken by the "second echelon" of al Qaeda leadership, the official said.

The Saudi government has been on alert for a possible attack for some time, the official said, adding they are "still on a high state of alert" for further attacks.

Last week the U.S. State Department ordered most of its personnel in the kingdom and all family members out of the country.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, in Riyadh Wednesday, said: "The terrible bombing here in Riyadh today showed the wisdom of that decision."

Armitage said the United States and Saudi Arabia shared information about the latest threats as part of ongoing cooperation in combating terror.

Saudi Arabia has mounted a massive effort to combat terrorists in the kingdom since the deadly attacks last May and November.

On Sunday, an Interior Ministry official announced the arrest of eight suspects linked to recent clashes with security forces and car bombs. (Full story)

CNN's Caroline Faraj in Dubai, Henry Schuster in Atlanta and State Department Producer Elise Labott contributed to this story

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