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BBC Reporter Shot, Critical

A British reporter for the British Broadcasting Corp. was in critical condition Monday, a day after assailants wounded the correspondent and shot dead his Irish colleague while they were filming outside the house of a suspected al Qaeda militant.

Sunday's shooting in the Saudi capital killed Simon Cumbers, 36, and injured BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner, 42, according to the BBC. It followed a string of dramatic attacks in the kingdom targeting foreigners and said to be carried out by militants inspired by or belonging to the anti-Western terror network led by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden.

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed concern for the families of the two journalists, and said the shootings demonstrated the threat terrorists pose around the world.

"We have to be vigilant and get out and get after them and make sure we deal with this issue," Blair said.

Gardner was "in critical but stable condition," British Embassy spokesman Barrie Peach said Monday. "He has been transferred to the intensive care unit at the Specialist Hospital."

In London, BBC director of news Richard Sambrook said Gardner had undergone surgery for abdominal wounds.

Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Gardner underwent emergency surgery at the Iman Hospital, close to the scene of the shooting, to remove two bullets from his abdomen, one from his leg and one from his hand, before being transferred to the Specialist Hospital.

Gardner and Cumbers were accompanied by a minder from the Information Ministry — standard procedure for cameramen and photographers — when they came under fire late Sunday afternoon in the ultraconservative Suweidi neighborhood.

The low-income, southern Riyadh neighborhood has been the scene of numerous confrontations between government forces and militants. Suweidi is home to 15 of the 26 suspects on the kingdom's most-wanted list, including al Qaeda's leader in Saudi Arabia, Abdel-Aziz al-Moqrin, according to Arab News, the leading English-language daily newspaper.

Security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said authorities were investigating the incident and were interrogating the driver and minder who were with the BBC crew.

The Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki al-Faisal, told BBC radio the journalists had gone to film outside the house of a militant. Local press reports said security forces killed the militant in December.

"They got into a car with some guys from the Ministry of Information and they asked to be taken to a neighborhood in Riyadh where they wanted to do some filming on a previous al Qaeda member's whereabouts where he was captured," he said.

"As they were doing the filming, somebody drove by and fired at them," Prince Turki said.

Sambrook said the men were "shot with, as I understand it, some sort of machine pistol."

He said the BBC would have to consider its future reporting from Saudi Arabia in light of the attack.

The British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sherard Cowper-Coles, said the shooting underlined the terrorist threat in the country.

"There is a serious and chronic terrorist threat and people — particularly Westerners, particularly Britons and Americans — need to exercise extreme vigilance and consider their personal safety and security," he told the BBC.

The British Foreign Office has advised Britons against all nonessential travel to Saudi Arabia. The United States has gone further, urging all of its citizens to leave the kingdom — a move criticized by Saudi officials.

Cumbers was a freelance journalist and cameraman who had worked for Associated Press Television News and ITN, the BBC said. After the shooting, Saudi television showed footage of Gardner, sitting, half-upright, in the middle of a street, two bloodstains visible on his white shirt.

In a column for the BBC Web site dated Saturday, Gardner wrote: "Thousands of British and other Western expatriates in Saudi Arabia are bracing themselves for further attacks by al-Qaeda."

"This is not the Saudi Arabia I know," added. "In 15 years of coming here, I have only once before seen a sandbagged gun emplacement outside my hotel, and that was when Saddam Hussein's tanks were massing on the border with Kuwait."

There has been an upsurge of violence in the kingdom despite a high-profile anti-terror campaign that the government began in May 2003 following attacks on residential compounds. The campaign has included a "hearts and minds" initiative by Saudi authorities trying to persuade their citizens not to support terrorism

In an opinion piece that appeared earlier this month in the Saudi paper Al-Youm, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States said Saudis must recognize they are in a war against the militants. Winning required "general mobilization, intellectually, technically, privately, publicly, media wise and culturally," Prince Bandar bin Sultan said, adding he was concerned Saudis had not yet made the necessary commitment.

Sunday's shooting came eight days after 22 people, most of them foreigners, were killed in a shooting rampage and hostage-taking in the eastern Saudi oil hub of Khobar. Saudi security forces captured one of the four attackers in the May 29 assault and are still looking for the other three.

On May 22, a German chef was shot and killed outside a bank in Riyadh. The assailants remain at large.

On May 1, a terrorist attack targeted the offices of an American energy company in the western city of Yanbu, killing six Westerners and a Saudi.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 25 journalists have been killed at work so far this year. Seventeen died in Iraq, with the other deaths occurring from Bangladesh to Haiti to Russia. In 2003, 37 journalists were killed on the job.