RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – On Nov. 13, 1995, five Americans and two East Indian personnel were killed when four terrorists triggered a nearly 300-pound bomb near the headquarters of the Office of the Program Manager-Saudi Arabian National Guard headquarters in downtown Riyadh.
There were scores of wounded personnel and one additional American would succumb to his wounds several months later. The terrorists were eventually captured by Saudi security forces and executed for the crime.
Twenty-four years later, the OPM-SANG community and officials from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh convened at the Desert Rose Tent on Eskan Village to remember the victims and recall the events of that tragic day.
“It was a normal, beautiful day,” said Sami Al-Ahmad, who at that time was a translator with Maneuver. Today, he is the acting chief translator with the Linguistics Branch.
During the ceremony, Al-Ahmad recounted his experiences that day to an audience that included Martina Strong, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh; her husband, retired Col. John Strong; and Maj. Gen. Wendul Hagler, senior defense official with the U.S. Embassy.
On that fateful day Al-Ahmad was at the Ministry of the National Guard headquarters attending a briefing with senior military adviser to SANG Lt. Col. James Byrne when he learned about the explosion. The event had not yet been confirmed as a terrorist attack.
As they drove to OPM-SANG headquarters, they listed to news reports on the radio, still unclear as to what happened. When they arrived, Al-Ahmad said they were met by Saudi security forces and a sight they would never forget.
“I could not believe my eyes when I saw the destruction. It was devastating to see the building and realize our friends and co-workers were inside,” he said.
Al-Ahmad and other personnel identified themselves to security forces and made their way inside the shattered building, providing assistance to personnel trapped, but still alive, in the rubble.
He later learned that two friends – Tracy Henley and Wayne Wiley – were among the dead.
“Wayne was a good friend whom I always joked with,” Al-Ahmad recalled. “He used to say all the time that he was waiting for a bus, because he was always looking for some place to visit.”
Wiley, a retired major who was working with the Sustainment and Support Division, was an avid golfer. OPM-SANG holds annual golf tournaments in his name and within a few days of the date of the attack.
Al-Ahmad, who has served as an OPM-SANG interpreter, translator and cultural adviser since 1991, likened his time at the organization to being part of a large, extended family.
“I lost good friends whom I regarded as more than mere co-workers that day. They were like family,” he said. “Remembering the positive impact their lives had on others is the best way to remember them.”
Editor’s note: The following people were killed in the terrorist attack on OPM-SANG’s original headquarters Nov. 13, 1995: Sgt. 1st Class David K. Warrell, James H. Allen, Alaric J. Brozovsky, William L. Combs Jr., Tracy V. Henley, Wayne P. Wiley, Eyakunnath Balakrishnan, and Thermal B. Devadas. Both Balakrishnan and Devadas were cooks in the building’s cafeteria.