Saudis Kill Suspects in Al-Qaida Oil Attack

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi forces on Monday killed five suspected militants believed to be linked to an al-Qaida attack on the world's biggest oil processing plant, the Saudi Interior Ministry said.

A shootout erupted at dawn after security forces besieged suspects in a villa in east Riyadh where several Western residential compounds are located.

An official statement said five men were killed and one other suspected militant was arrested elsewhere in the capital.

"Early this morning, security forces stormed a building in east Riyadh which a criminal gang was using as a centre for attacks and corruption," it said. "All five were killed after an intense exchange of fire."

The shootout took place days after al-Qaida suicide bombers tried to storm the Abqaiq oil facility in the first direct strike on a Saudi energy target since the militant group launched attacks aimed at toppling the U.S.-allied monarchy in 2003. The kingdom is the world's biggest oil exporter.

The men were hiding in a villa in a newly developed residential district near the al-Hamra area, where several Western housing compounds are located, security sources said.

Security sources said police had tracked down the militants after pursuing two vehicles that appeared on the surveillance video of the Abqaiq facility shortly before it was attacked.

One source said the men were also traced through Internet monitoring. An Internet statement issued over the weekend said al-Qaida was behind the Abqaiq attack.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki said police had seized a large cache of explosives at the villa and that the suspected militant was being interrogated. He declined to say if he was on a list of most wanted al-Qaida fugitives.

The Saudi wing of Osama bin Laden's network has been weakened by a government crackdown in which its leaders have been either killed or arrested.

Witnesses in Riyadh said they heard the sound of heavy gunfire and what appeared to be mortars as security forces surrounded the suburb and sealed it off before dawn.

"Around the time of dawn prayers, we heard the sound of shots and saw the sky light up. Then a short time later, there were heavy explosions," said journalist Odwan al-Ahmar, who lives in the area. The clashes trapped about two dozen worshippers in a mosque, he said.

The shootout ended after two hours with the deaths of all of the men inside the building, the security sources said.

The Abqaiq strike was the first major attack by militants opposed to the Saudi monarchy since suicide bombers tried to storm the Interior Ministry in Riyadh in December 2004.

Authorities say two of the bombers were on a list of top wanted al-Qaida-linked Islamic militants issued last year. Al-Qaida had previously identified them in an Internet statement posted on Saturday and vowed more attacks.

An Interior Ministry statement said the suicide bombers in Abqaiq had used two tons of explosives in their foiled attack, which caused a huge explosion at the gate of the facility.

The men killed on Monday have not yet been identified.