- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2005

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Security forces seized a walled compound yesterday where Islamist militants had been barricaded for days, ending the kingdom’s largest gunbattle with armed extremists. At least 14 of the militants were killed, including top leaders of the Saudi branch of al Qaeda and the suspected mastermind of the 2003 Casablanca bombing.

Six others were captured in the three days of fierce firefights in the desert town of Rass, state television said, citing security officials.

Among the dead were two militants on Saudi Arabia’s list of most-wanted terrorists, said a senior military official in Rass, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Moroccan Kareem Altohami al-Mojati and Saudi Saud Homood Obaid al-Otaibi were ranked at No. 4 and No. 7 respectively on Saudi Arabia’s list of 26 most-wanted al Qaeda-linked terror suspects, issued in December 2003.

Brig. Mansour al-Turki, the Interior Ministry spokesman, could not confirm the two men were among those killed.

Saudi newspapers have carried profiles of the two wanted militants. Al-Mojati is a battle-hardened fighter who had fought in Afghanistan and is described as a supporter of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The papers said he had helped plan the May 2003 suicide bombings in Casablanca that killed 33 bystanders and 12 suicide bombers.

Al-Otaibi is said to be one of two Saudi militants running al Qaeda’s branch in Saudi Arabia. Last year, he purportedly posted an Internet statement rejecting an amnesty offered by Saudi ruler King Fahd, who promised militants that their lives would be spared if they surrendered.

The battle began Sunday morning when security forces, acting on a tip, arrived at another building in Rass. Militants opened fire with automatic rifles and grenades, sparking a clash with police that killed three terror suspects. The rest fled to the villa.

For nearly 48 hours, the gunmen had been holed up in the villa compound northwest of the capital, Riyadh, and near Buraydah, a stronghold of Islamic fundamentalists. Surrounded by hundreds of Saudi special forces, they had a arsenal of weapons and fired volleys of automatic weapons fire and grenades.

During the shootout, one militant surrendered and two others were wounded and captured. Officials said 35 police were wounded during the fighting in Rass.

Once the standoff was over, some forces withdrew while others combed the area, collecting documents and searching for weapons and evidence, the official said.

In a statement read on Saudi television, Crown Prince Abdullah congratulated the security forces for the raid.

The death toll is the highest in a single fight since the kingdom’s war on terror began in May 2003 when suicide bombers attacked three compounds for foreign residents in the Riyadh. Before the Rass attack, the highest number of militants killed in a single battle was six, when police raided a farm in al-Qassim in July 2003.

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