ABU DHABI ø A new U.S.-trained Saudi counter-insurgency unit has
succeeded in releasing more than 50 hostages held by Al Qaida, but three of the four terrorists escaped.
The Saudi National Guard unit employed four U.S.-origin CH-47 Chinook
heavy-lift helicopters to land about 40 commandos on the roof of a Western
housing compound near Khobar and battled Al Qaida insurgents in an
early-morning raid on Sunday. The Saudi commandos succeeded in freeing Arab
and Western oil workers taken hostage by the insurgency group.
The number of casualties remain unclear, Middle East Newsline reported. The Saudi Interior Ministry
said 22 people were killed, including an American, a Briton, an Egyptian,
three Filipinos, eight Indians, an Italian, a Swede, two Sri Lankans, three
Saudis and one South African.
The ministry said the insurgents failed in
their attempt to bring a vehicle full of explosives into the compound.
The Interior Ministry said only one of the four Al Qaida insurgents ø
described as the ringleader and a leading fugitive ø was captured. The
arrested fugitive was identified as Nimr Al Baqmi.
The ministry said three Al Qaida insurgents commandeered a car and
escaped in the direction of Dammam, 10 kilometers north of Khobar. The
insurgents were dressed in Saudi military uniforms and used the hostages as
"Security forces wounded the leader of the group and arrested him, one
of the most-wanted," the ministry said in a statement. "The three others,
one of them wounded, fled from the [housing] complex."
The new Saudi commando force was said to have been established after the
Al Qaida attack on Western targets in Riyad in May 2003. Diplomatic sources
said the force ø composed of veteran Saudi combatants ø was trained and
equipped by the United States in skills employed by U.S. Special Operations
Forces. The United States has been asked to upgrade the National Guard in a
proposed $900 million contract.
Officials said other Saudi security forces tried twice to storm the
Oasis compound. In one attempt, the forces withdrew after discovering bombs
planted by the insurgents.
But at about 5:30 a.m., the National Guard arrived with heavy-lift
helicopters and about 40 commandos descended onto the roof. For the next 90
minutes, the commandos battled the Al Qaida insurgents throughout the vast
compound and office complex. Officials said two commandos were killed and
another eight were injured.
Saudi officials said the new commando unit was trained and directed by
the U.S. military. But they denied a report in the Kuwaiti daily Al Watan
U.S. marines participated in the rescue operation.
The commando force was backed by another special unit located outside
the walled compound. In all, about 200 special forces members ø including
sharpshooters ø were outside the compound in search for insurgents trying
to escape. The special forces came from Saudi Army and Navy.
The U.S. embassy said its personnel has been advised not to leave the
so-called diplomatic quarter in Riyad until further notice. An embassy
statement said the movement of American personnel at the U.S. consulates in
Dhahran and Jedda have also come under similar restrictions.
"The U.S. Mission in Saudi Arabia wishes to advise the American
community that on the morning of May 29, 2004, terrorist attacks were
carried out against at least three Western targets in the city of Al
Khobar," the U.S. embassy said in a statement. "Foreign nationals, including
Westerners and Saudi citizens were killed in the attacks. In light of the
terrorist attack in Yanbu on May 1, 2004, and this latest attack in Al
Khobar, the embassy reiterates its previous warning strongly urging American
citizens to depart the country."