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Bloody end to Saudi hostage crisis

Saudi forces have rescued dozens of hostages after an attack on a compound and a dramatic standoff that left at least 22 people dead.

Last Modified: 30 May 2004 23:35 GMT
Details of what happened during the raid are still emerging

Saudi forces have rescued dozens of hostages after an attack on a compound and a dramatic standoff that left at least 22 people dead.

Saudi commandos jumped from helicopters to storm a housing complex on Sunday and free dozens of foreign hostages from al-Qaida-linked followers.

The security forces burst into the upmarket Oasis compound after a 25-hour drama in the eastern oil city of Khobar.

Three of the four armed men escaped, holding hostages at gunpoint for cover, but their leader was captured, a government statement said.

Twenty-two people were killed in the attacks, including one American, an Italian, eight Indians, a Swede and a British citizen, the Interior Ministry announced on Sunday.

The body of a dead hostage was reportedly dragged through the streets, according to witnesses.

The Italian Foreign Ministry confirmed on Sunday that one of its nationals had been killed in the attack. Antonio Amato, who had been in Saudi Arabia for a few weeks, worked at the Oasis housing compound as a cook.

Al-Qaida claim

A purported al-Qaida statement said its followers had "slaughtered" a Japanese, a Swede and an Italian hostage.

The crisis ended 25 hours after it
began on Saturday 

The statement, carried on an Arabic-language website, vowed to rid the peninsula of "infidels".

There were no reports verifying the authenticity of the statement.

A manager at the compound, where the attackers were holding the hostages, said three foreign hostages were killed, including an American and a British citizen.
 
The US embassy said it could not confirm the report. Details of what happened during the raid are still not available.

Violence rising

The hostage-takers were reported to have killed 16 people, nine Saudis and seven foreigners, on Saturday before fleeing to the vast Oasis complex.

The unprecedented hostage-taking in the world's biggest crude oil exporting country raised the stakes in the kingdom's year-long fight against anti-government fighters.

The Muslim Brotherhood condemned the violence, saying it was a crime against the country and the people.

In a statement received by Aljazeera, the movement said such incidents were part "of the US-Zionist project targeting Islam and trying to link it with terrorism and violence".  

Two assailants were killed and the
suspected leader arrested

The assailants' suspected leader was arrested along with two other attackers, said security sources. Two hostage takers were also killed in the raid.

The Oasis manager said medical experts were still looking after some of the hostages inside the compound: "Some hostages had fainted, some were dehydrated and some had suffered panic attacks."

Commando drama

The crisis ended about 25 hours after it began on Saturday with attackers opening fire and engaging in shootouts with Saudi security forces at the compound and two oil-related facilities.

Earlier, Saudi commandos raided the compound. Witnesses saw three military helicopters dropping special forces on to the roof of a building in the compound amid gunfire.

An earlier attempt to storm the building was aborted when Saudi forces discovered it was booby-trapped with explosives.

Saudis were shaken to the core on Sunday. 

"This makes you so depressed. This is something alien to
Saudi. We are stunned and very upset," said Said al-Mansur, a 22-year-old student.

Many Khobar residents, who for years blended easily with
expatriate oil workers, said they feared the attack would force expatriates to pack up and go.

Source:
Agencies
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