Today's Papers

Riyadh Bombings

Everybody leads with the multiple car-bombings of expatriate compounds in Saudi Arabia’s capital. Details on injuries—and just about everything else—are still sketchy. Secretary of State Colin Powell who landed in Riyadh this morning on a previously planned trip, has the latest: “It seems we have lost 10 Americans killed. Many other nationalities were also killed.” Early-morning reports  add that about 160 people were injured, including at least 40 Americans. (The papers, which went to bed hours ago, have much lower estimates.)

Three of the bombings happened almost simultaneously, with (and there are conflicting reports here) perhaps a fourth one hour later. The compounds housed mostly defense contractors and advisers to Saudi Arabia’s military. One of them was filled with Boeing employees and another one with workers from a British company. Most of the papers say that in at least one of the bombings attackers seem to have shot their way into the compound, detonated their bomb, and then shot their way out.

Al-Qaida is obviously suspected, particularly since it specializes in simultaneous attacks. Two weeks ago, the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh publicly warned that terrorists might be in the “final phases” of planning attacks against Americans. Last week, Saudi police captured a large weapons cache but missed about 20 militants who they were trying to capture in the raid.  

One “senior government official” (from an unidentified country) told the New York Times, “There’s been a lot of chatter in the last six weeks involving possible attacks by al-Qaida.” That’s interesting because just last week the Post reported  there was a lot of chatter among intel officials that AQ was nearly crippled.

There are a few possible explanations for the paucity of info about the attacks. Obviously, they occurred somewhat late in the day, about 4 p.m. EST yesterday. But that’s still plenty of time to get in details before the papers closed. Two other likely reasons: 1) Though the papers gloss over it, Saudi officials seem to be tight-lipped about doling out info. There are scant quotes from any Saudi government sources, and as only the NYT mentions, they haven’t released any casualty count. 2) Check out the datelines—the NYT: Kuwait; the Los Angeles Times  and Washington Post: Amman, Jordan; and Wall Street Journal: Washington. USA Today doesn’t have one. The locale obviously missing: Riyadh.

The NYT’s bombings-coverage mentions, “The Saudi ruling family has warned repeatedly that the failure to promote peace in the region would inflame extremist sentiment and that the occupation of Iraq would only serve to fuel such attacks.” There a few problems with this. Among them: The Saudi ruling family is now the go-to analyst on the roots of terror?

The Post’s off-lead,on the looting-and-mayhem beat in Baghdad, says that American officials now think things are so bad that they need reinforcements to help try to restore security. The Post doesn’t say if any troops are actually on the way. An editorial in the Post, which criticizes the so-far inadequate stabilization effort, says that more troops are “trickling in, but [Sec Def] Rumsfeld still refuses to offer a public plan for their deployment.”

Everybody notes that the Iraqi scientist known as Dr. Germ, Dr. Rihab Rashid Taha, has surrendered to U.S. troops.Taha has been portrayed by Iraqis, as various media outlets point out, as the head of Iraq’s bioweapons program. But according to an Associated Press story in the Journal, U.N. inspectors actually think she was fronting for someone more senior.

Only the LAT fronts word that Arab leaders said they are peeved that Powell didn’t get Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to commit to the “road map” peace-plan. Yesterday, this column mentioned that most of the papers wimped out and shied away from telling readers that Sharon seems to be the one holding things up. This morning the papers do a better job. Take the WP, which says (on A12): “SHARON’S REFUSAL TO ACCEPT PLAN VEXES POWELL TRIP AFTER VISIT.”

The Journal calls yesterday’s sealing of the Gaza Strip, “the sweeping restrictions in years.” Even foreigners aren’t being allowed in or out. Also, three Palestinians were killed yesterday by Israeli soldiers. Two were reportedly trying to plant a bomb, the third was a farmer.

The WSJ and LAT, following a report in yesterday’s USAT, say that Iranian and American diplomats are indeed meeting in Geneva. Unlike USAT, the two papers say that diplomatic relations are not on the table. Other than that, they disagree: The Journal says the talks have gone poorly, “U.S.-IRAN TALKS UNDERSCORE DISCORD.” The LAT says, “U.S. IN ‘USEFUL’ TALKS WITH IRAN.”

The LAT says that U.S. officials are increasingly alarmed about the near insolvency of Afghanistan’s nominal central government and are trying to convince President Karzai to crack down on regional warlords and governors who are hijacking most of the revenue. U.S. officials, in a first, left open the possibility that U.S. troops might eventually be used to bring the warlords to heel. 

WP columnist Richard Cohen, looking at the Jayson Blair affair, notes that the young reporter was reprimanded several times for his inaccuracies, once so severely that, in a now infamous e-mail, an editor warned, “We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now.” Yet, Cohen observes, “not only was Blair not stopped, he was promoted to the national staff and ultimately given more responsibilities. Why? The answer appears to be precisely what the Times denies: favoritism based on race. Blair is black, and the Times, like other media organizations, is intent on achieving diversity. Sometimes this noble and essential goal comes down to a parody of affirmative action. That seems to be the case with Blair.”