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Saudi forces kill 3 suspected militants

Saudi security forces shot dead three gunmen east of the capital Riyadh early on Tuesday, officials said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Three suspected Saudi militants armed with guns and hand grenades — including one militant on the country’s most-wanted list — were killed in a clash with Saudi security forces, officials said Tuesday.

Seven police officers were wounded in the confrontation with the militants, who were hiding on the second floor of a house in eastern Riyadh, according to an Interior Ministry statement.

Officials identified one of the militants as Abdul-Majeed Mohammed Abdullah al-Moneea, No. 18 on Saudi Arabia’s list of 26 most-wanted terror suspects. Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Mansour al-Turki said al-Moneea was a member of an al-Qaida-affiliated group.

“He belonged to the legislative committee that issued fatwas (edicts) sanctioning the killing of people,” al-Turki said. “Investigative authorities have proved his participation in assassinations and his insistent pursuit to recruit operatives who would serve his deviant thoughts.”

Al-Moneea’s killing was a major coup for Saudi authorities, who have launched an aggressive crackdown on al-Qaida-affiliated militants. His death leaves 10 of the list’s 26 on the run.

Also killed in the raid was Abdul-Hamid al-Yehya, who al-Turki said provided safehouses for suspected militants.

“He used women and children in those houses to mislead authorities,” al-Turki said. “He also forged many documents to cover up the criminal activities of those people.”

The third militant was Issam al-Otaibi, who al-Turki said was extradited a few weeks ago for “carrying out unacceptable activities abroad.” He did not say from which country al-Otaibi was extradited or elaborate on the charges.

He said that after the extradition, al-Otaibi signed an affidavit saying he did not belong to any militant group and pledging to abide by the country’s regulations.

“But then authorities found out he had reneged on his promise and had turned his home into a den for criminal activities for the (militants),” al-Turki said.

The police commander in the raid, Lt. Col. Mudhif al-Talhi, was wounded, but not seriously, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The security forces evacuated seven women and a child whom the militants had placed on the first floor of the house “to use as shields and to mislead the security forces,” the statement said, quoting an unnamed Interior Ministry official.

It said security forces surrounded the house after suspecting that “men belonging to the misguided group” — a phrase used to describe militants — were in the house.

“When they began searching the house, they came under heavy machine gun fire,” said the statement, adding that the attackers also used hand grenades.

Security forces found weapons and documents in the house, the statement said.

The confrontation is part of an ongoing crackdown on militants that the Saudi government launched after al-Qaida affiliated operatives attacked three residential compounds in Riyadh in May 2003. Several other attacks followed and a number of Westerners have been killed, including an American who was kidnapped in June and later beheaded.

The government has killed or captured many of the group’s top leaders in the kingdom and arrested scores of suspected militants.

Despite the progress, officials say the threat remains that al-Qaida operatives in Saudi Arabia could strike again.