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Last Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Profile: Saudi al-Qaeda leader
Salih al-Awfi in an image released by the Saudi security services
Salih al-Awfi was wanted by the Saudi authorities
Salih Muhammad Awadallah al-Alawi Awfi allegedly became the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula on 20 June 2004 following the killing of Abd-al-Aziz Muqrin.

Awfi was himself killed during a police raid in the holy city of Medina on 18 August 2005. He was number five on the list of Saudi Arabia's 26 most wanted.

He grew up in Medina, western Saudi Arabia, and studied at the Sayf al-Dawlah al-Hamadhani Middle School in the city's Duwaymah neighbourhood.

After finishing his studies, Awfi moved to Riyadh and attended a course on prison affairs. He graduated in 1988 as a private first-class in the Saudi prison service.

According to a report by Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh, Awfi was disciplined several times for "unbecoming conduct" in the prison service.

Troublemaker

Afterwards, he returned to his hometown, Medina, where he worked at the Khaybar Prison and, later, as a soldier in the city's General Prison.

Awfi worked in Medina for a further three years before being dismissed for troublemaking and frequent absenteeism.

Like his predecessor Abd-al-Aziz Muqrin, Awfi left Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s and travelled to Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia.

Al-Riyadh's report claims that Awfi fought in the Russo-Chechen war of 1994-96, in which he suffered a serious head injury.

The newspaper alleges that Awfi, after recovering, became a car salesman, using this as an excuse to travel to Europe, where he was able to contact with militant cells operating there.

Hostage killing

The Saudi authorities first mentioned Awfi as a member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in December 2003.

They claimed that Awfi and Muqrin were members of the Ishbiliyah - the Arabic name for Seville - terrorist cell operating in the Kingdom, and that the pair had masterminded the bombing of the Muhayyah residential compound in Riyadh on 9 November 2003 that killed 17 people.

The group followed up the Muhayyah bombing with the beheading of Paul Johnson, a 49-year old American aerospace worker, on 18 June 2004.

Saudi security forces stormed their hideout in Riyadh looking for Johnson's murderers and killed Muqrin in the ensuing gun battle.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula announced on its website, Sawt al-Jihad, that "elements in the Saudi police provided the group that carried out the operations with official uniforms and police vehicles and set up false roadblocks".

This had enabled them to stop Johnson's car, drug and abduct him.

On 20 June, al-Arabiya TV reported that Awfi had succeeded Muqrin as leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. However, Awfi's alleged appointment has been repeatedly cast in doubt since.

London's al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper reported that Saud Hamud Ubayd al-Qutayni al-Utaybi, who was killed in al-Rass on 5 April 2005, has been Muqrin's designated successor rather than Awfi.

Bomb Blast

Despite such claims, Awfi remained an important target for the Saudi authorities. His wife and his three children were reportedly arrested in July 2004 in an attempt to pressure him to surrender.

Various reports of his death appeared in the media until Qatar's al-Jazeera TV broadcast on 17 March 2005 an audio message attributed to Awfi, in which he announced support for Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and praised militant activities in Kuwait earlier that year.

According to Hani al-Sibai, director of the London-based Maqrizi Centre for Historical Studies, Awfi may also have been connected with a car bomb blast outside a theatre in Qatar that killed one Briton and injured 12 other people on 20 March 2005.

Mr Sibai pointed out that Awfi's message on 17 March had mentioned Qatar by name for the first time and had incited the "jihadist groups" in the Gulf states and Qatar to carry out suicidal operations.

Awfi was killed by Saudi security forces in clashes in Medina on 18 August 2005, having been found in a hideout near the Mosque of the Prophet just hours before a visit by King Abdallah.


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