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U.S. asks citizens to leave Saudi Arabia

By ANWAR IQBAL

WASHINGTON, May 13 (UPI) -- The United States Tuesday advised its citizens to leave Saudi Arabia following a series of car-bomb attacks in the kingdom's capital that killed 29 people, including seven Americans.

The American school in Riyadh also has been closed.

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As reports of the attack reached Washington, President George W. Bush vowed to hunt down the attackers.

"These despicable acts were committed by killers whose only faith is hate, and the United States will find the killers, and they will learn the meaning of American justice," he said.

The State Department, however, was asking Americans to leave the oil-rich kingdom because of continued threats to U.S. citizens and interests.

"We continue to advise U.S. citizens to evaluate their own security situation and consider departing Saudi Arabia," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said.

"Our ambassador and his team in Riyadh are working round the clock, literally, to determine natures of threats to U.S. personnel and to U.S. installations in the American citizen community there," he added.

Meanwhile, the State Department scaled down the death toll estimate in the suicide bombings, saying it was likely not the 91 people earlier cited, but close to the Saudi estimate of 29.

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The bombings, which took place about 11:30 p.m. Monday, constituted one of the deadliest terror attacks on Americans since Sept. 11, 2001, and Secretary of State Colin Powell said the coordinated strike had "the earmarks of al-Qaida."

"We will be re-evaluating our advice for travel and residence in Saudi Arabia on a continuing basis. I would note that the American school in Riyadh has suspended classes for the duration of the week," said Reeker.

The spokesman said that at least seven American citizens were among those killed in the blasts, and at least 39 American citizens were injured.

"Those numbers could increase, of course, as more information becomes available," he said.

The State Department on Tuesday established a toll-free number of families who may have family in the region: 888-407-4747. For those calling from outside the United States: 317-472-2328.

Reeker said that an interagency team, including officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, will be arriving soon in Saudi Arabia to assist with the investigation.

The State Department had issued a travel warning on May 1 asking U.S. citizens to defer nonessential travel to Saudi Arabia because, Reeker said, "we were aware ... that terrorist groups may be in the final stages of planning attacks against U.S. interests in the kingdom."

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Meanwhile, a Washington-based Muslim think tank -- the Council on American-Islamic Relations -- condemned the suicide bombing, saying there is no justification for such "vicious" acts.

"We condemn this vicious attack on civilians. No cause is served by the willful targeting of innocent people and there is certainly no justification for these crimes," the council said. "We offer our condolences to the families of the victims and pray for the recovery of those injured in the explosions. ... (and) join with the international community in calling for the swift apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators."

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