msnbc.com news services
updated 4/27/2004 9:46:43 AM ET 2004-04-27T13:46:43

Convoys of police vehicles headed into a mountainous area northeast of Riyadh on Tuesday to join a hunt for terror suspects, possibly including the chief of al-Qaida’s Saudi network.

Abdulaziz Issa Abdul-Mohsin al-Moqrin, the kingdom’s most wanted militant, is believed holed up with four to five other terror suspects near al-Hassayah, 30 miles northeast of Riyadh.

Police armed with automatic weapons stopped traffic at a checkpoint near al-Hassayah, and a helicopter flew overhead as police vehicles streamed past palm groves to the area.

A security official told The Associated Press that counterterrorism officers have surrounded the area since late Sunday.

At least four heavily armed men spotted
Security sources cited by Reuters said that security forces moved into the area after helicopters with heat sensitive cameras detected at least four suspects holed up in the area.

The men were armed and believed to be carrying rocket propelled grenade launchers, they said.

U.S. and Saudi officials believe al-Moqrin is al-Qaida’s top figure in Saudi Arabia and the mastermind of a Nov. 8 bombing at a Riyadh housing compound that killed 17 people, most of them Muslims working in Saudi Arabia.

On Wednesday, the suicide bombing of a government security building in Riyadh killed five people and wounded 148 others.

Gunbattle leaves five militants dead
On Friday, Saudi forces fought a gunbattle with militants in the Red Sea port city of Jiddah, killing five and capturing a sixth.

Al-Qaida, the Muslim extremist network blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, is led by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden has targeted the rulers of his homeland, saying they are insufficiently Islamic and too close to the United States.

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s two holiest sites, published a list of 26 most wanted militants four months ago. Since then one has surrendered and seven have been killed.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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