- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — Two Muslim extremists blew themselves up in Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, yesterday after being surrounded by Saudi security forces, the Interior Ministry said.

Hours earlier, another militant was killed in the capital, Riyadh, while fleeing with remnants of an al Qaeda gang being pursued by police.

Security forces were still tracking down other suspected terrorists throughout Mecca last night.

The upsurge in terrorist-related violence coincides with the arrival of more than a million pilgrims in Mecca, from within and outside the kingdom, for Umra (the lesser pilgrimage) during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

According to Interior Minister Prince Naif, the two men killed in Mecca yesterday belong to a terrorist cell thought to be targeting Muslim pilgrims.

Muslims believe God began revealing their holy book, the Koran, to the Prophet Muhammad during Ramadan 1,400 years ago. Mecca, birthplace of Muhammad, also has great significance for Muslims.

In 1979, disaffected Islamists took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca to protest what they saw as corruption in the ruling al-Saud family and the superficial Westernization of Saudi society.

The al-Saud dynasty relies in part on its custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites for its legitimacy, so an attack by Islamists on Mecca would indicate that the al-Saud regime no longer has the kingdom under its total control.

In Riyadh, Saudi police clashed with the suspected terrorists yesterday in a narrow street in the city’s suburbs.

One suspect was killed and eight policemen were slightly injured, and several militants were captured. Several more militants escaped in cars when a number of terrorists left the site. They used weapons and bombs.

Two helicopters were overhead, according to residents, who said the confrontation lasted about five hours.

Two houses where the militants appeared to have taken refuge had bullet holes on their walls. A charred car sat in front of one house. Three other cars across the street were pocked with bullet holes. Pale yellow plastic handcuffs were scattered nearby, and children played with spent ammunition.

Yesterday was the second day of confrontations this week between militants and police, and the latest clash in a nationwide crackdown that followed the simultaneous suicide attacks of May 12 on Western compounds in Riyadh, which killed 26 persons and nine attackers.


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