NBC News and news services
updated 4/27/2004 3:49:01 PM ET 2004-04-27T19:49:01

Saudi security forces surrounded a group of suspected militants, possibly including the chief of al-Qaida’s Saudi network, in a rocky area near the capital, Riyadh, while hunting for guerrillas linked to a wave of clashes with police, security sources said Tuesday.

Abdulaziz Issa Abdul-Mohsin al-Moqrin, the kingdom’s most wanted militant, is believed to be holed up with four to five other terror suspects near al-Hassayah, 30 miles northeast of Riyadh. A security official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that counterterrorism officers have surrounded the area since Sunday night.

Security forces said helicopters with heat sensitive cameras had detected the suspects, who were armed and believed to be carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

NBC News’ Charlene Gubash reported that the suspects were identified by an Indian worker who escaped from captivity and recognized two of them from police photographs. In addition to al-Moqrin, the worker also identified another top wanted terrorist, Taleb bin Saud al-Taleb.

U.S. and Saudi officials believe al-Moqrin is al-Qaida’s top figure in Saudi Arabia and the mastermind of a bombing Nov. 8 at a Riyadh housing compound that killed 17 people, most of them Muslims working in Saudi Arabia. Al-Taleb is one of 26 suspects for whom Riyadh offered rewards in December.

Saudi Arabia has cracked down on militant supporters of al-Qaida, the terror network led by Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden, since the first in a series of suicide bombings in Riyadh almost a year ago.

NBC’s Charlene Gubash in Cairo, Egypt, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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