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Twenty-two killed in Saudi attacks
Updated: 2004-05-31 09:11

Twenty-two people were killed in weekend attacks in this Saudi oil city by gunmen who slit the throats of several foreigners, before commandos stormed a housing complex to rescue dozens of hostages.

Saudi special forces take position in front of the Oasis housing compound. Twenty-two people were killed in weekend attacks in this Saudi oil city by gunmen who slit the throats of several foreigners, before commandos stormed a housing complex to rescue dozens of hostages. [AFP]

The interior ministry on Sunday listed the dead as: eight Indians, three Filipinos, three Saudis, two Sri Lankans, one American, one Briton, an Italian, a Swede, a South African and an Egyptian. However, the breakdown of the deaths in the series of attacks was not immediately clear.

Another 25 people from various countries were wounded in the attacks which were launched Saturday on the offices of several oil companies and only ended 24 hours later when Saudi forces stormed the upmarket Oasis housing compound where the gunmen had taken the hostages, it said in a statement.

The ministry said three of the gunmen managed to escape after seizing a car at gunpoint after the commandos stormed the sprawling compound. A fourth, their alleged leader, was wounded and captured, it said. He was identified only as one of the kingdom's "most wanted."

The attacks were purportedly claimed by the Al-Qaeda terror group in a statement posted on an Islamist website and which could not be verified.

A second statement later vowed to "cleanse the Arabian Peninsula of infidels".

The hostage rescue drama was brought to a close when 40 Saudi commandos leaped from a helicopter onto the roof of the complex just before 5:30 a.m. (0230 GMT) as automatic gunfire rang out.

The ministry said 41 hostages were rescued and another 201 people who were trapped in the sprawling residential area were helped to flee.

Nine foreigners, seven Asians, a Swede and an Italian, had their throats slit by the militants when they tried to escape overnight, some of the freed hostages told AFP.

"The nine had their throats cut by the kidnappers when they tried to escape at night by the stairs," said Nijar Hijazin, as the corpses were carried out of the compound at Al-Khobar in the kingdom's oil-rich Eastern Province.

Fellow Jordanian hostage Hazem al-Damen said he had seen the bodies of the Italian and the Swede with "their throats cut in one of the bathrooms."

Both worked in the restaurant in the main building in the complex, he said.

Damen told how two gunmen who looked to be around 20 and 21 knocked on his door on Saturday morning.

"They asked us if we were Muslims or Christians," Damen said. "As we replied we were Muslims they told us to stay in the room, adding they wanted to throw out the Americans and the Europeans.

"They were calm and advised us to grow beards and wear Islamic dress."

About 20 of the hostages were set free Saturday night, and some 60 other residents were evacuated in armoured vehicles and ambulances.

The interior ministry said the gunmen had initially tried to enter the compound with a car bomb but were unable to gain access, so they climbed over the walls with their weapons.

The gunman's reign of terror began in Al-Khobar on Saturday when they went on a shooting spree at a local office of the Arab Petroleum Investment Corp and a Petroleum Center where oil firms have offices.

The kingdom's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, had said around 10 Saudis and foreigners were killed in Saturday's attacks. It was unclear when the other three people listed in the official toll were killed and if it included security personnel.

The attacks are the latest carried out by Al-Qaeda sypathizers to cause havoc in Saudi Arabia over the past year which have claimed dozens of lives and left hundreds wounded.

At least one of those killed was an American and the US embassy promptly renewed its call for US citizens to leave Saudi Arabia.

The British government also confirmed that one Briton was killed on Saturday. London newspapers reported his body was dragged for over a mile (well over a kilometre) behind a car.

It was the second time in less than a month that presumed followers of Saudi-born extremist and Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) have struck at oil-linked installations and Westerners in the kingdom.

The latest attacks took place just four weeks after another shooting rampage against Western oil workers in the Red Sea port of Yanbu on May 1, in which two Americans, two Britons and an Australian died.

Another Western expatriate -- a German caterer with the Saudi national carrier -- was shot dead in the capital Riyadh on May 22.

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil producer and exporter and perhaps the only country with a viable spare production capacity, moved quickly to reassure a jittery market that supplies would be maintained and a promised raise in output honoured.

"Saudi Arabia has made a commitment to the world and to our friends in America, and we will keep it regardless of those who object to it, particularly those terrorists," Saudi ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar bin Sultan told Fox television overnight.

The claim for the weekend violence was posted on a website said the attacks and hostage-taking were conducted by "four mujahedeen," or Islamic fighters.

"We renew our determination to repel the crusader forces and their arrogance, to liberate the land of Muslims, to apply sharia (Islamic law) and cleanse the Arabian Peninsula of infidels," it said.

The message, signed by the "Al-Qaeda Organisation in the Arabian Peninsula", headed by Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin, a Saudi, said one of the fighters was killed, naming him as "the hero Nimer bin Suhaj al-Baqmi".

Muqrin tops a Saudi list of most-wanted terror suspects, which has been reduced to 18 since it was released amid a massive crackdown on suspected Al-Qaeda sympathizers.

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