Saudis kill Al Qaida's Gulf commander in firefight

Thursday, March 18, 2004

ABU DHABI U.S. officials have confirmed claims by Saudi Arabia that it has killed the commander of the Al Qaida network responsible for the Gulf region.

Khaled Ali bin Haj AFP/HO
Saudi officials said Khaled Ali Haj was killed in a shootout with Saudi security forces on Monday in southern Riyad. The officials said Haj, a 30-year-old Yemeni, was the operations chief of Al Qaida in Saudi Arabia and the surrounding Gulf Cooperation Council states.

Haj was also known as Abu Hazim Al Sha'aer. U.S. counter-insurgency officials confirmed Haj's death and said he was responsible for Al Qaida operations in both Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Persian Gulf region.

Saudi officials said they expect a vacuum in the Al Qaida command as a result of Haj's death. They said Abdul Aziz Muqrin, a Saudi national, was expected to take over the Al Qaida network in the Persian Gulf. Muqrin has been regarded as inexperienced and a Saudi front for the largely Yemeni-operated Al Qaida regional network.

A Saudi Interior Ministry statement said Haj and Ibrahim Bin Abdul Aziz Bin Mohammed Al Mezeini, a Saudi national, were riding in a vehicle when they were ordered to stop by Saudi security forces. The two Al Qaida insurgents attempted to flee and fired toward the Saudi officers. Security forces returned fire and killed Haj and Al Mezeini.

The Interior Ministry said security forces found six hand grenades, two AK-47 assault rifles, three 9 mm pistols and $137,000 in cash in the vehicle.

Haj was trained by Al Qaida in Afghanistan in the 1990s. In 1999, he was appointed the personal bodyguard of Osama Bin Laden and traveled throughout the Persian Gulf.

In 2002, Haj was said to have succeeded Abdul Rahim Al Nashiri as Al Qaida's operations chief for the Gulf region. Al Nashiri, who is also a Yemeni national, was arrested at the end of 2002 and accused of organizing the suicide strike against the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden in 2000.

Saudi officials said Haj was a major planner of the Al Qaida bombings against foreign housing compounds in Riyad in May and November 2003. He appeared on the Saudi list of 26 top fugitives, now reduced to 22, most of them Saudi nationals.

Meanwhile, Saudi authorities have arrested at least seven prominent reformists. The arrests of the Saudi university professors came after they criticized a human rights panel announced by Riyad.

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