DAMMAM, Saudi Arabia – Saudi security forces stormed a villa where Islamic militants were holed up Tuesday, ending three days of fierce fighting that killed four policemen and a number of militants, a security official said.
Gunfire and explosions rocked the district in the eastern Saudi city of Dammam (search) for hours Tuesday morning as special forces dropped off by helicopter besieged the villa. At one point, an explosion blasted debris and sent smoke out of a neighboring building.
After noon, the fighting fell silent, and special forces buses were seen leaving the area. A security official confirmed that the fighting had ended and police were clearing the scene.
Some charred bodies were found inside the building, the official said, adding that four security troops were killed and 10 wounded during three days of fighting.
The official spoke condition of anonymity because of Interior Ministry rules. State-run television quoted unnamed security officials giving the same information.
The Interior Ministry has said the gunmen were affiliated with a "deviant group" — a term Saudis usually use for the local branch of Al Qaeda. The terrorist network wants to topple the Saudi royal family because of its close ties with the West, particularly the United States.
The fighting began Sunday when running battles between police and militants erupted in a seafront district of Dammam, killing two militants before other fighters fled to the apartment building, where they holed up.
Residents were kept awake on Monday by sporadic gunfire and the deafening explosions of rocket-propelled grenades fired by the special forces at the villa.
A convoy of security vehicles brought in fresh troops and ammunition Tuesday morning. A line of ambulances was parked at the perimeter of the battle zone.
Late Monday night, officials at Dammam Central Hospital (search) said about 30 Saudi police officers had been admitted, and some were critically wounded.
Security officials declined to give overall figures for the dead and wounded.
But late Monday, a security official said one of the two militants killed Sunday was No. 3 on the country's most-wanted list. He was identified as Zaid Saad Zaid al-Samari (search), 31, a Saudi sought in connection with the numerous terror attacks launched in the kingdom since May 2003.
The shootout caused the U.S. Embassy to close the American consulate in Dhahran, 15 miles southwest of Dammam, on Monday.
Since May 2003, Islamic militants have carried out numerous attacks, suicide bombings and kidnappings in the kingdom, tending to target Westerners in a bid to cripple the economy. Westerners occupy important positions in the oil industry.
The violence in Dammam flared as U.S. Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend (search) met King Abdullah (search) and other top Saudi officials Monday in Riyadh. The deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, also met the Saudi deputy defense minister, Prince Khalid Bin Sultan (search).