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‘Show us where the Americans live’

Khobar (Saudi Arabia), May 30 (Reuters): “Are you Muslim or Christian' We don’t want to kill Muslims. Show us where the Americans and Westerners live,” Islamic militants told an Arab after launching a shooting spree on Westerners in Saudi Arabia.

The four gunmen, aged 18 to 25 and wearing military vests, grabbed Abu Hashem, an Iraqi with a US passport, in front of his home in the Oasis compound in Khobar but let him go when he told them he was a Muslim.

“Don’t be afraid. We won’t kill Muslims even if you are an American,” he quoted them as saying.

The Oasis compound, where suspected al Qaida militants held about 50 foreigners hostage, was the last target in a rampage that struck oil firms and residential compounds in the oil city of Khobar where at least 17 people were killed yesterday.

Saudi commandos rescued most of the hostages today after storming the building where the militants had seized them.

Some of the hostages, mostly Westerners, were taken to hospital and others to hotels but most were too shaken to speak to journalists.

There were reports that the gunmen had killed several hostages, but details were unclear.

Some of the foreign residents interviewed said they wanted to leave the oil-rich Gulf state which has waged a year-long campaign against militants loyal to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida.

Abu Hashem, the director of a Saudi firm who has been in Khobar for six months, said he wanted to move to Bahrain.

He said the four gunmen had been polite and calm.

“They gave me a lecture on Islam and said they were defending their country and ridding it of infidels,” he said at Qusaibi hotel.

“The gunmen were so polite. I cannot comprehend this politeness they showed me because I am a Muslim and this cruelty to others,” said Abu Hashem, who declined to give his first name.

He said that while talking to the gunmen he saw the bloodied body of a Swedish cook who worked in the compound. He had been shot dead.

An American, a Briton, an Egyptian, two Filipinos, an Indian, a Pakistani and nine Saudis, mostly security men, were also killed yesterday, security sources said.

A purported al Qaida statement claimed responsibility for the attack.

The group has repeatedly vowed to rid the Arabian peninsula of “infidels”.

Lebanese Abdulsalam Hakawti, a 38-year-old financial director, was at home with his wife and two-year-old son when he heard someone storm through the door of his villa in the Oasis complex.

They ran upstairs with one militant in hot pursuit.

“Asalam Alaykum,” Hakawati said he told the militant using the traditional Muslim greeting.

“(The gunman) told me ‘Our jihad is not against Muslims but against Americans and Westerners’ and asked me to show him which villas had Americans and Westerners.”

Hakawati, who escaped last year’s deadly suicide bombing on a housing compound in the capital Riyadh, said he told the young bearded gunman, dressed in a T-shirt and navy trousers, that he had only been in Khobar for three days.

There have a string of attacks in Saudi Arabia in the past year, including suicide bombings and shootings.

“These militants have robbed us of any feeling of security,” said Abu Yasser, a 42-year-old Jordanian whose Oasis villa became a refuge for several terrified neighbours.

“This is home, I have been living in this country for 40 years and I would not leave. The country has changed but I won’t leave, all my family is here,” he said.

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