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Last Updated: Monday, 21 June, 2004, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
Ex-officer 'leads Saudi al-Qaeda'
Arabic TV montage of three militants reported killed on Friday
Muqrin (centre) was killed with two associates on Friday
An ex-Saudi policeman has become leader of the al-Qaeda militant group in Saudi Arabia, according to media reports from the troubled kingdom.

Saleh al-Oufi, 38, will take over from Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin, who was killed by police on Friday.

Saudi security forces have been hunting al-Qaeda members in Riyadh, following the execution of a US hostage.

Saudi analysts say the new leader will be a formidable foe as he been a key figure in the group since 1985.

Al-Qaeda is believed to have been behind the abduction and beheading of US defence worker Paul Johnson, the latest foreign victim of a series of militant operations in the kingdom.

Correspondents say the rise of Mr Oufi will do nothing to dispel suspicions that al-Qaeda is closely linked to members of the security forces in Saudi Arabia.

Soft targets

Adel al-Jubeir, adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah, repeated official denials of any militant-police links in an interview with US television network CNN.

"If that were the case they would not be going after soft targets, they would be going after government installations," Mr Jubeir said.

However, a pro-militant website has claimed police sympathisers provided uniforms and cars used during Paul Johnson's kidnapping.

An article recounting the abduction on the website Sawt al-Jihad, or Voice of the Holy War, said militants abducted Mr Johnson at a fake checkpoint on a main road outside Riyadh on 12 June.

The website thanked those "who are sincere to their religion in the security apparatus" who it said had provided the equipment used for the deception.

Experienced

Arab media reports say Mr Oufi was born in Medina, and after jobs with the Saudi police and prison service left in the early 1990s to join Muslim fighters in Afghanistan and Bosnia.

He reportedly returned to Saudi Arabia in 1995 after being wounded. Until now he had been responsible for training, recruitment and logistics, running secret al-Qaeda camps in the kingdom.

Saudi analysts say his experience and origins will make him a more effective leader than Muqrin was.

"Saleh al-Oufi is the most dangerous" of the Al-Qaeda lieutenants left alive in Saudi Arabia, says a report in al-Hayat newspaper.

He is reported to have met al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan shortly before the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States.


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