Saudi Arabia's most wanted suspect in the hunt for the Riyadh bombers died in a gun battle with police yesterday in which four suspected terrorists were killed, officials said.
Turki Nasser al-Dandani, an alleged member of the al-Qa'ida terror network, was accused of involvement in the suicide bombings of Westerners' housing compounds in Riyadh on 12 May that killed 25 people and nine attackers. The attacks prompted the Saudis to mount a huge anti-terrorist operation.
An Interior Ministry official said: "[Dandani] was the most important figure on the list of 19 wanted for the Riyadh attacks. Our investigations showed he was part of the leadership."
Dandani and his associates had taken refuge in the house of a Muslim prayer leader in the town of Suweir, 550 miles northwest of the capital, Riyadh.
Police surrounded the building and ordered the suspects to give themselves up, but only the imam, his family and one suspected militant did so, an Interior Ministry statement said. A five-hour battle ensued, during which the suspects firedmachine-guns and threw hand grenades. Four suspects Dandani, another Saudi and two Kuwaitis were killed, and two security officers were wounded. Early reports said Dandani had blown himself up.
Three men, including a Syrian, were arrested for allegedly trying to smuggle Dandani and the others out of the country, the Interior Ministry said.
The Interior Ministry official said it was not surprising that the suspects had fought it out because militant groups had issued a fatwa "that describes security men as infidels and encourages killing them".
Saudi authorities have detained at least 125 people since the Riyadh attacks. Their crackdown has seen armed police manning checkpoints in the main cities, checking identity papers and searching cars.
The biggest catch so far was the suspected mastermind of the attacks, Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi, who surrendered on Saturday. Another success came when police raided an apartment in Mecca where they found members of a suspected terror cell allegedly planning attacks.
US counter-terrorism experts said Ghamdi's arrest would hamper al-Qa'ida's operations and Dandani's death was likely further to diminish the group's capacity.
The Interior Minister said last month that he believedal-Qa'ida was involved in the Riyadh suicide bombings.
"I think it is al-Qa'ida, and there might be other organisations who helped or worked closely in the attacks," Prince Nayef said.