Al Qaida fugitive sought by U.S. killed in firefight with Saudis

Thursday, September 25, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi Arabia has killed a major Al Qaida insurgent also wanted by the United States.

Saudi authorities said three Al Qaida agents were killed in a military and security force raid of a suspected stronghold near the Yemeni border. One police officer was killed and four others were injured in the 7-hour operation.

One of those killed was on the list of 19 Al Qaida fugitives sought by Saudi authorities, Middle East Newsline reported. He was identified as Sultan Jibran Al Qahtani, a senior member of the Al Qaida network and ranked 16 out of the 19 most wanted in the kingdom.

Al Qahtani, 29, was also wanted by the FBI in connection with what the agency termed possible terror threats to the United States. He was described as a leading planner of the May 12 suicide strikes in Riyad and deputy to the former chief of the Al Qaida cell in Saudi Arabia, Abu Bakr Al Azdi, who surrendered to Saudi police on June 26.

Officials said the insurgents were holed up in an apartment rented by a Saudi physician in the King Fahd hospital compound in Jizan. The compound contains about 3,000 employees, many of them foreigners. None of the employees was taken hostage, officials said.

A large Saudi force surrounded the hospital complex and reached the apartment where the insurgents were hiding, officials said. The Al Qaida insurgents responded with semi-automatic fire and grenades.

The Saudi Interior Ministry said five insurgents were involved in the shootout in Jizan, near the Yemeni border, which has served as the main smuggling route for weapons and Al Qaida insurgents. Three insurgents were killed and two others were captured.

The Interior Ministry said the Saudi operation foiled a plot by the Islamic cell to launch an unspecified attack. Saudi authorities have arrested nearly 300 suspected Al Qaida insurgents since the May suicide bombings in Riyad.

"They were intending to carry out terrorist operations and were armed with machine guns and hand grenades," the ministry statement said. "They were asked to surrender, but started firing at security forces. Security officers took control of the militants without causing any harm to the residents despite the intense shooting by the militants."

The London-based Al Hayat daily reported on Wednesday that Saudi agents obtained intelligence on the Al Qaida cell after they found a car full of weapons near Jizan. At the same time, Saudi authorities found an apartment full of weapons and rocket-propelled grenades in the nearby village of Karbus.

The United States said Saudi Arabia has demonstrated unprecedented cooperation in the war against Al Qaida since the May attacks. But Saudi officials said Riyad was stopped from cooperating before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by Al Qaida in New York and Washington.

Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, told the Los Angeles-based World Affairs Council that the State Department tried to stop a Saudi crackdown against Islamic insurgents. Bandar said the State Department had labeled "dissidents" what he termed "terrorist elements."

"We were telling you they were terrorists," Bandar said on Monday. "The State Department was telling us that we were terrible to these dissidents. What looked so clear and obvious after 9/11 wasn't so clear before. And trust me the same is true in Saudi Arabia."

Hours after Bandar's speech in Los Angeles, Saudi security forces surrounded the home of a leading dissident in Riyad, identified as Abdul Aziz Al Tayar. Al Tayar was arrested while planning what Saudi opposition sources described as the kingdom's first public meeting of reformists. Saudi officials said Al Tayar had information on a key Al Qaida insurgent who was later arrested.

Bandar warned that Saudi-U.S. counter-insurgency cooperation would not be transparent.

"We have cooperated 100 percent with the United States in the fight against terrorism, not for the sake of the United States but for the sake of protecting our people," Bandar said. "We are at war; just because you can't see airplanes and tanks and missiles being fired doesn't make it any less of a war."

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