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Friday, June 23, 2006

Seven dead in Saudi clash

ISN SECURITY WATCH (Friday, 23 June 2006: 14.12 CET) – Six alleged al-Qaida members and one police officer have been killed in an early morning gunfight in a residential suburb of the Saudi capital Riyadh early Friday morning.

According to an Interior Ministry spokesperson, a seventh al-Qaida suspect was wounded and captured in the shootout.

"The security forces at dawn on Friday pursued seven […] members of the deviant minority to a house in the Al-Nakhil district of Riyadh [...] where they suddenly came under sustained automatic weapons fire," the spokesperson said in comments carried by AFP.

The spokesperson added that police "managed to take control of the situation quickly, killing six of them, wounding and capturing the seventh," with an undisclosed number of security force personnel wounded.

Saudi officials use the term "deviant minority" in referring to al-Qaida.

An officer in the security cordon surrounding the site of the incident told AFP, "The group was preparing a terrorist operation and its members were being tailed on the basis of intelligence service information."

Eyewitnesses said that the gun battle erupted around a villa in the suburb at around 2.30am and lasted for approximately an hour. They reported that a helicopter was called in to help police and that at least 11 wounded officers were taken away.

"Some armed men who had barricaded themselves in the villa tried to escape but the security forces fired at them, destroying their car," a local resident said.

Police removed boxes of documents and computers from the building following the clash.

Pan-Arab broadcaster, Al-Arabiya quoted security sources as saying that the militant cell was on the verge of carrying out attacks on unspecified targets.

Saudi forces have had several notable successes recently in uncovering and killing or capturing insurgents responsible for a series of attacks on foreign workers' compounds, government offices and a major oil installation.

The Associated Press reports that hundreds have been detained in a government crackdown that has seen most of those named on two most-wanted lists killed or captured.

The insurgents are fighting for the expulsion of foreigners from the state and the overthrow of the US-allied monarchy.

According to Reuters, around 150 foreigners and security force personnel and 130 insurgents have died since a May 2003 al-Qaida attack on three foreign workers' compounds in the capital.

The US withdrew most of its forces from the kingdom in 2003 in a bid to calm the situation, bolster the popularity of the monarchy, and ensure the safety of military personnel.

(By ISN Security Watch staff, AFP, Al-Arabiya, Reuters, BBC)
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