Two Americans were ambushed Tuesday as they drove to work at a U.S. military base in Kuwait, in an attack that has shaken residents of the conservative oil-rich sheikdom and sent shivers through a region bracing for war.
Michael Rene Pouliot, 46, a software executive of San Diego-based Tapestry Solutions, was killed instantly, and David Caraway, a software engineer at the same company, suffered multiple gunshot wounds. Investigators said the gunfire left two dozen bullet holes in the men's four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The attack was apparently launched from behind a row of greenery next to the roadway as the victims' car stopped for a traffic light on the outskirts of Kuwait City en route to Camp Doha, where they were military contractors. The assailant is believed to have fled by car. No group immediately claimed responsibility.
The shooting is the latest in a series of attacks against American citizens in the region. It came as thousands of U.S. troops are massing in the country and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region for a possible invasion of Iraq. About 20,000 troops are now in Kuwait, with more arriving each day.
The attack underscores the strong, and growing, anti-American sentiment in the Arab world, one that has focused on so-called soft targets: unarmed, unprotected, unsuspecting civilians. In recent months, a nursing aide was shot in the head at a clinic in Lebanon; a diplomat was slain as he stepped from his home in Amman, Jordan; and three Baptist missionaries were gunned down inside a hospital they ran in Yemen. All the victims were Americans.
"We will work closely with Kuwaiti authorities to determine who is behind it," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said in Washington. "It's a reminder of the danger and the risk that our service men and women face every day in service to our country."
Perhaps more troublesome for U.S. policymakers is that the attacks -- and provocations -- against Americans are occurring with increasing frequency in countries that are considered close American allies. Kuwait owes its independence in large measure to American military might. In Egypt, which receives nearly $2 billion annually in American aid, a weekly newspaper recently ran an article claiming that the U.S. planned to bomb Islam's holiest site -- the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia -- in the event of an attack on Iraq.
The affiliation of those who carried out Tuesday's attack "is completely irrelevant," said Mohammed Musfir, a political analyst at Qatar University. "The point is it was carried out by Kuwaitis in Kuwait."
In a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait after the attack, Ambassador Richard H. Jones condemned the shooting as "a terrorist incident which has tragically cost the life of an innocent American citizen."
Two young Kuwaiti men were killed in October after they shot dead a U.S. Marine and wounded another in an attack on the Kuwaiti island of Faylakah, and in the investigation that followed, six others were arrested and accused of being members of a terrorist cell.
"What happened on Faylakah is the work of just one cell -- there may be two, three or four cells still operating here," said Jasem Khalid Sadoun, a political analyst in Kuwait. "It may be the work of fanatics."
Sadoun didn't rule out the possibility that Tuesday's ambush might have been carried out by Iraqi agents. He noted that a Kuwaiti National Guard sergeant arrested recently on charges of spying for Iraq was reportedly passing information that could be used in attacks on Americans in the emirate.
In November, a Kuwaiti policeman later determined to be mentally unbalanced shot and wounded two U.S. soldiers in an incident believed to have no political motive.
Ismail Shatti, a Kuwait-based Islamist and political scholar, condemned Tuesday's attack.
But Shatti added that he feared Tuesday's shootings -- and the two earlier incidents in Kuwait -- could be a reflection of a growing anger among Arabs, against both American support of Israel in the Jewish state's fight to subdue the Palestinian uprising and the Bush administration's possible invasion of Iraq. Shatti and others said this mood was visible among young Kuwaitis, many of whom fit the profile of a wealthy, well-educated young Saudi ideologue 25 years ago: Osama bin Laden.
"This current of anger influences some young people in our society. We have to better understand it, or there will be much more trouble," Shatti said.
As in almost any foreign country these days, there is a level of anti-American grumbling among residents of Kuwait and the other small coastal states that dot the Persian Gulf. But because it is U.S. power that in effect protects them from the designs of expansion-minded countries such as Iraq, this grumbling has remained at a low level.
The shooting Tuesday is one more sign that this may now be changing, even in Kuwait. Television fare served up by Arab networks such as Qatar-based Al Jazeera of Palestinians being shot and beaten and of America's perceived fixation on removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein rather than trying to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is stirring emotions to new levels of outrage daily.
Another, more complex, factor stokes anti-American emotions in the Gulf. Although there is little sympathy for Hussein in the region, there is even less for U.S. efforts to topple him, mainly because many Arabs are convinced that his religion has made him the target for possible invasion.
Besides ground forces deployed in Kuwait, the U.S. Central Command would use a base in Qatar to conduct any war against Iraq. In addition, the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain. America also has bases in Oman and uses facilities in the United Arab Emirates.
Some analysts are convinced that this military buildup has placed new tensions on these rich but fragile states.
"We will pay a price" for supporting the U.S., Musfir said.
Marshall reported from Doha and Slackman from Amman.