Saudis: Country's Al Qaeda Leader Killed in Shootout

Al Qaeda's (search) leader in Saudi Arabia was killed Thursday during clashes with police in the western city of Medina, the Interior Ministry said.

Saleh Mohammed al-Aoofi (search) was among six Al Qaeda militants reported killed during police raids on numerous locations in the holy city and the capital, Riyadh, security officials told The Associated Press.

Al-Aoofi, a Saudi in his late 30s, and another militant were killed during one of seven police raids in Medina, the Interior Ministry said.

Al-Aoofi was considered the top leader of Saudi dissident Usama bin Laden's (search) network in this conservative Gulf country, which has been rocked by multiple terror attacks since 2003.

He was among two of the kingdom's 26 most-wanted militants still at large. The other 24 on the list issued in December 2003 either have been captured or killed.

It was not immediately clear whether the other militants killed Thursday were on a separate list of 36 suspects issued recently.

Interior Ministry officials also said at least one militant was arrested in Riyadh and 10 were detained in Medina, 450 miles to the west, where the country's new monarch, King Abdullah (search), was meeting Islamic clerics and tribal leaders.

Heavily armed police raided six Al Qaeda hideouts in Medina (search) near the mosque where Islam's Prophet Muhammad was buried before coming across a seventh, where al-Aoofi and two others were holed up, the Interior Ministry said.

"They (the militants) opened fire heavily on the security forces and the pedestrians" before police returned fire, a ministry statement said. "Investigators were able to prove through verification procedures that one of the two killed is the wanted Saleh al-Aoofi."

The identity of the other slain militant was not released, while the third was wounded and arrested.

Al-Aoofi, a former prison guard, reportedly fought in Chechnya and traveled to Afghanistan to join Al Qaeda shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks.

There he met men who would later become his comrades in the Saudi terror network, according to Saudi newspaper reports. One was among the nine homicide attackers involved the May 12, 2003, car bombing of foreigners' housing compounds in Riyadh that killed 35 people.

In Riyadh, police also raided an apartment in the northern al-Massef neighborhood at about 6 a.m. Thursday, sparking a shootout with militants holed up inside.

"Security forces during the early morning stormed a number of places in Riyadh and Medina, where it is suspected some of those affiliated to the deviant group were hiding," ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

Authorities here regularly refer to militants belonging to the Saudi branch of Al Qaeda as the "deviant group."

Another security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said four militants were killed in the Riyadh shootout, during which a hand grenade was thrown at the police but did not explode.

The Interior Ministry statement said human remains found at the Riyadh site indicated that at least one suspect was blown apart in an explosion, the nature of which was not immediately clear.

The nationalities of the militants killed in Riyadh and the third arrested here were not immediately clear.

Police helicopters hovered over the Riyadh apartment as security forces sealed off the area, preventing pedestrians or vehicles from entering or leaving the scene.

After the clashes ended, police entered the apartment and found weapons, explosives and various documents inside, the Interior Ministry said.

Since May 2003, Islamic militants have carried out numerous suicide bombings and kidnappings and regularly battled security forces. The attacks, which have tended to target Westerners and housing complexes were Westerners live, have been blamed on Al Qaeda and its allies.