Jeddah (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A car bomb exploded outside the heavily guarded U.S. consulate in this port city Monday, injuring several people. Hostages were believed being held inside as a gunbattle raged in the latest strike against Western targets in the kingdom. Early in the afternoon the situation was brought under control. Three attackers were killed and two were injured and arrested, the Saudi Interior Ministry announced. Saudi security officials also said four of their forces were killed. The ministry statement didn't mention hostages, though Saudi security officials said some had been taken.
The Saudi statement said "the situation was brought under control." It gave no further details.
However a senior Saudi official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the attackers took several hostages, mostly Sudanese and Indian. Security forces freed the hostages, the official said.
Saudi security forces confirmed they believed there were hostages being held inside U.S. consulate, but said numbers were unknown. Four attackers remained in the compound where a gunbattle continued more than an hour after the initial blast, according to other Saudi security forces, speaking on condition of anonymity.
American officials said there were no reports of American casualties after the car exploded just in front of the consulate, located in the city's heart near the Red Sea coastline.
A Saudi health official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said several people injured in the blast were taken to a hospital in Jeddah. None were Americans, the official said.
Saudi officials had no immediate comment on the blast and there was no immediate claim of responsibility. But Saudi officials have blamed al-Qaida operatives for the string of attacks that have hit the kingdom in the past two years.
Witnesses at the scene reported that four attackers tried to storm the compound in a car, but that the car exploded in front instead.
The consulate is located in the heart of the city, just a half-mile from the city's Red Sea coastal road. The building - like all U.S. diplomatic buildings and other Western compounds in Saudi Arabia - has been heavily fortified and guarded since last year's series of bombings against targets housing foreigners.
The attack was the latest in a series of attacks against Westerners since 2003, when car bombs targeted three compounds housing foreign workers in Riyadh, killing 35 people, including nine suicide bombers. Later that year, a suicide car bomb killed 17 people and wounded 122 at a compound for foreign workers in Riyadh.Last May, 22 people were killed, including 19 foreigners, by militants who sprayed gunfire inside an oil contractor's office in Khobar. In another attack that month, militants stormed offices of Houston-based ABB Lummus Global Inc. in Yanbu, killing six Westerners and a Saudi. All four attackers in Yanbu died in a shootout after an hour-long police chase in which they dragged the body of an American from the bumper of their car. In June, militants in Riyadh, the capital, kidnapped and beheaded Paul M. Johnson Jr., an engineer for a U.S. defense company.