Saudi-Al Qaida shootout, Part II: Cell escapes after 5-hour battle

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi security forces have again failed to capture an Al Qaida cell after an extended battle that involved attack helicopters and rocket-propelled grenades.

Officials said it was the second time in three days that Saudi special operations forces raided an Al Qaida stronghold in an attempt to capture a suspected 12-member cell. The Interior Ministry said most of the cell members escaped in a shootout on Tuesday in what was termed the biggest counter-insurgency operation in months.

Four Saudi officers and an Al Qaida gunman were killed in Tuesday's battle, which lasted more than five hours. Saudi forces used armored vehicles and attack helicopters to raid five buildings in the Al Suwaidi district in southern Riyad. The insurgents, who were based in a villa, were said to have used rocket-propelled grenades.

The cell was said to have targeted British interests in the Arabian kingdom, Middle East Newsline reported.

It was the second day of clashes between Saudi forces and Al Qaida insurgents this week. On Sunday, Al Qaida members were said to have escaped from a shootout with Saudi forces in northern Riyad after a high speed police chase ended at a rest stop.

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz told the Dubai-based Al Arabiya satellite channel that five of the fugitives were arrested in Tuesday's clash in Riyad. Prince Nayef said on Wednesday that seven other insurgents escaped, asserting that the cell was not connected to the May 12 Al Qaida suicide strikes in Riyad.

Saudi sources said Al Suwaidi has been regarded as an Islamic opposition stronghold suspected of harboring Al Qaida insurgents. They said authorities were not certain whether the Al Qaida insurgents were the same as those who battled Saudi security forces on Sunday some 15 km. north of Riyad.

Riyad has intensified its crackdown on Al Qaida insurgents in wake of the May suicide strikes in Riyad, which killed 35 people. Western diplomatic sources said the United States has trained and directed Saudi security forces in designating targets and planning operations.

The Al Riyad daily reported that two Al Qaida insurgents were arrested on late Tuesday in the Al Nassim suburb north of the Saudi capital. The newspaper said on Wednesday that the two men were allegedly linked to the May 12 suicide strikes in Riyad.

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