Al Qaida bust near Mecca captures 2 with large arsenal

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi Arabia has foiled an Al Qaida plot to attack government installations and Muslim pilgrims in the kingdom.

Saudi officials said security forces raided an Al Qaida stronghold about 16 kilometers northeast of Mecca and killed at least two operatives and captured a large arsenal of weapons, Middle East Newsline reported. They said the raid appeared to have foiled an Al Qaida plan to attack Saudi government targets and Islamic pilgrims in Mecca, regarded as the seat of Islam.

"In Mecca there are only Muslims from inside and outside the kingdom," Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz told the Al Riyad daily on Tuesday. "They certainly [sought to target] buildings, installations and people. All the seized weapons indicate such a plan."

The two suspected insurgents later identified as a Saudi and a Pakistani were killed in a shootout on Monday during a raid of two buildings said to have been used as a hideout in the suburb of Shira'a, regarded as a pro-Al Qaida area.

Prince Nayef said Saudi security forces captured six other suspected Al Qaida insurgents, two of whom surrendered without a fight. The forces conducted the operation with the help of a helicopter, which provided reconnaissance.

"They wanted to make the entire country a place for terror without any exception and even in the holiest place on earth where Saudis and non-Saudis come to pray to God," the Saudi interior minister said.

Officials said they found rocket-propelled grenades, automatic rifles, pistols, explosives and ammunition in the buildings. In addition, Saudi security forces found forged passports, identification cards, thousands of pro-Al Qaida leaflets as well as material to assemble bombs.

Saudi opposition sources quoted witnesses as saying six Al Qaida insurgents several of them identified as African nationals tried to flee from the buildings and were killed. The sources said five Saudi officers were also killed and one of the insurgents escaped in the shootout.

Saudi authorities had been bracing for a major Al Qaida attack during the Islamic fast month of Ramadan. Opposition sources said armored personnel carriers and other combat vehicles have been patrolling Mecca. About two million people were expected to arrive in the city for the annual Islamic pilgrimage, termed the Umrah.

The Saudi raid was the first since Australia, Britain and the United States warned of an Al Qaida plot to attack Western civilian airliners scheduled to arrive in the kingdom. Several Western countries had also urged their nationals to postpone travel to Saudi Arabia.

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