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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 May, 2004, 17:48 GMT 18:48 UK
Gunmen 'killed 22' in Saudi city
Saudi special forces patrol outside the Oasis compound, 30 May 2004
Saudi special forces stormed the compound
Suspected al-Qaeda militants have killed 22 people - mostly foreigners - in the eastern Saudi city of Khobar, the interior ministry in Riyadh says.

The 25-hour crisis ended on Sunday, when Saudi commandos stormed a housing complex where militants had been holding dozens of people hostage.

Some of the captives were killed during the raid, but most are said to be safe.

Three of the militants escaped and a fourth - described as the ringleader - was arrested, the ministry said.

Its list of foreigners killed include people from Britain, Egypt, India, Italy, the Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, and the US.

VICTIMS' NATIONALITIES
One American
One Briton
One South African
One Swede
Eight Indians
One Italian
Two Sri Lankans
Three Saudis
Three Filipinos
One Egyptian
It is not clear whether the ministry total includes any foreigners killed during the commando operation.

Twenty-five people of different nationalities were wounded, the interior ministry added.

The crisis began on Saturday, when the gunmen went on a shooting spree in Khobar.

They first attacked company offices, killing a number of people. The body of one Westerner was tied to a car and dragged through the streets.

The militants then moved to the Oasis housing compound, where they seized several dozen people - mostly expatriates.

Western targets

The gunmen apparently tried to separate the Muslims from the non-Muslims, releasing five Lebanese nationals in the first few hours.


On Sunday morning, commandos were dropped by helicopter onto the roof of the housing block and moved in.

BBC Middle East correspondent Paul Wood says it was a huge gamble, but Saudi officials had little choice as the gunmen had begun executing hostages.

One survivor said some captives had tried to escape, but were caught and had their throats cut.

The Saudi ambassador to Britain, Turki al-Faisal, told the BBC that the bodies of nine hostages had been found on the premises when forces went in.

A statement purported to be from an al-Qaeda-linked group and posted on an Islamic website, said its militants had "slaughtered" an Italian and a Swedish hostage.

The claim could not be verified but was consistent with witness accounts.

An earlier statement purporting to come from an al-Qaeda-linked group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Oil

The incident is the latest in a series of attacks on the kingdom's oil industry - the world's largest.

My parents were in the compound and called me telling that they heard gunfire and explosions
Roland Said Mowad, Khobar

Our correspondent says that with oil at more than $40 a barrel, the attack is bad news for the world's economy.

He adds that by terrifying foreign workers in the oil industry, the militants are also undermining the ruling Saudi royal family - one of their stated aims.

Khobar, 400km (250 miles) north-east of Riyadh, is one of the centres of the Saudi oil industry, in which foreigners play a key role.

In early May, five foreigners were killed in an attack on a petrochemical site in the city of Yanbu.

The Saudi government launched a high-profile assault on militants following a triple bombing in Riyadh in May last year, which killed 35 including nine bombers.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Paul Wood
"Security forces moved in to end more than 24 hours of siege and terror in Khobar"



SEE ALSO:
Hostage compound 'for top bosses'
30 May 04  |  Middle East
Eyewitness reports from Saudi city
29 May 04  |  Middle East
In pictures: Khobar gun attack
29 May 04  |  In Pictures
Timeline: Saudi attacks
29 May 04  |  Middle East
Saudi Arabia's 'war on terror'
29 May 04  |  Middle East
Concern grows over Saudi stability
13 May 04  |  Middle East
Country profile: Saudi Arabia
29 May 04  |  Country profiles


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