Monday, May 31, 2004

Terrorist attack expatriate compound in Khobar

The news have been brewing for 2 days. It happened on Saturday, the 3rd day of my arrival to Saudi Arabia. Its been a bittersweet decision to come to Saudi, a five month wait for my visa and now almost immediately upon my arrival a compound is under siege by militants in Khobar. Although 400 km away, it is somewhat too close for comfort as I too live in what is considered “western compound.”

They call it “western” compound because most of the inhabitants are foreigners, and people do wear western clothes in the compounds and the amenities are geared towards “western” living. We don’t have to wear the abaya (the black over coat that women are required to wear when out and about in Saudi), the ladies lounge in their bikinis by the pool and men and women interact somewhat freely. (The Saudi’s culture is such that men and women who are not related by blood don’t interact with one another, at least the women have to be `properly` veiled when interacting say with a salesperson etc.)

These compounds are designed to be self sufficient complete with amenities (shop, gym, hairdressers, recreational centres etc) such that its inhabitants need not leave the premises except to go to work and do their shopping. If you ask me, its like a gilded hamster cage really, with lots of `activity centers` to fight boredom. Apparently the Oasis is where the “big” bosses live. Saudi nationals are not allowed in these compounds.

Today I saw the full extend of the damage and the casualties at the Oasis compound on CNN and the BBC. 22 dead. A british man was shot in his way to work and his body was tied to the back of a car and dragged through the streets. Eyewitness accounts of how the gunmen went from door to door in search of “infidels” to kill.

“They opened the door and came inside our house and asked my seven-year-old son, `Are you Muslim?’ When he told them `Yes’ they left. Forty-five minutes later I came downstairs and saw blood on the floor. It was only then I realised that something terrible was happening at our compound.” Umm Hashim
(Arab news 31/05/04 by Molouk Y Ba-Isa)

The gunmen had taken the non Muslim they could round out as hostages. 7 who tried to escape in the night had their throats slits.

Those who were safe had either holed themselves in a cupboard or were just lucky that their houses were not raided. Apparently only four gunmen were involved in the incident, three managed to abscond unharmed.

News just in from CNN alleged that the gunmen were allowed to leave the compound in exchange for them not bombing the buildings.

And how do I feel about all this?

I think I am still in shock. Four years ago, I would have immediately pack my essentials and leave. Jakarta was the first city which I really felt myself exposed to terrorism. Then I moved to London, where we seemed to be in a constant state of high alert especially the Iraq war. And now this in Saudi.

I have found three possible places to hide in case of an attack to my compound. I had to rule out the little storage room under the stairs as I don’t think I can stand 5 minutes in that space, let alone 12 hours. So I will have to put some supplies at the other two places, perhaps mineral water, photocopies of my passports and perhaps a torchlight. I must consider carrying my mobile phone in my pocket at all times, in case I am trapped in such a situation. I would have to prepare a “get ready to flee bag,” with all my important documents in case I need to leave in a hurry.

Is it death I fear? Surely not because I have come to a point in my life when I feel that when its time for one to go, its time anyways, irregardless where one is. All that is predestined. I guess I am preparing for that time if I am still allowed to live, but after going through the horror first.

What doesn’t kill me should only make me stronger.

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