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Air raid sirens tested across Saudi capital as country prepares for conflict escalation with Iran

Josie Ensor
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - AFP

Air raid sirens were tested across the Saudi Arabian capital on Thursday as the country prepared for a possible escalation with Iran, following a weekend attack on its oil fields raised the stakes in the conflict.

Text messages were sent out to residents ahead of the 1pm tests in Riyadh and neighbouring provinces, which civil defence said was to ensure the sirens were “effective and ready.”

The US and Saudi are considering their response to Saturday’s assault on key oil facilities which left the kingdom reeling.

Asked whether military retaliation was being considered, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi’s ambassador to Germany, said "everything is on the table."

Donald Trump, the US president, has struck a more cautious note, saying there were many options short of war with Iran.

Saudi Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Turki Al-Malik shows the remains of the missiles allegedly used in the attack against Aramco oil facility Credit:  STRINGER/EPA-EFE/REX

He said there was “plenty of time to do some dastardly things . . . We’ll see what happens.”

The Trump administration has reportedly been briefed on a number of possible options for retaliatory action against Iran, which is believed to be behind the assault, including a cyberattack or physical strike on Iranian oil facilities or Revolutionary Guard Corp assets.

“The US stands with Saudi Arabia and supports its right to defend itself,” Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, tweeted from Jeddah following a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Mr Pompeo said the attack on the world’s largest oil processing plant and knocked out half of Saudi’s production, was "of a scale we've just not seen before".

“The Iranian regime’s threatening behavior will not be tolerated,” he added.

Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said any US or Saudi military strike against Iran would result in "all-out war”.

“‘Act of war’ or agitation for war?” he said in a tweet. “For their own sake, they should pray that they won’t get what they seek.”

In an interview later with CNN, he said: "I am making a very serious statement that we don't want war; we don't want to engage in a military confrontation... But we won't blink to defend our territory.”

Riyadh, which said it is still investigating the assault, on Wednesday displayed the remnants of 25 Iranian drones and missiles it said were used in the strike as undeniable evidence of Iranian aggression.

Lt Col Turki al-Maliki, a Saudi military spokesman, said the kingdom had recently intercepted 282 ballistic missiles and 258 UAVs or drones. The bulk of these are likely to have come from Yemen.

The Iran-backed Yemeni Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack, but Riyadh said the missiles had been fired from the north, not Yemen to the south.

One working theory being considered by US intelligence is that the cruise missiles were launched from Iran and programmed to fly around the northern Persian Gulf through Iraqi air space instead of directly across the gulf where the US has much better surveillance.

Such a hypothesis would explain how they were not picked up and intercepted by Saudi’s costly missile defence system.

American military officials have visited the Aramco sites in Khurais and Abqaiq, eastern Saudi Arabia, to inspect and collect the debris for intelligence. The UN has also sent an international team of experts to Saudi to investigate.

Residents in Riyadh told the Telegraph they were worried that the tense situation may spill over into war. 

“We have had strikes on Saudi, even on Riyadh, before. But this feels different. The Houthis, we can deal with,” said Khaled, who did not wish to give his last name. “But Iran is another matter.”