Islamic extremists set off bombs and battled police in the Saudi capital of Riyadh last night, leaving nine militants and one bystander dead and causing oil prices to jump as the...
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Islamic extremists set off bombs and battled police in the Saudi capital of Riyadh last night, leaving nine militants and one bystander dead and causing oil prices to jump as the insurgents signaled they will keep up attacks despite the kingdom’s crackdown on al-Qaida.
A car bomb was detonated by remote control near the Interior Ministry in central Riyadh — killing a bystander, according to Saudi TV — followed soon after by an explosion when two suicide attackers tried to bomb a troop-recruitment center.
The gunmen who set off the ministry blast fled but then engaged in a gunbattle with police in northern Riyadh that killed seven militants and wounded an undetermined number of officers, police said.
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The attacks came two weeks after al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden called on followers to focus attacks on his Saudi homeland. While damage to the Interior Ministry was minor, it was a bold assault on the government body at the center of Saudi Arabia’s war on other Islamic extremists.
Prince Ahmed bin Abdel Aziz, deputy interior minister, told Saudi TV the attackers were all Saudis. He said they were “terrorists [who] took a great risk because they know that their end is imminent.”
The first explosion went off near the Interior Ministry, a modern high-rise in a complex that includes a luxury hotel. Two militants set off a car bomb by remote control in a traffic tunnel near the ministry, police said. A limousine driver was killed, Saudi TV said.
Shattered glass littered the ground near the ministry, and several damaged cars — including a blood-splattered taxi — sat outside.
A half-hour later, a second explosion shook the city. Two suicide bombers tried to drive into a troop-recruitment center about five miles away, but they came under fire from police and set off the explosives prematurely. The two bombers died, but there were no other reports of casualties.
The two militants behind the ministry blast, apparently joined by accomplices, fought with police in a northern district of the capital. The gunmen, armed with automatic weapons and grenades, holed up in a building and were among those killed while fighting with officers who surrounded the structure, police said.
An Interior Ministry official said several policemen were wounded but did not give a specific number. Abel Rahman al Sewilem, head of the Saudi Red Crescent Society, told Saudi TV that four to five people were injured. He did not say whether they were police, attackers or bystanders or provide any other details.
The explosions took place at night, when few employees were at the ministry or the recruitment center. Past attacks, including some claimed by al-Qaida, appeared designed to maximize casualties but drew heavy criticism when many of the dead were Arab and/or Muslim.
Extremists have staged several attacks recently, but none on the scale of operations early this year and last year that killed dozens.
Early yesterday, a suspected militant was killed in Riyadh after tossing a bomb and shooting at security agents, a security official said.
On Tuesday, another suspect and a bystander were killed in a shootout in the same Riyadh neighborhood, an Interior Ministry official said. One suspect was captured.
The extremists’ biggest attack recently came Dec. 6, when militants said to belong to al-Qaida’s Saudi branch stormed the U.S. Consulate in Jiddah, killing nine people.
Ten days later, bin Laden issued his audiotape, his first message in years directed specifically at Saudis. He praised those who carried out the consulate raid and urged followers to attack the kingdom’s oil installations to weaken the West and the Saudi royal family.