RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Iraq launched a Scud missile attack Saturday for the first time against the eastern port city of Jubail, site of a vital plant providing fresh water to millions of people, a U. S. military statement said.
It was not immediately known how many of the long-range missiles were fired or whether they were shot down. However, Jubail residents said they heard one explosion and some said they saw debris landing in the sea.
'We heard one big bang about a kilometer away,' said A. Sadiq, a Jubail hotel employee reached by telephone. 'We haven't heard of any damage or casualties. I think a Patriot (missile) may have got it.'
The statement by the U.S. military command said only that a 'Scud missile attack occurred in northeastern Saudi Arabia at about 2 a.m. in the vicinity of Jubail,' about 210 miles northeast of the capital of Riyadh. 'The exact number launched is still being determined.'
Sirens wailed throughout the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, which borders Iraq and Kuwait, following the attack. Allied jets roared over Riyadh minutes later, possibly in search of the Scud launch site.
Iraq previously had fired 32 Scuds at Saudi Arabia during the war that began Jan. 17. Most have either been shot down by U.S. Patriot anti-missile missiles or landed harmlessly in unpopulated areas. But debris from intercepted missiles have caused one death, more than 20 injuries and damage to houses.
Thirty-three more of the Soviet-made Iraqi rockets have been aimed at Israel, resulting in scores of casualties.
Saturday's attack was the first against Jubail, a major industrial city and site of a vital desalination plant that provides fresh water to much of the Eastern Province, including Riyadh.
Allied military officials say coalition warplanes have destroyed many of the Scud launch sites, but say Saddam Hussein is finding new locations from which to fire the weapons.
British Royal Air Force Group Capt. Niall Irving said Friday a Scud attack Thursday against northern Saudi town of Hfr Al-Bati 'demonstrated a U-turn in the deployment' of the Scuds.
'The missiles were launched from a different site this time, from north of Baghdad. The allied instant response the moment Scuds are fired has begun to force Scud units out of their more traditional sites. One can only speculate on the new choice of targets, but Iraq is still attacking civilian areas.'