“It was late at night, and my dad came into me and my sister’s room and picked us up. We were put into our car and I remember both me and my sister were so confused as to what was going on. I remember crying for my stuffed animal that I was not able to get because we had to leave so quickly.”
Many SAS students can relate to living in different countries all over the world before finally moving to Singapore, and moving can be distressing. But few have experiences quite as traumatic as Natalie Chassagne, currently a junior, who lived in Saudi Arabia from 2000 to 2003 during the Riyadh compound bombings that took place in her own apartment complex.
On May 12, 2003, a major bombing struck residential compounds mostly occupied by Westerners and expatriates. Thirty-nin people were killed and over 160 were wounded when the bombs hit the three compounds in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. This tragedy remains as the kingdom’s most deadliest terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia’s otherwise internally peaceful country.
Natalie, only four years old at the time, and her family occupied Dorrat Al Jadawel, which was luckily the one compound that the assailants were not able to infiltrate due to the high security levels. Regardless, Natalie still vividly remembers the attack that occurred so closely to her own home.
Natalie recalls her dad driving recklessly through the night, and how “he would have hit anyone on the road that looked suspicious.” Cell phones were not widely used at the time, so her family was left in the dark as to their neighbors’ whereabouts.
Eventually, Natalie’s family had driven to the center of the compound, where all the neighbors were hiding in the gym. “I remember there being many loud noises outside, but I didn’t know what was happening,” Natalie said. “My parents had told me we had to sleep in the gym for the night.”
The next day, Natalie and her older sister, Kaitlin, seven years old at the time, came to know what had happened. “Al Qaeda had come into our compound with trucks filled with explosives and had shot the security officers trying to protect us,” Natalie states. “They had broken into our neighboring compounds and had shot up entire families. So many people we knew were injured, and some had even died. Thankfully they were not able to break into our compound.”
Although Natalie does not personally remember hearing the bombs, she states that her dad had heard everything, from the screaming to the explosions of the other compounds. Further investigation into this attack revealed that it was suicidal, with 12 bombers dead and the 27 victims that had died were from nine different countries. The bombings were later attributed to Islamic extremists who targeted Westerners living in Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. President of the time, George W. Bush, called this a “ruthless murder,” and a large number of Western expatriates quickly fled the country as a consequence of this terrorist attack. Airlines reported that there were a “flood of bookings for flights from Saudi Arabia to Britain and America” in order to escape the growing rumors of future bombings.
The Chassagne family were not an exception; they were forced to evacuate Saudi Arabia in case of further attacks. Their immediate evacuation was fortunate, since a second suicide bombing attack occurred in Riyadh during November of the same year.
Natalie Chassagne and her family have now settled in Singapore, and she has been attending Singapore American School since kindergarten.