ATTACKERS have killed four guards and taken 18 local staff hostage at the US mission in the port city of Jeddah on Saudi Arabia's west coast.
Attackers stormed the consulate, setting the building alight and exchanging fire with security forces.
American officials said there were no reports of US casualties, but it was not immediately clear if others were hurt.
The witnesses said the car exploded in front of the consulate, and ambulances were seen rushing to the scene.
Al-Arabiya satellite television reported four attackers tried to storm the compound in a car, but that the car exploded in front instead.
Reuters said the attackers exchanged fire with security forces and reported a Western executive, quoting officials inside the building, saying
attackers infiltrated the complex and threw hand grenades.
"Several men breached US and Saudi security and lobbed one or several grenades at the building," he said.
US Embassy spokeswoman Carol Kalin, in Riyadh, said there were no reports of American casualties.
"We can confirm there has been an attack on the consulate," Ms Kalin said. "No reports of any American casualties. The incident is still in
progress with Saudi emergency forces securing the compound."
One witness near the scene said smoke was rising from the area and police were keeping cars and traffic from the area.
Saudi officials, who have been battling a wave of al-Qaeda violence against foreigners since May last year, could not immediately comment on the
Flames could be seen coming from the building and two heavy plumes of smoke rose into the sky. Hundreds of security forces sealed off the area. Police
around the building sheltered behind their cars.
Around 170 people, including foreigners, security forces and militants have been killed in attacks and clashes since the first suicide bombings in
Riyadh 18 months ago.
"As a precaution, we closed our embassy in Riyadh and consulate in Dhahran to the public," Ms Kalin said.
Khaled al-Maeena, editor of Arab News in Jiddah, also said thick smoke was visible from the consulate area and helicopters were flying overhead.
Four men apparently tried to enter the compound, Mr al-Maeena said. They apparently exploded a car in front of the gate. "The magnitude of this
assault on the consulate has taken all Jeddah residents by surprise," he said.
The consulate is located just a half-mile from the city's Red Sea coastal road.
Security around the consulate has been extremely tight since last year's series of bombings against targets housing foreigners.
The Associated Press