Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Bombing of Khobar Towers

Building 131

Map of Saudi Arabia with Al-Khobar locator
Map of Saudi Arabia with Al-Khobar locator

Shortly after 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25, 1996, Staff Sergeant Alfredo Guerrero climbed up to the rooftop of Building 131 in the Khobar Towers residential complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, to check on the two sentries positioned there.  It was a clear, cool night.  Building 131 was on the northern perimeter of the sprawling complex of high-rise apartment buildings.  Similar buildings where the locals lived stood beyond the barbed-wire fence that surrounded Khobar Towers.  From the rooftop, Sergeant Guerrero surveyed the landscape below, looking for anything unusual.  After a terrorist bombing in Riyadh seven months earlier in which five Americans were killed, U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia were in a heightened state of alert.

Map of Saudi Arabia with Riyadh locator
Map of Saudi Arabia with Riyadh locator

Built in the late 1970s, Khobar Towers had been left unoccupied for many years because King Khalid, the country's ruler at the time, deemed the complex below standard and unsuitable for his people.  After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the complex was opened for Kuwaiti refugees.  British, French, and American servicemen were housed there after the Persian Gulf War in 1991.  The Americans living at the complex in June 1996 were airmen of the 4404th Wing (Provisional).  Their mission in Saudi Arabia was to enforce the United Nations-mandated no-fly zone over southern Iraq imposed after the Gulf War to keep Saddam Hussein's Iraqi military in check.  According to Air Force Magazine Online, most airmen assigned to the 4044th were on a 90-day temporary duty rotation, and some of the residents of Building 131 from the 33rd Fighter Wing had their bags packed, scheduled to return to Elgin Air Force Base in Florida the next day.    

Khobar Towers before the attack
Khobar Towers before the attack

As the residents of Building 131 settled in for the night, Sergeant Guerrero scanned the perimeter of the complex. Eighty feet from the building, the fence marked the boundary; on the other side was a public parking lot used by the members of a local mosque, as well as people who frequented a nearby park.  Waist-high concrete Jersey barriers had been installed along the fence to prevent anyone from driving a vehicle through it and into the compound.  Guerrero heard the droning cry of the final call to prayer for the day coming from the mosque, but the airmen in their rooms had gotten used to these calls and hardly noticed them anymore. 

 

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