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Twin car bombings rock Saudi capital


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RIYADH (AFP) - Saudi forces killed seven militants in a shootout in Riyadh late on Wednesday after twin car bomb attacks against security targets in the latest strike by extremists waging a campaign of violence in the oil-rich kingdom.

The swift response to the bombings, as detailed in an official account early Thursday, was reminiscent of the killing last June of the local leader of the al-Qaeda terror network and three associates in the Saudi capital shortly after they posted website photos of the beheading of a US hostage.

An interior ministry statement portrayed at least one of the two bombings as a suicide attack and said there were so far no reports of fatalities among security men or civilians, although several were wounded in the two blasts.

"Before 9.00 pm Wednesday (2.00 am Thursday Brunei Time), members of the deviant group (the official term for suspected al-Qaeda militants) blew up a car loaded with a large amount of explosives outside the interior ministry building in Riyadh," the statement said.

Five ministry guards were lightly wounded and a sixth sustained moderate injuries. A number of people who were present at the scene were also wounded and hospitalised, the ministry said without giving an exact figure.

Al-Eqtissadiyah daily newspaper however said later Thursday that a Pakistani taxi driver and a Saudi security man were killed in the attack against the interior ministry.

"At the same time, (another) car laden with explosives drove to the special security forces base in east Riyadh ... but security forces were able to intercept it before it arrived to the building. Whoever was inside (the vehicle) detonated it at a distance of more than 350 metres from the entrance," the statement said.

It said 12 people inside the building sustained slight injuries from flying glass, "and a number of citizens and (foreign) residents who were on the scene" were also wounded.

"While these deviant people were carrying out their dreadful acts, security forces were lying in wait for them ... Those who did this - numbering seven - were eliminated after they resisted security forces at a location in northern Riyadh at 10.00 pm (3.00 am)," the statement said.

The ministry account confirmed those by security men at the sites of Wednesday's bombings and ensuing shootout, although the earlier reports said four members of the security forces were seriously wounded in the gunbattle.

The ministry did not reveal the identities of the slain militants, but the sequence of events was similar to those of June 18 when security forces gunned down al-Qaeda's local chief Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin and three comrades.

Authorities said at the time the four were shot dead in Riyadh shortly after their "al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula" posted grisly photos on websites showing the beheading of American aeronautics engineer Paul Johnson.

The beheading climaxed a spate of fatal attacks against Westerners in the kingdom by suspected al-Qaeda extremists who launched a campaign of bombings and shootings in May 2003.

In Wednesday's first blast, a car tried to crash through a gate outside the interior ministry building, triggering a shootout with security guards before the vehicle blew up, witnesses said.

Interior ministry spokesman Mansur al-Turki told AFP several people, mostly civilians, were injured in what was "apparently a suicide operation," adding that "human remains were found in the car which exploded."

The second car bomb exploded outside the special security forces base after trying to ram its way in, leading to a firefight with guards, security sources said. Turki described that attack as a suicide operation.


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