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7 Dead As Saudi Forces, Militants Clash

April 4, 2005

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ Seven suspected al-Qaida militants were killed in a shootout with Saudi security forces in central Saudi Arabia, the Interior Ministry said Monday.

The statement, broadcast on state-run television, said another militant was hospitalized in critical condition.

A number of security forces were injured and treated before being released from hospital, the statement said. An official said earlier that the 35 police had been wounded in the fighting, which began early Sunday in ar-Rass, 220 miles northwest of the capital, Riyadh.

The fighting began after police cornered several militants in the town’s Jawazat district. Ar-Rass is near Buraydah, a known stronghold of Islamic fundamentalists in the kingdom.

``Security forces continue to mop up the location,″ said the statement, which Saudi television interrupted regular programming to broadcast. It did not say if the fighting was over.

The standoff was one of the longest between security forces and militants, forcing officials to lock in teachers and students at a girls’ elementary school in the area.

Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Mansour al-Turki said authorities ordered the students and teachers kept inside to ensure their safety during the heavy fire outside.

No one was taken hostage from the school, al-Turki told state-run TV, and he said they were later left out.

Al-Turki said no security forces were killed.

Saudi Arabia launched a crackdown against Islamic militants after a number of suicide bombings, kidnappings and gunbattles since May 2003. The attacks, which have tended to target foreign workers, have been blamed on al-Qaida and allied militants.

The Saudis have published a list of the country’s 26 most-wanted militants and all but five of them have been killed or arrested. It was not known whether the militants killed Sunday were on the list.

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