Raid in Saudi Arabia Kills Suspected Al Qaeda Chief

Published March 16, 2004

| Associated Press

Saudi Arabia pledged Tuesday to wipe out terror activity in the kingdom after a raid that killed the suspected Al Qaeda (search) chief on the Arabian peninsula — a man believed to have once been a bodyguard for Usama bin Laden (search).

Three of Saudi Arabia's 26 most-wanted militants are dead and hundreds of suspected extremists have been rounded up as a result of raids to seize weapons and Islamic militants. The latest raid, which resulted in the deaths Monday of Khaled Ali Haj and an accomplice, was thought to be an important blow to Al Qaeda's regional operation.

The killings and arrests are part of an aggressive anti-terror campaign that began after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, carried out by 19 Arab hijackers, most of them Saudi. The campaign gained momentum following bombings in Riyadh last May that killed 51 people. Saudi and U.S. officials have blamed both those attacks on Al Qaeda.

Since the Riyadh bombings, police have arrested Islamic militants and seized weapons, set up roadblocks and bolstered security around embassies, government buildings and foreigners' housing complexes.

The Interior Ministry identified those killed Monday as Haj, a Yemeni, and Ibrahim bin Abdul-Aziz bin Mohammed al-Mezeini, a Saudi. Haj, believed to have been bin Laden's former bodyguard, was third on the government's list of Saudi Arabia's 26 most wanted militants. Al-Mezeini was not on the list.

The 26 militants are wanted in connection with the Riyadh bombings.

Haj, who also used the name Abu Hazim al-Sha'ir, was the "most dangerous" Al Qaeda operative in the region, a ministry official said on condition of anonymity. Saudi security sources said that the authorities who tracked down Haj acted on a tip, but they gave no other details.

Haj is believed to have trained in Al Qaeda's Afghan camps in 1999. Before the Sept. 11 attacks, he traveled frequently to the Arabian Peninsula, Southeast Asia and Afghanistan. U.S. officials have also linked him to the May bombings, and possibly to some Saudi-based planning of operations targeting the United States.

In addition to the security measures, the government has cracked down on terror financing, banning donations in mosques and establishing a new national agency to oversee all charitable donations being disbursed abroad.

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said the kingdom's efforts have paid off.

"Saudi Arabia has announced it is fully pledged to eradicate terrorist activities in the country and to cooperate in the international arena with everybody that is fighting (terrorism)," Saud said.

"We are happy with the successes," the prince told a news conference with visiting British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. "We know the successes haven't finished the issue, but we will continue on the same course."

Straw commended Saudi efforts to fight terror.

"We greatly value the determination of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its government to fight terrorism in all its forms," Straw said. "We have been seeking to increase and to deepen the practical cooperation which we and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have."

Officials attribute the progress in the kingdom's anti-terror campaign in part to the arrest of scores of militants who have offered information on suspected terrorists. Officials also point to an Interior Ministry list of the names and photographs of 26 men the government has described as the country's most wanted terror suspects.

The list, published in Saudi newspapers, offers rewards for those who call a hot line with information on planned terror acts, terror groups or wanted terrorists.

Western diplomats say the job of rounding up Saudi Arabia's terrorists remains daunting despite the kingdom's efforts. The militants work in small cells of three or four people. They use disguises — women's wigs and makeup have been found in one raid — and false identity cards and passports. And they have a network of sympathizers who offer shelter and money.

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