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Saudi Police Kill 5 Suspected Al Qaeda Fighters

June 16, 2003|From Associated Press

MECCA, Saudi Arabia — Police fought overnight gun battles with suspected Al Qaeda militants planning an imminent attack on Islam's holiest city, killing five and arresting others believed to be linked to last month's suicide bombings in Riyadh, Saudi officials said Sunday.

One security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said two police officers were killed in a shootout at a checkpoint shortly before a gun battle erupted during a raid on a bomb-filled, booby-trapped apartment late Saturday.

The Saudi Interior Ministry released a statement saying the raid occurred at an apartment building in the Khalidiya district, about three miles from the main Mecca mosque.

The statement said police clashed with a "group of terrorists ... preparing an imminent terrorist act," but no details of the alleged plot were given. Five suspected militants died in the gun battle initiated by the "terrorists," the statement said, without giving their nationalities. Five security agents and four bystanders were injured.

The statement said about 70 bombs of different sizes were found at the apartment with numerous other weapons, including semiautomatic rifles, knives, communication devices, bomb-making materials and masks.

The Interior Ministry statement said two Chadians, an Egyptian and a Saudi were among at least five people arrested in the raid. The fifth was not identified. Numerous other suspects were arrested later in Mecca. It did not elaborate.

The official believed that those killed and arrested were connected to the May 12 suicide bombings on Western residential compounds in Riyadh that killed 35 people, including nine Americans and nine Saudi suicide bombers.

The official said the suspects were planning to carry out attacks in Mecca, Islam's holiest city, according to information gathered during interrogations Sunday. He did not identify any intended targets.

Saudi authorities have cracked down on suspected militants since the May 12 bombings, which were seen as attacks not just against foreigners but also the ruling Saudi royal family for its close ties to the United States.

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