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Suspect in Saudi Attacks Dies in Shootout

July 3, 2003

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ The top suspect wanted in the Riyadh suicide bombing was killed along with three other militants in a gunbattle Thursday when police raided their hideout in northern Saudi Arabia, officials said.

Al-Qaida member Turki Nasser al-Dandani had been the kingdom’s most wanted man after the suspected mastermind of the Riyadh attacks turned himself in over the weekend.

The fall of the top two suspects was a key success in Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on militants, sparked by the May 12 suicide bombings against Westerners’ housing compounds in Riyadh, which killed 25 people as well as nine attackers.

Police swooped down early Thursday on al-Dandani and his associates, who were holed up in the house of a Muslim prayer leader in the town of Suweir, 560 miles northwest of the capital, Riyadh, an Interior Ministry official said.

Authorities ordered the suspects to give themselves up, but only the imam, his family, and one suspected militant stepped from the house. Then began a five-hour battle, during which the suspects unleashed machine-gun fire and hurled hand grenades as security forces returned fire, an Interior Ministry statement said.

Four suspects _ al-Dandani, another Saudi and two Kuwaiti nationals _ were killed, while two security officers were wounded, the ministry said.

Al-Dandani was the No. 1 figure on the wanted list from a group of 19 suspected militants connected to an arms cache uncovered in Riyadh on May 6. Police have said that group was directly in touch with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terror network and was behind the Riyadh attacks.

``He was the most important figure on the list of 19 wanted for the Riyadh attacks. Our investigations showed he was part of the leadership,″ the Interior Ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

Saudi authorities have detained at least 125 people in their sweep since the Riyadh attacks. Their biggest catch so far was the attacks’ suspected mastermind, Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi, who turned himself in Saturday.

Another success in the crackdown came last month, when police raided an apartment in Mecca where they found members of a suspected terror cell allegedly planning attacks in the city, Islam’s holiest.

U.S. counterterrorism officials in Washington predicted that al-Ghamdi’s arrest would severely hamper al-Qaida’s operations in Saudi Arabia, and al-Dandani’s death is likely to further diminish the group’s capacity.

The kingdom is the birthplace of al-Qaida leader bin Laden, and home to 15 of the 19 hijackers who took part in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The interior minister said last month that he thought al-Qaida was involved in the Riyadh suicide bombings, in which nine assailants blew up vehicles at housing compounds for expatriates.

``I think it is al-Qaida, and there might be other organizations who helped or worked closely in the attacks,″ Prince Nayef told the state-controlled Saudi newspaper Okaz.

The prince said this week that among the detainees are several other people linked to al-Qaida, men who returned from Afghanistan, foreign nationals and at least five women.

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