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Saudi Farm Raid Sets Off Hostage Standoff

September 23, 2003

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ Saudi security forces raided a farm Tuesday, setting off a running battle with gunmen who fled into a hospital and took foreigners hostage, security officials said.

The standoff at the hospital building continued at mid-afternoon, the officials said.

Al-Jazeera television had earlier quoted a witness saying police stormed the building, freeing the hostages and seizing the gunmen. The witness also told the station two security officers were killed.

The battle began when security forces raided a farm near Jizan, about 600 miles south of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, searching for a number of suspects, the security officials said.

Some of the suspects escaped and took refuge in the hospital building, taking a number of hostages, they said.

The officials did not say why the suspects had been initially sought. The Saudi government has cracked down on Islamic militants since May 12 suicide bombings in Riyadh killed 26 people, as well as the nine attackers. More than 200 suspects have been arrested and more than a dozen killed in a series of high-profile police raids since then.

The Arab satellite television station Al-Jazeera quoted a witness as saying the gunmen were holed up in a hospital housing unit with the hostages.

The witness, identified only as Abdallah Abu Ezz Edin, said most of the hostages were foreigners and were freed as security forces stormed in and four gunmen surrendered.

Abu Ezz Edin, speaking by telephone, also said at least two security officers were killed in the battle.