High speed chase ends in shootout at Al Qaida-controlled rest stop

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi security forces engaged in a gun battle with an Al Qaida cell Sunday after a high speed police chase of a car which ended at a rest stop.

The rest stop turned out to be an Al Qaida weapons cache.

Saudi officials said police followed a car traveling at high speeds some 15 kilometers north of Riyad. The car tried to escape a Saudi police patrol and arrived at a rest stop.

The rest house was surrounded by Saudi forces when about 10 gunmen came out with machine guns blazing, officials said. They said some of the suspected Al Qaida members escaped in a shootout in which an Indian passerby was injured.

Saudi sources said the Al Qaida cell had planned to attack unspecified British targets, Middle East Newsline reported. They said the cell, which used the rest house as a weapons cache, had been tracked and placed under surveillance for several months.

They said the cell consists of up to 10 members who had access to a large amount of weapons and explosives.

Britain maintains combat aircraft and military advisers in Saudi Arabia. London is also a leading military supplier to the Saudi kingdom.

Details of the shootout appeared sketchy. The Jedda-based Arab News reported on Tuesday that the Al Qaida suspects escaped while the Saudi-owned Al Hayat daily, based in London, said eight of the suspects were captured.

Saudi security forces have arrested more than 260 suspected Al Qaida insurgents since the May 12 suicide strikes in Riyad in which 35 people were killed. The arrests have included teenagers who have distributed pro-Al Qaida literature that called for confrontations against the kingdom.

In Washington, a Saudi official told a briefing at the Saudi embassy on Monday that the 10-member cell tracked in Riyad was linked to a London-based dissident, identified as Saad Faqih. The official said the cell was captured by Saudi forces.

The unidentified official also said an FBI team has held three sessions of questioning of an Al Qaida suspect in the kingdom. A congressional report released last month said Omar Al Bayoumi, the suspect, met two of the 15 Saudi suicide hijackers in the Al Qaida attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Saudi official also said Iran has failed to respond to Saudi requests for the extradition of Al Qaida insurgents held by Teheran. The official said as many as 15 Al Qaida leaders, including the son of Osama Bin Laden, were being held by Iran.

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