- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2003

MECCA, Saudi Arabia — The Saudi government said yesterday that it foiled a terrorist attack with an overnight raid on a bomb-filled, booby-trapped apartment in the holy city of Mecca that left five suspects and two security agents dead.

It was not clear if the raid was linked to Saudi Arabia’s crackdown since suicide bomb attacks May 12 targeting Western residential compounds in the capital, Riyadh. The attacks, blamed on al Qaeda, killed 26 persons, including nine Americans. Nine Saudi attackers also died.

At least five persons were arrested in the raid, including two Chadians, an Egyptian and a Saudi, a Saudi Interior Ministry official said.

The unidentified official, whose remarks were carried by the official Saudi Press Agency and state television, said a number of other suspects also were arrested in Mecca, 450 miles west of the capital, after the raid. He did not elaborate.

About 9:30 p.m., Saudi security agents broke into an apartment in the al-Khalidiya district, about three miles from Mecca’s main mosque, where “a group of terrorists … were preparing an imminent terrorist act,” the official said. He did not say what the intended target was and gave no other details on the plot.

Five suspects were killed in a gunbattle initiated by the group in the apartment, he said. Two police officers were killed and five injured, he added, and four bystanders were slightly injured.

The official said the apartment was booby-trapped with explosives. About 70 bombs of different sizes were found in the apartment, along with a number of weapons, including semiautomatic rifles and knives. Police also found communication devices, bomb-making materials and masks in the apartment.

Saudi authorities, accused of acting too slowly against Islamic extremism after the September 11 attacks, have taken pains to show their commitment to fighting terrorism in the kingdom, the birthplace of Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers who carried out the attacks.

In a report yesterday, the Saudi newspaper Okaz said the violence started when traffic police tried to stop a car whose occupants fired on officers and fled to the apartment building.

The Interior Ministry did not mention the attempted traffic stop.

Security was unusually tight in Mecca yesterday, with troops stopping cars to conduct searches and check drivers’ identification on the outskirts and at checkpoints scattered throughout the city. Police patrolled inside and outside Mecca’s Al-Nur hospital, where those wounded Saturday were taken.

Abdul Khaliq Reheem Sheik, a 50-year-old Indian driver who was being treated for cuts at Al-Nur yesterday, said three masked men holding guns had approached him as he washed his employer’s car in Mecca’s al-Khalidiya district Saturday night.

The men demanded that he drive them away from the area, he said. When he refused, they shot at the car’s windows, apparently to frighten him, and he was injured by flying glass. The three then drove away in the car, leaving him behind. It was not clear if the three were still being sought or were among those killed or arrested Saturday night.

Helicopters hovered over al-Khalidiya into the early hours yesterday. In the afternoon, dozens of police and special forces armed with rifles could be seen around the three-story apartment building, whose facade was pocked with bullet holes.

Residents who had been kept out overnight were being allowed back in the area, after first stopping at a police checkpoint.

Officials have reported violence linked to the crackdown on extremism once before since May 12. On May 31, Yosif Salih Fahd Ala’yeeri was killed in a gunfight with police in northern Saudi Arabia. He purportedly was carrying a letter written by bin Laden.

Earlier, Saudi authorities had announced the arrests of a number of people in Medina, Islam’s second-holiest city, 540 miles west of the capital. Saudi authorities had said the arrests were peaceful, but security in and around Medina has been tight.

Last week, a Western diplomat said at least seven suspects linked to the Riyadh bombings have died since those attacks, some in clashes with Saudi authorities. The diplomat had no details.

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