Saudi police on Monday raided a farm where suspected militants were believed to be holed up, engaging in a fire fight that left six suspects and two officers dead. The latest in the kingdom's almost weekly raids on alleged terror cells comes after a US Congress report accused Saudi Arabia of not doing enough to counter terrorism.
In a speech during a Cabinet meeting, King Fahd praised the efforts of security officials, saying the shootout "showed the determination" of the kingdom "to deter anyone who would consider violating the security of the nation and its citizens," the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
The shootout took place in al-Qassim, 350km northwest of the capital, Riyadh, state-run TV quoted a Ministry of Interior statement as saying.
It began after the suspects, armed with guns and hand grenades, refused an order to surrender by police surrounding the farm, the statement said.
One militant and eight police were injured, and four people were arrested for harboring the suspects.
"For a long time al-Qassim has been a hotbed of militant views," says Mansour al-Nogaidan, a journalist for the al-Riyadh daily from the same area. "With this shootout today and the discovery of hidden arms there last week, its seems that there are many sympathizers for militants from the region and in the region."
On July 21, police arrested 16 suspects linked to al-Qaeda, the terror network blamed for the Riyadh bombings and the Sept. 11 attacks, and unearthed an arsenal of weapons that included 20 tons of bomb-making chemicals, detonators, rocket-propelled grenades and rifles from farms in al-Qassim, Riyadh and the Eastern province.
About 200 suspects have been reported arrested and more than a dozen killed in police shootouts in a series of raids throughout the kingdom since suicide attacks in Riyadh on May 12 which killed 25 people and nine attackers.
The raids also followed repeated calls from the US government for Saudi Arabia to do more to curb Islamic militancy after Sept. 11, and the release last week of the Congress report on the intelligence failures before the attacks. Of the 19 hijackers in the attacks, 15 were Saudi.
But Khalid al-Matrafi, deputy chief editor for al-Watan newspaper, said the recent arrests and raids appear to be the result of intelligence gained from jailed suspects and nothing to do with US pressure.
"This is not a case of an action and a reaction. This has nothing to do with the Congress report, it has to do with detailed information received by the Interior Ministry about armed assailants," al-Matrafi said.
The unclassified version of the report also said that one suspected organizer still at large paid many of the expenses of two Sept. 11 hijackers and "had access to seemingly unlimited funding from Saudi Arabia." It did not say if Saudi government funds were involved.
Writer Turki al-Hamad said that if the question was one of support for people who later turned out to be with al-Qaeda, then the US government is as much to blame as the Saudi government for the Sept. 11 attacks.
"The Saudi authorities might have, without their knowledge, donated money that ended up with terrorist organizations, but that doesn't mean they're responsible for what happened. By this same logic, the United States is responsible for founding al-Qaeda because they initially financed and supported what at the time they called freedom fighters fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan," said al-Hamad, who writes for the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.