Saudi security forces kill five suspected militants, arrest a sixth in raids in Riyadh

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Security officers fought an intense gunbattle with suspected al-Qaida militants Monday, killing five people sought in last week's brazen attempt to blow up a huge oil-processing complex with car bombs.

A sixth suspect was arrested uninjured during a simultaneous pre-dawn raid in the same part of the capital, the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

"We think all the men involved had something to do with the Abqaiq attempt," the ministry's chief spokesman, Lt. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, saidd in Dubai, referring to Friday's failed attack on the world's biggest oil stabilization plant.

The assault in eastern Saudi Arabia was the first ever on the kingdom's vital oil infrastructure and caused oil prices to jump $2 a barrel. Al-Qaida's Saudi branch claimed responsibility in an Internet posting and warned of more suicide attacks on oil facilities.

But after a wave of spectacular terror attacks in 2003, Saudi security forces have largely had al-Qaida on the run, killing or capturing hundreds of militants and causing a big drop-off in the toll of death and destruction from the group's assaults.

Al-Turki said Monday's police dual raids came after surveillance operations revealed the suspected militants were in the Yarmouk area of Riyadh.

The Interior Ministry said gunfire erupted when officers confronted five militants at a rental house in eastern Riyadh, which the statement said was being used for meetings to plan al-Qaida operations.

"After a fierce exchange of gunfire, security forces were able to control the situation in a short time, killing all five at the scene," the statement said.

The sixth man was captured elsewhere in the neighborhood, the statement said, without specifying where.

Al-Turki said security forces suffered no casualties.

Militants hoped the attack on the Abqaiq oil-processing facility would deliver a serious blow to Saudi Arabia, which is the world's largest producer of oil. The kingdom also is the homeland of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who is a bitter foe of the Saudi monarchy.

Two suicide bombers died in the attack, which was foiled when security guards fired at their vehicles and caused them to explode outside the gates of the facility, which processes about two-thirds of the Saudi oil that is exported. The two guards died later of wounds.

The Interior Ministry identified the car bombers as Abdullah Abdul-Aziz al-Tweijri and Mohammed Saleh al-Gheith, saying both were on a list of the kingdom's 15 most-wanted terrorists that was issued last June.

Their deaths left only four militants on the list at large. Ten have died or been killed, and one has been arrested.

An earlier list was issued in December 2003 naming the 26 most-wanted militants. All but one of them was killed or captured before the second list was announced.

Witnesses of the Abqaiq assault said security forces traded fire with gunmen outside the oil facility after the explosions and combed the area for hours searching for attackers. Saudi officials have not reported the capture of any assailants on the day of the attack.

Saudi Arabia holds over 260 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, a quarter of the world's total. It currently pumps about 9.5 million barrels a day, or 11 percent of global consumption.

Associated Press writers Tarek al-Issawi in Dubai and Abdullah al-Shihri in Riyadh contributed to this report.

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