RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi security forces killed the top Al Qaeda leader in the country in a clash in the capital Sunday, the Interior Ministry said.
Younis Mohammed Ibrahim Hayyari, a Moroccan accused of involvement in a series of attacks in the kingdom, died after exchanging fire and hurling hand grenades at officers, the ministry said. Three other suspected militants were arrested.
Hayyari topped a list of 36 "most wanted" Al Qaeda suspects named by Saudi authorities last week. "He was recently nominated by his colleagues to be the leader of strife and corruption in the land after the death of his predecessors," authorities said in a statement.
A senior Saudi official described Hayyari, 36, who reportedly fought in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s and came to Saudi Arabia in 2001, as "more of a strategic leader than field commander."
He brought funds into the kingdom and was a friend of a Muslim scholar close to Abu Musab Zarqawi, Al Qaeda's suspected leader in Iraq, the official said.
Interior Minister Prince Nayif ibn Abdulaziz said that Sunday's operation was the result of extensive surveillance by Saudi security forces, and he pledged to pursue other suspected militants.
"God willing, we will reach the rest using the same method," Nayif said after visiting wounded security officers.
Al Qaeda is fighting to expel non-Muslims from Saudi Arabia, which is home to Islam's two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, and wants to topple its pro-Western monarchy.
Since 2003, attacks by the terrorist network in Saudi Arabia have killed 91 foreigners and Saudi civilians and wounded 510 other people, Riyadh's ambassador to London, Prince Turki Faisal, said last week.
During that period, 41 security force members have been killed and 218 wounded, while 112 militants have been killed and 25 wounded, he said.
Turki put material losses at $270 million.