Two U.S. soldiers were shot and seriously wounded Thursday in this tiny nation bordering Iraq and an American missionary was gunned down in Lebanon, the latest in a spate of attacks that suggest it has become increasingly dangerous to be American in the Arab world.
Threats and assaults on U.S. citizens and businesses have become more frequent in recent weeks, even in countries such as Kuwait and Jordan, long considered among the safest and most pro-American in the region.
Some incidents may be traceable to rising anti-American sentiment fueled by the possibility of a U.S.-led war against Iraq, and by what is seen as Washington's unquestioning support for Israel. But other attacks, may be part of a campaign by al-Qaida and its supporters to follow Osama bin Laden's recent dictate to kill Americans and their allies.
Although authorities here and in Lebanon said it was too soon to identify a motive in either assault Thursday, the incidents underscore the reality that Americans were forced to confront on Sept. 11: that extremists have declared them all fair game.
Bonnie Penner Whitherall, 31, of Washington was the first victim Thursday. A nurse and Christian missionary, Whitherall was volunteering at a clinic for the poor in the Lebanese port city of Sidon. As she opened the front door about 8:30 a.m., someone shot her in the head three times.
Some observers said she could just as well have been targeted for her religion as for being an American because of southern Lebanon's history of sectarian violence.
In Kuwait, where the government is so jittery about attacks on Americans that they have banned residents from nearly a quarter of the nation where the U.S. military operates, the two soldiers were shot by a Kuwaiti traffic police officer who then fled across the border to Saudi Arabia, authorities here said. Authorities are working to extradite the suspect.
The officer was described as a junior member of the traffic department. He opened fire about 10:30 a.m. as the soldiers drove from the U.S. military base of Camp Doha to the town of Arifjan on official business. The soldiers were dressed in military desert camouflage and driving a military vehicle, according to a Pentagon spokesman.
One soldier was hit in the face and the other in the shoulder. The soldiers, who didn't return fire, managed to drive to Arifjan, from which they were airlifted to a Kuwaiti military hospital. U.S. officials did not release the identities of the injured soldiers pending notification of their families. A Pentagon spokesman said their injuries did not appear to be life threatening.
The attack on U.S. servicemen in Kuwait _ the third in slightly more than a month _ is particularly striking because the Pentagon is relying on the emirate as a launching point for a potential invasion of Iraq.
As security is increased at official U.S. sites, terrorists will seek "softer" targets, the State Department warned Wednesday. These may include facilities where Americans live or visit.
Yet Americans should not conclude that everyone hates their country, insisted one spokesman in this oil-rich emirate that U.S. troops liberated from Iraq 11 years ago. "There is no anti-Americanism at all in Kuwait," said Yahqoub Abdullah of the Kuwaiti Information Ministry. "A bunch of kids is ruining our relations _ doing illegal things. We in Kuwait appreciate what you have done for us. These kids doing these things don't have Kuwaiti hearts _ they are really, really shameful."
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, speaking in the Czech Republic where he was attending a NATO summit, also played down the possibly broader significance, saying the shooting didn't necessarily reflect anger with America's troop buildup in Kuwait in anticipation of a new Iraq war.
"There have been terrorist attacks in that region for my entire adult lifetime, and that's a long time," the 70-year-old said.