There have been attacks on U.S. citizens and other Western expatriates within the past year and there continue to be reports of threats against U.S. citizens and other Westerners, as well as sites frequented by them. There have been multiple Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) directed and inspired attacks on mosques in the past four months. The latest, in the city of Abha on August 6, targeted members of the Saudi security forces. Furthermore, there are ongoing security concerns related to the crisis in Yemen, particularly border incursions and missile attacks across the Saudi-Yemeni border by forces within Yemen. This replaces the Travel Warning issued February 24, 2015.
U.S. government personnel and their families are restricted from traveling within 50 miles of the Yemeni border, and to the cities of Jizan and Najran, without permission from U.S. Embassy security officials. U.S. government personnel are also prohibited from traveling to the city of Qatif in the Eastern Province and its surrounding suburbs, including Awamiyah, and to the Al Hasa Governorate due to violent episodes that have occurred there in the past.
Security threats continue and terrorist groups, some affiliated with ISIL or Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have targeted both Saudi and Western interests. Possible targets include housing compounds, hotels, restaurants, shopping areas, international schools, and other facilities where Westerners congregate, as well as Saudi government facilities and economic/commercial targets within the Kingdom. Consular services at the U.S. Embassy and Consulates were canceled March 15-19, 2015 due to heightened security concerns at our diplomatic facilities in the Kingdom.
Multiple attacks on mosques have occurred in Saudi Arabia over the past four months, resulting in significant loss of life. On May 22, 2015 a suicide bomber attacked a mosque in Al-Qadeeh in Al Qatif Governorate. On August 6, 2015 a mosque in the city of Abha was bombed. Most of the victims in that attack were members of the Saudi security forces. On May 29, 2015 a blast occurred at another mosque in the Al Anoud district of Dammam.
U.S. citizens have been the targets of recent attacks in the Kingdom. On January 30, 2015, two U.S. citizens were fired upon and injured in Hofuf in Al Hasa Governorate (Eastern Province). On October 14, 2014, two U.S. citizens were shot at a gas station in Riyadh. One was killed and the other wounded.
There have been several attacks on other nationalities during the past year. On November 29, 2014, a Canadian national was assaulted by a lone attacker with a cleaver at a shopping mall in Dhahran. On November 22, 2014, a Danish national was shot and injured in Riyadh by alleged ISIL supporters. On November 3, 2014, armed assailants attacked a community center in Dalwah in the Al Hasa Governorate, killing at least seven people and injuring several others. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack.
The U.S. Embassy continues to receive reports of violence near the border with Yemen, including reports of small arms fire, bombs, artillery, and missile impacts. Media and independent sources report armed groups crossing the border into Saudi Arabia to conduct attacks on Saudi Arabian territory, primarily near western border cities, including Najran. The rugged border area dividing Yemen and Saudi Arabia remains porous in some areas and boundaries are not clearly defined. As the conflict continues in Yemen, violence can spill across the border at unpredictable times and locations. Forces hostile to Saudi Arabia within Yemen have weapons systems including mortars, artillery, and missiles that have been launched at targets in Saudi Arabia. On June 6, 2015, a missile was shot down 50 miles inside Saudi Arabia by Saudi forces that may have been targeting the King Khalid Air Base near Khamis Mushait. On August 26, 2015, a missile was fired across the border near Jizan and was intercepted by Saudi military. There is an increased possibility of strikes within 50 miles of the border, which could result in civilian deaths.
Visitors who choose to travel to these areas despite U.S. government concerns should be aware that, in addition to the above noted border attacks, terrorist and criminal elements may be operating there, including AQAP. U.S. citizens are strongly urged to read the Department of State before traveling to areas near the Yemeni frontier.
U.S. citizens in Saudi Arabia are strongly encouraged to select hotels or housing compounds with careful attention to security measures and location. U.S. citizens should be aware of their surroundings at all times and are advised to keep a low profile; vary times and routes of travel; exercise caution while driving, and entering or exiting vehicles; and ensure that travel documents and visas are current and valid.
If the security threat changes or specific threats affecting U.S. citizens are discovered, this information will be made available through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) and U.S. Mission websites. Emergency Messages, Security Messages, and Messages for U.S. Citizens can be found on the
Elaine Martin has been practising US and global immigration law since 1997. She is an immigrant herself (from Ireland), so has a special understanding of the legal and emotional challenges involved in relocating to a new country.