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5 suspected militants believed linked to Saudi plant attack killed

CAIRO, Egypt—Saudi security forces shot five suspected militants to death Monday during an early-morning raid in connection with last week's foiled attack on the world's largest oil-processing plant. A sixth suspect was arrested in a separate raid.

Lt. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said Saudi forces conducted the raids Monday after surveillance on two suburban homes in Riyadh, the capital.

At one site, a man was detained without incident. At the second home, security forces and the five terrorism suspects exchanged fire for about two hours, according to the Saudi-owned satellite channel Al-Arabiya. Al-Arabiya also reported that police later confiscated weapons from the home.

Al-Turki said the identities of the five men weren't immediately known. "The five were killed because they refused to surrender," he said in a phone interview. "They are believed to be terrorists, but as for how much they are linked to al-Qaida, we'll have to wait and see the results of the investigation."

The shootout was just the latest incident in a three-year battle between Saudi forces and al-Qaida-linked rebels who want to overthrow the royal family. Despite the kingdom's crackdown on militants, Islamist extremists have become increasingly brazen, as illustrated by Friday's attack on the highly fortified Abqaiq oil-processing plant, the first on a Saudi oil facility.

The attack was thwarted when Saudi forces prevented two suicide bombers from entering the complex. The guards' gunfire made the cars explode outside the compound, which is near the Persian Gulf Coast.

The Saudi branch of al-Qaida later claimed responsibility for the operation and warned of more to come.

The Interior Ministry identified the dead Abqaiq attackers as Abdullah Abdulaziz al-Tweijri and Mohammed Saleh al-Ghaith. Both were on a list of the 15 most-wanted terrorists in the kingdom that was issued last June. Now, just four suspects remain at large; 10 have died or been killed, and one was arrested.

It was unclear what the would-be bombers intended to target in the huge Abqaiq compound, which processes two-thirds of Saudi Arabia's oil. Analysts have speculated that Saudi militants may be trying to mimic the success of insurgents in Iraq, whose frequent sabotage of pipelines has severely hobbled Iraq's oil production and export.

"We expect attacks anywhere in the kingdom and we are continuing to enforce our security at every possible location that could be a target. That includes, of course, oil industry and oil infrastructure," al-Turki said. "We are doing everything that can be done to prevent another attack."


(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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