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Last Updated: Monday, 3 November, 2003, 14:59 GMT
Saudi police kill two militants
Thousands of Muslims gathering in Mecca for the Hajj ceremony
Mecca is the destination for millions of Muslim pilgrims every year
Police in Saudi Arabia have killed two militants in a clash in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi authorities say.

Officers surrounded a house during a security operation and came under fire, an official statement said.

Two men were killed - and a police officer injured - as they and four others tried to flee. A large cache of weapons was later found in their car.

This is the latest in a series of raids by Saudi authorities since May's suicide bombings in Riyadh killed 35.

The official Saudi Press Agency reported that the shoot out occurred as police surrounded two premises in Mecca's al-Sharia neighbourhood at 0800 (0500GMT).

"The terrorists began shooting heavily at security forces, using automatic rifles and hand grenades," the agency quoted an unnamed interior ministry official as saying.

Police fired back as the suspected militants attempted to flee the area in two cars. They hit one of the cars killing its two occupants.

A police officer was slightly injured in the attack.

Shock

Rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons and explosives were found inside the car, according to a statement on Saudi state television.

It is thought four people in the other car managed to escape and headed for mountains east of the city.

The BBC's John Simpson in Riyadh says many Saudis will be shocked that such an incident could happen in the important holy city of Mecca - during the holy month of Ramadan.

He said it was unclear whether the inhabitants of the two houses were planning an attack in the city itself.

The Saudi authorities have been stung by criticism from the United States that they have not done enough to combat terrorism in the country.

Since the bombings on Western compounds in Riyadh in May, the Saudis have launched a major crackdown - arresting 600 suspected militants - with the help of US and British intelligence services.

The latest incident follows a recent travel advisory from the UK Government, warning that extremists in the country "may be in the final phases of planning attacks".

The US Government warned its citizens in Saudi Arabia to be extra vigilant, saying militant groups may place "special operational significance" on the month of Ramadan.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's John Simpson
"One the cars was hit by the police fire"




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