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Saudi behead backlash on Qaida

Riyadh, June 19 (Reuters): Saudi authorities said today they had killed al Qaida’s leader in the kingdom and three other prominent militants, hours after the group carried out its threat to behead US hostage Paul Johnson.

State television broadcast pictures of four bloodied corpses. It named the dead men as Abdulaziz al-Muqrin, Saudi Arabia’s most wanted man, and three others behind the recent surge of violence against foreigners in the kingdom.

Twelve others were arrested, including one senior militant believed to have been involved in the 2000 bombing of the US warship Cole off the coast of neighbouring Yemen.

“This is a massive blow to the militants,” a source close to Saudi security officials said. “A huge number of the group around Muqrin were taken out last night — killed or arrested.”

The men were killed in a shootout last night as they tried to dispose of the body of Johnson, who was beheaded after the Saudi government refused to free Islamist prisoners by a Friday deadline set by Muqrin’s cell. Muqrin’s group had posted photographs of Johnson’s severed head on a website, six days after the 49-year-old aviation engineer was kidnapped in Riyadh.

The televised pictures of the four dead militants appeared aimed at refuting a purported al Qaida statement posted on an Islamist website which denied Muqrin was dead.

An interior ministry statement read out on television named the other three dead militants as Faisal al-Dakheel, Turki al-Muteiri and Ibrahim al-Dreihim. Dakheel was wanted for killings including that of an American in Riyadh, it said.

Muteiri was one of the militants who escaped after an attack on foreigners in the Gulf city of Khobar in May and Dreihim had been involved in preparation of the bombing of an expatriate residential compound in Riyadh in November, it said.

The statement said the four men were tracked down to a petrol station in the Malazz district of central Riyadh.

“Immediately security forces surrounded them and there was a fierce exchange of fire which resulted in the deaths of all four. It also resulted in the death of one member of the security forces and the wounding of two others,” it said.

Security forces found three cars, including one used in an attack earlier this month on a BBC television crew in Riyadh, it added.

They also found guns, three rocket-propelled grenades, 16 pipe bombs, 10 hand grenades and currency worth around $37,000.

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