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Friday, 21 June, 2002, 21:05 GMT 22:05 UK
Police investigate Saudi car blast
Saudi police question unidentified men at the site of the blast which killed Simon Veness
There was no immediate claim of responsibility
Police are investigating a car bomb explosion which killed a British man in the Saudi capital, Riyadh on Thursday.

The victim was named as Simon Veness, who was thought to have been alone in or near the car at the time of the blast at outside a residential compound in the city.

British officials are said to be in contact with the Saudi authorities and the victim's family.

This is a shocking and tragic event

Jack Straw

News of the explosion provoked nervousness among Westerners, already on edge after the arrests of 13 suspected members of Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in the kingdom.

"You can't help feeling more vulnerable - especially if you are working for a relatively high-profile Western company," said a Riyadh-based executive.

However, there were also reports that Mr Veness was killed because of his involvement in an illegal alcohol racket.

Tight security

Mr Veness, 35, had been working in the Riyadh offices of the Saudi-French Bank for four years as a market risk controller.

Mr Veness, who has relatives in Kent, had been living in the city with his wife and son.

The British Embassy in the city told the AP news agency Mr Veness's four-wheel-drive jeep exploded shortly after he turned the ignition in the central Nakhil neighbourhood.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he "very concerned" about reports of an illegal alcohol racket.

"Of course I haven't had them confirmed yet but we will be making inquiries through our embassy in Riyadh at my request today to seek some clarification," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"What I would like to say is how horrified I personally was by this killing of Simon Veness and how much I would like to express my condolences to his family and friends, and of course my great sadness, which will be reflected in the whole of the British community out in Saudi Arabia.

The UK would be seeking "a great deal of information as to why it happened", Mr Straw added.

Tight security

Khaled al-Saleh, an IT consultant living in a nearby residential compound, heard the blast.

"No-one's allowed in or out of the compound unless they sign in and show some ID," he said.

"No-one knows how it happened, I guess."

It is not clear whether the blast is in any way connected with the announcement of the al-Qaeda arrests or with bombings that rocked Saudi Arabia in late 2000 and early 2001.

Previous bombings
May 2001 - An American is seriously injured by a bomb in Khobar
March 2001 - A Briton and an Egyptian are injured by a bomb outside a Riyadh book shop
December 2000 - A Scottish man is injured by a blast in Khobar
November 2000 - Two bombs in Riyadh kill a British man and injure four other Britons

Seven Westerners, including five Britons, are in prison in Saudi Arabia for some of those bomb attacks.

The Saudi authorities linked the previous bombings to feuds among Western bootleggers, supplying banned alcohol to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

But a friend of Mr Veness quoted by Reuters dismissed as speculation suggestions he might have been involved in illegal activity as impossible.

The friend, who was not named, said Simon had been due to return to the UK in July to work.

"Simon was a highly respected banker."


UK diplomats are advising all British nationals in Saudi Arabia to be extra vigilant and check their vehicles carefully.

Most Westerners live in heavily guarded high-walled compounds.

Three British men were shown on Saudi TV confessing to some of the previous bombings.

But there was also speculation the attacks may have been carried out by Islamist groups in Saudi Arabia.

Malcolm Savidge, Labour MP for Aberdeen North, told the BBC that bomb attacks were not being properly investigated.

One of his constituents hurt in an earlier bomb blast in Saudi Arabia had complained that he was treated more like an offender than a victim.

Mr Savidge said people were aware particularly since 11 September that groups like al-Qaeda saw foreign nationals in Saudi Arabia as "infidels within the Holy Land".

"Therefore undoubtedly there are people who would be prepared to make attacks on foreign nationals out there.

He told BBC Radio 4's The World at One programme he understood why politically the Saudi government was not eager to consider that possibility but it must do so.

Dealings between British and Saudi Arabian governments had to be made with sensitivity.

The BBC's Andrew North
"The blast took place in a residential area at the start of the working day"
The BBC's James Robbins
"The motive could be terrorism or criminality"
Expert on the Middle East Hajeer Temourain
"Most westerners are safe within their compounds"
See also:

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