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Saudi Raid Kills 3 Qaeda Suspects

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CBS/AP
Shell casings littered the hallways and blood stained the floors at a hospital housing compound Wednesday, a day after Saudi security forces killed three suspected al Qaeda militants — including one sought by the FBI.

In a shootout that lasted for hours, security forces stormed the compound seeking five militants who had barricaded themselves inside the three-story building, which houses many foreign hospital workers in southern Saudi Arabia near the border with Yemen.

The Interior Ministry said one security officer died in the firefight, two militants were arrested and three were killed. One of them was Zubayr Al-Rimi, one of four men with alleged links to al Qaeda listed in a special FBI bulletin issued just before the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The fight involving automatic weapons and hand grenades ended Tuesday afternoon in Jizan, 600 miles south of the capital, Riyadh, an area where many people have cross-border tribal and family contacts in Yemen, the birthplace of Osama bin Laden.

"I was terrified," said a resident of the complex who only gave his first name, Usman.

Inside the deserted complex, an Associated Press reporter saw shot up doors, blood on the floors and staircase as well as shards of glass and shell casings. Tear gas fumes were still strong more than 18 hours after the battle.

Al-Rimi, also known as Sultan Jubran Sultan al-Qahtani, lived near Jihan, in Asir. His body was identified by his father, the Saudi newspaper Al-Riyadh reported.

The FBI issued a bulletin Sept. 5 saying it was searching worldwide for al-Rimi, another Saudi, a Moroccan and a Tunisian in connection with possible terrorist threats against the United States.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described al-Rimi as the chief deputy of Abu Bakr al-Azdi, the former top al Qaeda man in Saudi Arabia who surrendered to Saudi authorities on June 26.

Al-Rimi's name appears on a Saudi list of militants connected to the May 12 suicide bombings at foreign housing complexes in Riyadh that killed 35 people, including the nine attackers, according to a Saudi Interior Ministry official.

Saudi officials have said the 19 were in contact with al Qaeda, the terror group suspected in the Sept. 11 attacks. At least 11 of the 19 have been killed or arrested.

Tuesday's police raid was intended to capture militants planning a terror attack, according to an official statement on Saudi state television.

Security officials initially said the gunmen had taken several foreign hostages at King Fahd Hospital. The Interior Ministry statement and later television reports did not mention hostages, but Al-Jazeera television's Web site said all hostages were released.

The hospital building was part of a complex housing about 3,000 foreigners — mostly from the Indian subcontinent, the Philippines and the Far East — as well as Saudis. The May 12 suicide bombings targeted three expatriate compounds.

A Saudi daily, Al-Watan, cited unidentified sources as saying a hospital pharmacist and his wife, a doctor who also worked at the hospital, had allowed the suspects to use their apartment in the complex.

The Saudi government has cracked down on Islamic militants since the May 12 attacks, arresting more than 200 suspects and killing more than a dozen in police raids.

"We have a big terrorism problem in our country and I don't know how we're going to solve it," said Hussein Ahmed, a 24-year-old taxi driver in Jizan. "All we hear about is people dying. We don't feel safe in our own homeland."

Jizan had been a site of earlier sweeps in the anti-terror crackdown. Saudi officials said in May they had confiscated weapons here. The town is near Saudi Arabia's porous, 1,116-mile border with Yemen, a tribal country where illegal arms trading is rampant.