RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – A firebrand cleric who issued religious decrees for an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group was killed Wednesday during a car chase and shootout with police that also killed a policeman.
Abdullah Mohammed Rashid al-Roshoud (search), believed to be the chief ideologue for Al Qaeda (search) in the region, died in the clash in the al-Quds neighborhood in eastern Riyadh, a security official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The clash followed Saudi Arabian King Fahd's offer last week to not execute militant fugitives who surrender to police within one month. They will still face trial, however.
Al-Roshoud has called for a holy war against the Saudi royal family and Western interests in the Persian Gulf. He is the latest high-ranking member of an Al Qaeda-linked group killed in Saudi Arabia's crackdown on homegrown militants following a spate of terrorist attacks on Saudi soil.
A former high school professor of Islamic studies, al-Roshoud was known for writing statements on Islamic Internet sites and issuing fatwas, or religious edicts, justifying terrorist attacks against the Saudi government and foreign influences in the kingdom.
With his death, at least 10 of the 26 militants on a state-issued most wanted list have been killed, including the June 18 slaying of Abdulaziz al-Moqrin, Al Qaeda's leader in Saudi Arabia.
At least one other person on the list was believed to have been wounded and arrested earlier this month, while another — Othman Hadi Al Maqboul al-Amri — surrendered to Saudi authorities on Monday following Fahd's amnesty announcement.
An Interior Ministry statement said one militant — apparently al-Roshoud — and one policeman were killed in Wednesday's clash and six other security personnel were injured. Three bystanders, including one Saudi citizen, were also wounded in the afternoon attack.
Earlier, an official said two militants were killed. The difference could not be immediately reconciled.
The Interior Ministry statement, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, said police first noticed several suspicious people carrying weapons as they left a safe house also used for making explosives and got into a car in the northern Riyadh suburb of King Fahd.
Security forces called on the men to stop, the statement said, but they refused and shot at the police, who returned fire.
An official told the AP that a car chase ensued, followed by a gun battle. Another militant fled the scene in a stolen car.
Security forces sealed off the neighborhood, and police helicopters, patrol cars and ambulances converged on the scene.
State-run Saudi TV showed footage of a car, believed to have been the one driven by the militants, parked in the middle of a road with at least one bullet hole through its front window.
During the past year, Saudi Arabia has been rocked by homicide bombings, gunbattles and kidnappings targeting foreign workers. The attacks have been blamed on Al Qaeda and sympathizers of the anti-Western terror network headed by Saudi dissident Usama bin Laden (search).
The most recent attack was the June 12 kidnapping of American engineer Paul M. Johnson, Jr. (search), who was decapitated after the government rejected a demand to release all detained militants in the oil-rich country.