Americans mourn death, but still feel safe in Middle East
KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait — Standing a few yards away from where two American defense contractors were ambushed earlier this week, Stan Gustas said he still feels “safer here than I do back home in Houston.”
But Gustas, who has spent the past three years in Kuwait with his wife working for an American consulting firm, conceded the threat of terrorism has become part of living abroad.
“We are always cautious when we are out, but we have been doing this for a while,” he said, referring to the 13 years that he and his wife have lived in the Middle East.
On Thursday, they were among a handful of Americans and other Westerners who gathered at the intersection — near Camp Doha — where the shooting took place.
Military officials said a closed memorial service was held Thursday afternoon in the base chapel for Michael Rene Pouliot, the 46-year-old civilian software specialist who was killed in the attack.
His co-worker, David Caraway, was in stable condition at a Kuwait City hospital, recovering from multiple gunshot wounds.
Officials declined to discuss what effect the shooting would have on the growing buildup of American troops in Kuwait.
“It is our policy not to discuss force protection measures, but those measures are an ongoing thing, constantly changing,” said Capt. David Connolly, spokesman at Doha.
An official at the U.S. Embassy reiterated that Americans abroad should exercise “all prudent caution” in the daily affairs.
But some ex-pats said messages from the embassy meant little to them.
“I would definitely go to my Kuwaiti friends before I went to the embassy,” said Shirley Gustas. “This whole thing is just extremely sad. Whether it was terrorism or not, it was still cold-blooded murder, no matter where it happened or why.”
Others said the attack, which is the third attack in four months targeting Americans in Kuwait, was inevitable.
“I think it was just a matter of time before something like this happened,” said Tim Moore, a building contractor in the Salwa neighborhood of Kuwait City.
In October, two gunmen killed one U.S. Marine and shot another before other Marines killed the gunmen. In November, a Kuwaiti policeman fired on two Reservists after he accused them of speeding. Both soldiers were injured but managed to drive back Camp Doha for treatment.
“You look at what happened in the Bali bombing, and you wonder what places you might avoid here,” Moore said. “I think that Kuwait City is a little more spread out, and there are so many different places that Westerners go, it’d be hard to target one place.
“Of course, everyone knows that Americans are going to be headed in and out of Doha, and the chances are they will be in some way related to the military.”
Meanwhile, others shared in the grief of another person killed.
On Thursday, a small group of Kuwaitis walked to the intersection where the two American civilians were shot to lay flowers in memory of Pouliot. The buzz of dozens of news crews hovered over them, as they quietly laid the flowers on median.
“All of us here have lost family members and loved ones, so we understand what the Americans are feeling,” said Shurooq Qabazaid, a representative of the Martyrs of Kuwait, an organization to remember those killed in the Iraqi occupation and the Gulf War in 1990-91.
“My father was martyred during the occupation,” she said. “These men were the victims of terrorism. We have something in common.”