Saudi Arabia's most-wanted man in the Riyadh bombings died in a fierce shootout with police on Thursday that left a total of four terror suspects dead, officials said, in a major success in the crackdown on militants.
Turki Nasser al-Dandani, an alleged member of the Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror network, was accused in the suicide bombings of Westerners' housing compounds in Riyadh on May 12 that killed 25 people and nine attackers. The attacks sparked outrage here and led to a huge anti-terrorist sweep.
"He was the most important figure on the list of 19 wanted for the Riyadh attacks. Our investigations showed he was part of the leadership," an Interior Ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
Police swooped down early Thursday on al-Dandani and his associates, who were holed up in the house of a Muslim prayer leader in the town of Suweir, 900km northwest of the capital, Riyadh, the official said.
Authorities ordered the suspects to give themselves up, but only the imam, his family, and one suspected militant stepped from the house. Then began a five-hour battle, during which the suspects unleashed machine-gun fire and hurled hand grenades as security forces returned fire, an Interior Ministry statement said.
Four suspects -- al-Dandani, another Saudi and two Kuwaiti nationals -- were killed, while two security officers were wounded, the Interior Ministry said.
Earlier, officials said al-Dandani had blown himself up, but it was unclear late Thursday how he died.
Three men, including a Syrian, were also arrested for allegedly trying to smuggle al-Dandani and the others out of the country, the statement said, giving no further details.
The Interior Ministry official said it was not surprising that the suspects had fought it out -- militant groups have issued a fatwa religious edict "that describes security men as infidels and encourages killing them," he said.
Saudi authorities have detained at least 125 people since the May 12 attacks in their sweep, which has seen armed police manning checkpoints in major cities, checking identity papers and searching cars.
Their biggest catch so far was the suspected mastermind of the Riyadh attacks, Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi, who surrendered on Saturday.
US counterterrorism officials in Washington predicted that al-Ghamdi's arrest would severely hamper al-Qaeda's operations in Saudi Arabia, and al-Dandani's death was likely to further diminish the group's capacity.