- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2003

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — Security forces exchanged fire for hours yesterday with “terrorists” apparently holed up in an apartment in southern Saudi Arabia, killing three suspected militants and arresting two others after the standoff ended, the Interior Ministry said.

One security official was also killed in the gunfight at the three-story residential building in Jizan, about 600 miles south of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, the ministry said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The early-morning raid was intended to capture militants planning a terror attack, according to an official statement on Saudi state television earlier yesterday.

Details of the firefight were sketchy, as news often is in this kingdom whose rulers keep a tight lid on the press.

Security officials initially said the gunmen had taken several foreign hostages at King Fahd Hospital. The Interior Ministry statement and later television reports did not mention hostages, but Al Jazeera television’s Web site said all hostages were released.

The building where the militants were apparently holed up is part of a housing complex for the hospital’s employees, the ministry said. About 3,000 people live in the complex.

“Security forces made every effort to control the terrorists without inflicting harm on the residents in the building and in the housing complex, despite what the terrorists did when they started firing heavily on security men,” the ministry statement said.

Al Arabiya television quoted a security official as saying at least one of those arrested was on a list of 19 reputed militants wanted after police discovered a weapons cache near Riyadh in May. A week later, on May 12, suicide bombings killed 26 persons and nine attackers at residential compounds housing Westerners in Riyadh.

The 19 men are believed to be behind the Riyadh bombings and in close contact with the al Qaeda terror network, Saudi officials have said. At least 11 of the 19 have been killed or arrested.

The Saudi government has cracked down on Islamic militants since the May 12 bombings and repeatedly and publicly denounced terrorism and Islamic extremism. More than 200 suspects have been arrested and more than a dozen killed in a series of high-profile police raids since then.

The kingdom has “confronted terrorists, encircled them, disbanded their bases and is still pursuing their criminal remnants and will be victorious, God willing,” King Fahd said yesterday in a speech read on his behalf at a conference in Kazakhstan, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

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