SAVANNNAH, Ga. – President Bush's counterterrorism chief said Tuesday that the administration is satisfied Saudi Arabia's government is doing all it can to clamp down on militants despite a surge in attacks against westerners there.
"Clearly, the terrorists have taken their operations to a new level" in the kingdom, said the official, Fran Townsend (search), whose formal title is assistant to the president for homeland security. She spoke in an interview with The Associated Press on the same day as the second deadly shooting of a westerner in the kingdom in three days.
But, Townsend said, Saudi security forces are "obviously having some success," too.
Most of the recent violence directed at Americans has come in the form of gun attacks, rather than massive bombings like the 1996 truck bombing of the Khobar Towers (search) dormitory that killed 19 U.S. military personnel, she said.
Militant attacks have surged in the past two months, despite a high-profile campaign against terrorists the Saudi government began after last year's suicide bombings.
More than 60 people have been killed over the past year in terror attacks in the kingdom.
On May 29, militants stormed a resort in the eastern oil city of Khobar and took hostages. They killed 22 people, mostly foreigners. One attacker was captured. Saudi security forces are still looking for three others.
On May 22, a German chef was shot and killed outside a bank in Riyadh (search). The assailants remain at large.
On May 1, terrorists attacked the offices of an American energy company in the western city of Yanbu, killing six Westerners and a Saudi.
On Friday, Saudi Arabia's top religious authority issued an edict urging citizens and residents to inform authorities about suspected militants planning terror activities. The edict, or fatwa, was issued by Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al al-Sheik (search), and called on "citizens and residents to inform on everyone planning or preparing an act of sabotage, to protect the people and the country from the devastating effects of these acts and to protect the planners from the results of their actions."
Townsend, who is attending the Group of Eight (search) summit with Bush at Sea Island, Ga., said the fatwa demonstrated the kingdom's determination to curb the attacks on westerners. It was "probably the single most extraordinary step that you can imagine in an Islamic country," she said.
Yet two days after the authorities issued the fatwa, attackers shot a British Broadcasting Corp. team while it was filming a militant's family home in Riyadh. The cameraman, Simon Cumbers, 36, an Irish citizen, was killed and security correspondent Frank Gardner, 42, a Briton, was critically wounded.
On Tuesday, an American who worked for a U.S. defense contractor was shot and killed in Riyadh.
Despite the spike in violence, Townsend said she was not concerned about the situation "slipping out of the security services' control."
"I think they've got the resolve, they've made the commitment, they've got the capability to fight it," Townsend said.
But, she added, "it's too soon to tell whether or not" terrorists have "lost the capability to launch massive, large-scale attacks and are only limited to these smaller-scale attacks.
"That's what I'd like to think," she said. "But I think it's too soon to tell yet."
The Justice Department said in late May that a continuing flow of intelligence indicated a strong possibility Al Qaeda would attack America sometime in the coming months. Townsend said Tuesday that there has been no diminishment in the threat level since then.