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Saudi Officials Say Khobar Hostages Freed - 2004-05-30

Saudi commandos freed about 50 hostages early Sunday, and captured suspected Islamic militants, who stormed a housing compound Saturday in the Saudi city of Khobar, killing at least 10 people and taking the hostages. When the commandos landed on the roof of the building Sunday morning, their immediate goal was to free the hostages. But leading Arab columnist and expert on Islamic affairs Fahmy Howeidi says the Saudi government was also sending a message to terrorist cells operating in the kingdom.

"As far as I know, the Saudi authorities do not agree with any negotiations with those groups, because the people who are using violence, and using weapons, [there is] no point in talking with them," he said.

Mr. Howeidi says the raid was particularly successful, because it resulted in the capture of some of the attackers, including their leader. He says that is very unusual, and indicates that they were caught off guard.

"They were surprised, and they did not consider the Saudi authorities would act like this," said Mr. Howeidi. "Usually, they do not allow Saudis to arrest anyone. They do prefer to commit suicide, rather than being arrested by the Saudis."

Saturday's shooting and hostage-taking was the third attack against foreigners in Saudi Arabia in the last month. New agencies report that the al-Qaida terrorist network has claimed responsibility for the attack, in a statement posted on an Islamist Web site.

The gunmen launched their attack Saturday morning by opening fire in the offices of the Al-Khobar Petroleum Center, killing several foreigners. They then went on to storm three surrounding residential compounds, killing more people, including a 10-year-old Egyptian boy. The attackers then took refuge in an apartment building, holding the residents hostage.