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Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016

East Prairie man escapes al-Qaida terrorist attack

Monday, July 5, 2004

EAST PRAIRIE - When Mike Davis agreed to go to Saudi Arabia for business in late April, he wanted to gain experience. During his six week stay, he definitely had a memorable experience.

Davis works at Artisan Contracting in Cape Girardeau as a construction manager. He was chosen to represent his company for a United States government project in Saudi Arabia. "We went over as a subcontractor for Raytheon, a national defense company," Davis said.

While overseas, Davis lived in a compound in Al Bustan, which was much like an apartment building. Numerous compounds are built closely together, similar to a subdivision, which Davis said was probably bigger than East Prairie. "It was surrounded with concrete walls 20 feet high and barbed wire," he said. "The Saudi military was guarding it."

Every building in Saudi Arabia is built with a wall around it. Davis said the walls are for protection from terrorists as well as sand storms.

Davis said he learned quite a bit about Saudi culture and experienced discrimination. "I got a lot of stares," he said. "To them, Muslim is the only religion."

"They are very, very rude," he said to describe the people he met. Davis recalled a situation in which he was the only person at a gas station with 30 pumps, and a Muslim drove up and expected Davis to move so he could fill up, despite all of the other available pumps. "I didn't move - I just made him wait," Davis said.

Police heavily enforce the strict rules in Saudi Arabia. "They police stores to be sure that they are closed during prayer times," Davis said. The police also check people for Bibles, and other offenses that people can be jailed for.

For the first five and a half weeks of his trip, everything went smoothly. Davis went to work and talked to his wife, Dixie, and their two sons, Lee Michael and Will, every day via Web cam on the computer. On May 29, life changed.

While Davis was at work, the al-Qaida attacked in his subdivision. In the first stages, Davis said the terrorists managed to blow up a vehicle in one compound. They also gunned down a British man who was out for a morning walk, tied him to a truck and drug him through the streets.

Davis saw the bloodstains when he arrived at the compound later that day. "In Saudi, they don't clean anything up," he said.

Oasis, a compound that Davis said was about 120 yards away, was then attacked by six al-Qaida members.

"The Egyptian kids from next door were riding to school with their driver," he said. Each compound had motorized gates. "They (al-Qaida) got desperate, shot them and went in." The driver and boy died, while the girl got away, Davis said.

At the six-floor Oasis apartment building Davis said the terrorists went "from door to door, floor to floor. If someone wasn't Muslim, there was a good chance that they would be taken hostage or killed."

The Saudi police responded to the incident with the British man, but did not immediately arrive at Oasis. Davis said: "I think they were scared of al-Qaida."

When Davis returned later that day, he went through an extensive search to enter the compound. He also had to stay inside for 48 hours.

"When I got back was when all the real bad stuff happened," he said. "I could hear the hollering, the shooting, and the helicopters."

Davis said reality began to set in. "I knew I couldn't leave and I knew what type of people the al-Qaida are. I was at the grace of God." He was unable to sleep that night.

The violence escalated. By the next morning, 50 hostages had been held for 24 hours. One man was shot in the head then thrown out of the window. Davis said the hostages were being held on the fifth floor, while the fourth and sixth were booby trapped.

"I wasn't really scared, I was just nervous," Davis said. In fact, he said that until the attack, he felt perfectly safe and was having a good time.

When he was finally able to tell his wife, she was shocked. "I didn't believe it," she said. Mrs. Davis had a lot of support and their house was soon filled with family, friends and a local priest.

"I was really upset, because I didn't know if he was going to come home to us or not," she said.

Davis remembered telling his wife: "I love you and tell our boys that I love them. But if something happens, I won't be a good hostage. They can shoot me and kill me."

The Saudi Special Forces eventually got involved, and the attack lasted until Sunday afternoon. By then, the Special Forces had killed or captured three of the terrorists, leaving the other three with 50 hostages.

A deal was worked out that the three remaining al-Qaida would keep 13 of the hostages and set the rest of them free. An attempt would later be made by the Special forces to save the remaining 13.

At a downtown restaurant where Davis stopped before going to the airport late May 31, he saw on the news that the Special Forces and al-Qaida were shooting each other downtown. He still doesn't know the final outcome of the showdown.

Originally, Davis wasn't to return to the United States until June 5, but called the airline to get an earlier ticket, since his work was finished. "I wasn't really that scared, but I felt like I had a responsibility to my family in case something did happen," he said.

Davis said he hoped the airport would be full of people, but hardly anyone was there. "I was a nervous wreck and watching everybody like a hawk," he said.

Luckily, he boarded the plane without any problems. By the time he reached Amsterdam to change planes, Davis said he felt like "a million bucks."

Davis learned quite a bit from his adventure. "It was definitely a wake up call," he said. "In those countries, you're not as safe as you think you are."