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Last Updated: Monday, 28 July, 2003, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Eight killed in Saudi shoot-out
Six suspected Muslim militants and two policemen have been killed in a shoot-out at a farm in north-eastern Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Interior has said.

Security forces surrounded the alleged militant hideout in al-Qassim province, north of the capital Riyadh, just before dawn on Monday.

Four people were arrested on suspicion of hiding the suspects, and large numbers of weapons and explosives seized, officials said.

This is the third such operation since Saudi authorities launched a crackdown on suspected militants following May's suicide attacks on Western compounds in Riyadh.

The raid on the farm, near the town of Bureida, was said to have been a combined operation between Saudi intelligence and security police.

Officers evacuated women and children before asking the men to turn themselves in. When they refused, fighting broke out, with the suspects using guns and hand grenades.

One alleged militant and eight policemen were also said to have been injured in the fighting.

US accusations

The Saudi authorities began a determined campaign to break up and destroy suspected terrorist cells following the Riyadh attacks on 12 May in which 35 people, including nine bombers, were killed.

It also followed criticism from the United States, that Saudi Arabia had not done enough to prevent the activities of such groups.

Al-Hamra compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia after the 12 May 2003 attack
A crackdown on militants was launched after the Riyadh attacks
US officials have told the BBC they are pleased with the measures being taken by Saudi officials since the Riyadh attacks.

But the BBC's Frank Gardner says both Saudi and Western diplomats privately do not rule out the possibility of another similar bomb attack.

Saudi Arabia reacted angrily to a US congressional report last week which accused Riyadh of assisting those who carried out the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington, and of failing to co-operate with the US intelligence agencies.

The White House has blocked publication of 28 pages in the report which deals with the alleged Saudi involvement, so full details of the accusations are not known.

But Khaled al-Maeena, editor-in-chief of Arab News in Jeddah, dismissed suggestions that the latest raid might be in response to the US allegations.

"The government is more worried about the security and stability of this country," he told BBC News.

He said the presence of militants were of great concern to a country "where there is no civil crime".

Such operations show the government's "resolve to relentlessly hunt down these people", he said.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jane Bennett-Powell
"The Saudi authorities have been mounting intensive moves against Muslim militants"




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