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Shootout in Mecca

Jeddah, June 15 (Reuters): Saudi Arabia, reeling from suicide bombings that killed 35 people last month, today said several suspected “terrorists” were killed and others arrested in a shootout in the holy city of Mecca.

State-owned television said the men had been plotting an “imminent terrorist attack”.

Saudi officials said the suspects were also wanted for other crimes, but declined to say if they were linked to last month’s suicide bomb blasts in Riyadh which targeted foreigners and have been blamed on Saudi-born Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network.

The television said said five “terrorists” and two policemen were killed in clashes after police raided an apartment building in the middle class al-Khalidiya district last evening.

It quoted an interior ministry source saying the apartment was rigged with explosives and that police found 72 homemade bombs, machine guns, ammunition, communication devices and chemical substances used for making explosives.

“Security forces at 21:30 on Saturday night raided a group of terrorists living in an apartment...in Mecca who were planning an imminent terrorist attack,” the television quoted the source as saying.

Five people were arrested — two Chad nationals, one Egyptian, one Saudi and a fifth whose nationality was not known — in addition to several other suspects, the television said.

It said further details of the raid would be issued soon.

The Okaz daily, close to the authorities, had earlier reported that five suspects were killed and seven held after fleeing to the building after a car chase with police. Five policemen were killed and five wounded. It said five policemen were killed and five wounded. Okaz said the suspects had fled to the building after a car chase with police. Authorities found large amounts of explosives and weapons in the apartment where the men were hiding.

An Indian migrant worker who lives in the area said he was shot at overnight by three men who tried to take his car, in an apparently related incident.

“Three men with machineguns tried to take over my car. I refused to drive them, so they made me get out, then they shot back at me as they drove off,” Abdul-Khaliq Raheem Sheikh, 50, said. Sheikh, who was injured by broken glass, said police had cordoned off the area.

Residents of the nearby port city of Jeddah reported two-mile traffic tailbacks into Mecca amid security checks, including inspections of women’s handbags, a rare step in a country which enforces strict gender segregation.

Saudi officials would not confirm how many people had been killed or arrested or comment on a newspaper report that one of the arrested men was wearing a belt strapped with explosives. “The situation is under control,” an official source said.

“Security forces managed to arrest seven wanted people and five were killed during the storming of a building in the Khalidiya district where terrorist elements were thought to be,” Okaz said.

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