Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Bombing of Khobar Towers

A Bomb on Wheels

Actor: Jamie Foxx
Actor: Jamie Foxx

After the Riyadh bombing, American investigators asked the Saudi government if they could interview the four men who had confessed to the attack, hoping to get some insight into their group and find out what their goals were, but the Saudi government refused and beheaded the men on May 31, 1996.  Whether these terrorists would have given up information that could have prevented the deaths and injuries at Khobar Towers will never be known.  Ultimately it was the efforts of a team of FBI agents sent to Dhahran to investigate the crime that uncovered the likely suspects and the actions that led up to the bombing.  (This investigation is the subject of a forthcoming feature film, "The Kingdom," starring Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner.)

Jennifer Garner
Jennifer Garner

According to an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, in June 2001, the bombing was the work of 13 members of Saudi Hizballah ("Party of God).  The leader of the group was the head of Saudi Hizballah's military wing, Ahmad Al-Mughassil.

Ahmad-Ibrahim-Al-Mughassil
Ahmad-Ibrahim-Al-Mughassil

In 1993, three years before the attack, Al-Mughassil, working under Hizballah leader Abdel Karim Al-Nasser, ordered operatives to begin surveillance on Americans in Saudi Arabia and report their findings.  These reports were given to Al-Nasser and Hizballah leaders in Iran.

In the fall of 1994, two operatives pinpointed Khobar Towers as a suitable target and recommended it to their superiors.  Al-Mughassil gave them $2,000 in U.S. currency to continue their surveillance efforts, and by June 1995, they were watching Khobar Towers on a regular basis.  By the fall, Al-Mughassil had finalized the decision to attack Khobar, hoping that a large-scale bombing would drive Americans from the Gulf region.

In February 1996, one of the Hizballah operatives drove a carload of explosives from Beirut, Lebanon, to the Saudi Arabian eastern province city of Qatif in preparation for the attack.  In March, Saudi border guards stopped a second car filled with explosives from Beirut.  The car was seized and the driver arrested, and by April three other members of the terrorist cell were apprehended.

Al-Mughassil found replacements for these men, and the group continued to stockpile explosives in the area around Khobar.  They then purchased the sewage truck in June and spent two weeks turning it into a bomb on wheels.

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