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Monday, February 26, 2007

3 French nationals shot dead in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) -- Three French nationals, some of them Muslims, were shot dead in Saudi Arabia on Monday in what appeared to be a militant attack, the Interior Ministry said.

A ministry statement said a group of eight French nationals came under fire near the town of Tabuk and a nearby historical site, Madain Saleh, in the northwest of the vast desert country as they were heading to the holy city of Mecca for a pilgrimage.

Two of the group died at the scene and one of the two wounded died later in hospital, said the statement carried by the official news agency SPA. A state television report earlier said 4 had died.

The group included four men, three women and a child, the ministry said. It said two of the dead were men. A security source said the attackers had singled out the men when shooting.

"Three are dead and I am not sure about the state of the fourth one," a Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman told Saudi television.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy confirmed the deaths.

"I have been informed that several of our compatriots residing in Riyadh were the victims of an armed attack today," Douste-Blazy said.

"Three of them died in this attack. Another was wounded and taken to hospital in Medina," he said in a statement.

Militants swearing allegiance to al Qaeda launched a violent campaign to topple the U.S.-allied Saudi monarchy in 2003, with suicide bomb attacks on foreigners and government installations including the oil industry.

There had been no major attacks targeting foreigners since 2004, when the campaign was at its height.

Frenchman Laurent Barbot was shot dead in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah by suspected al Qaeda militants in September 2004.

The last major attack was an attempt to storm an oil facility at Abqaiq in the east of Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter.
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