7 die in Mecca shootout as Saudis storm Al Qaida stronghold

Monday, June 16, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi security forces have waged one of their bloodiest battles in the war against Al Qaida after locating a cell in a Mecca apartment.

At least two Saudi officers and five insurgents were killed in a raid of a suspected Al Qaida stronghold in Mecca on early Sunday. Saudi sources said security forces came under heavy fire from insurgents in an apartment building.

The Interior Ministry said two officers and five insurgents were killed and five others were injured in the shootout, Middle East Newsline reported.

Officials said police and security officers pursued a suspicious car to an apartment building in Mecca. Saudi forces secured the building, overpowered the insurgents and found a large amount of weapons and explosives in an apartment used as a safe house by the insurgency cell.

An Interior Ministry source was quoted as saying that the apartment was rigged with explosives. Police found 72 bombs, machine guns, ammunition, communication devices and chemical substances used for making explosives. "Security forces raided a group of terrorists who were preparing for an imminent terror attack," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Later, Saudi authorities reiterated their warning for citizens to renew gun licenses. The Interior Ministry said it would impose stiff penalties for gun-owners whose licenses expire.

Scores of Al Qaida insurgents were said to have escaped Saudi Arabia for Sudan over the last year. Saudi nationals were said to comprise a 40-member Al Qaida cell in Sudan, where they were being trained. So far, Sudan has arrested and extradited 17 Saudis to the kingdom.

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