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Saudi Police Kill Two Militants - 2004-07-21

Saudi police say they killed two militants during an exchange of gunfire in Riyadh and have detained the family of the suspected leader of al-Qaida in the country. The Saudi Defense minister is calling for all suspected militants to give themselves up in the few days remaining of an official amnesty.

An interior ministry statement said the gun battle erupted late Tuesday in Riyadh when security forces returned, what the statement described as, intense gunfire from men armed with bombs and rocket-propelled grenades. Three members of the security forces were reported wounded in the clashes. The statement said the hunt is still on for militants that escaped Tuesday's battles.

The identities of the dead and wounded militants was not given, but the Saudi interior ministry said it was holding the wife and three children of an alleged al-Qaida leader in the Kingdom, Saleh al-Awfi. Arabic television reports out of the Kingdom said al-Awfi may have been one of the militants killed.

Saudi leaders repeated calls for militants to take advantage of an amnesty and turn themselves in. Prince Sultan, Saudi Arabia's defense minister, said he hopes those remaining will be reasonable enough to use the period left to turn themselves in.

Saudi King Fahd last month offered suspected militants an amnesty if they turned themselves in within 30 days. He said he would not seek the death penalty for those who surrendered. Only four militants have come forward, and the amnesty is expected to end this Friday. Saudi officials have promised to crack down with even more force on the militants after that.

Ambassador Abdullah Al-Ashaal served in the 80's and 90's as an Egyptian diplomat in Riyadh and Jeddah. He says he has little hope any amnesty or increased security measures alone can work against the militants, some of whose demands Mr. Al-Ashaal says are legitimate.

"Certainly the security approach is going to make some sort of exhaustion to the movement but it is not going to eradicate the opposition to the government and this bloody approach of the movement itself, Mr. Al-Ashaal said. "So there are so many steps. First of all, they (Saudi leaders) have to listen to them, their critics criticisms) are very well known, they have to comply with some and to explain why they cannot do the others."

Mr. al-Ashaal says lack of civil freedoms in the totalitarian monarchy, like political parties and elections are partly responsible for the militancy.

During the past year Saudi Arabia has suffered a wave of suicide bombings, gun battles and kidnappings targeting foreign workers. The attacks have been blamed on al-Qaida and associated groups.