RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Residents of the mainly Arab residential compound attacked by suspected Al Qaeda suicide bombers said yesterday they knew their Westernized lifestyle was under scrutiny: They'd received a surprise visit from Saudi religious police suspicious that men and women were mixing at a party.
The choice of target in the attack, which killed 17 people, mostly Arabs and Muslims, has baffled many in the region -- and indicates Al Qaeda's rage may be directed as much at Muslims seen as having slipped from the religion's true path as at Western "infidels."
Saudi and US officials have blamed Saturday's attack on Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda, the militant Muslim terror network blamed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and a sworn enemy of the Saudi ruling family, which it accuses of being insufficiently Islamic and too close to the United States.
On Tuesday, a purported Al Qaeda operative claimed responsibility for Saturday's bombing, saying in an e-mail that Al Qaeda believed "working with Americans and mixing with them" was forbidden. The e-mail was sent to the London-based Arabic weekly Al-Majalla.
Most of the residents of the Muhaya compound were Lebanese.
Seven Lebanese were among the dead; other victims came from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan.
Muhaya was typical of compounds housing members of the large contingent of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia: a place where non-Saudis could escape rules banning alcohol and the mixing of men and women in public and requiring women to cloak and veil themselves when outside their homes.
Muhaya had a coffee shop where residents of both sexes chatted over water pipes and watched foreign movies and other entertainment on a big screen television. It was located next to a pool where women swam in bikinis.
Agents of the Saudi religious police -- the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice -- roam Saudi streets and shopping malls berating or even manhandling those who violate the social code.
Some Saudis chafe at the religious restrictions. Saturday's bombings and similar attacks in Riyadh in May have sparked debate about whether the strict form of Islam preached in Saudi Arabia fosters intolerance and extremism.
Seven bearded, robed religious police officers visited the Muhaya compound three months ago, saying they had reports of an "un-Islamic" party being held there, residents said yesterday.
They left after finding the coffee shop closed.