- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

From combined dispatches

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Suspected militants shot at U.S. military personnel outside Riyadh yesterday, while in a separate incident security forces killed two militants after a 12-hour chase on foot through desert mountains.

The incidents added to fears over stability in the world’s biggest oil producer after 22 persons were killed in a weekend attack on the oil hub of Khobar. A group linked to al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.

No Americans were hurt in the shooting outside a U.S. military compound in Riyadh and authorities vaguely linked the two terrorists killed in the mountains to the Khobar attack.

Adel al-Jubeir, foreign affairs adviser to the Saudi royal family, told reporters in Washington it was “obvious” that militants were targeting the kingdom’s oil industry to create chaos, but said it would be very difficult to penetrate Saudi oil installations.

“The oil installations are very, very secure,” Mr. al-Jubeir said.

A Saudi diplomat said the authorities were “upgrading, tightening and fortifying security,” but did not want to begin a massive military action.

The militants’ ultimate goal is “to push the government toward a position where it will carry out an action that will antagonize the population. … But the authorities don’t want to overreact,” the diplomat told Reuters news agency.

Tension has been high since militants killed 19 foreigners and three Saudis in the eastern oil city of Khobar over the weekend in a shooting and hostage-taking spree.

Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, which has pledged to drive out all “infidel” Westerners from the birthplace of Islam, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Saudi officials did not say whether the two militants killed yesterday in western Saudi Arabia were among three suspected al Qaeda members who escaped the Khobar siege or were accomplices.

The two militants, one dressed as a woman, were killed in the remote mountainous area of al-Hada, a Saudi security official said. The area is 700 miles away from Khobar, on the other side of the country.

Troops stopped the men’s car at a military checkpoint on the Taif-Mecca highway Tuesday evening. The militants refused to show their identity cards, said the official.

The two got out of their car, pulled out machine guns and started firing at the soldiers, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The soldiers pursued the men up the mountains and after 12 hours killed them early yesterday, he said.

The security official said the men could have been among those who escaped from the Khobar siege. But, he said, it could be that their phone numbers were found on the attackers’ mobile phones or that they may have aided the men by providing shelter, money or other assistance.

The incident in Riyadh began when gunmen opened fire on two cars in which Americans were traveling on a highway outside the city, the U.S. Embassy said.

It said the driver of one vehicle, a non-American, was slightly wounded, but the cars returned quickly to Iskan Village where a U.S. training unit working with the Saudi National Guard is based. The Saudi Press Agency said a Saudi was slightly hurt.

Security sources said the militants had automatic rifles and fled after the shooting.

Washington last month urged the 35,000 Americans living in Saudi Arabia to leave, citing militant attacks.

The United States pulled most of its troops out of Saudi Arabia in August after more than a decade in the country, responding to Saudi resentment over the American military presence near Islam’s holiest sites.

Bin Laden had condemned the U.S. military presence and in 1996, a suspected al Qaeda truck bomb at a U.S. military housing complex in Khobar killed 19 U.S. soldiers and wounded some 400.

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