Al-Qaeda’s man in Saudi Arabia dead?

Al-Qaeda’s supposed top man in Saudi Arabia has been killed. Will it mean any de-escalation of violence in the desert kkingdom? Or is this a hydra-headed monster? This July 4 AFP account from Qatar’s Gulf Times:

Qaeda chief killed in Riyadh shootout

By Lydia Georgi

RIYADH: Al Qaeda’s suspected frontman in Saudi Arabia was killed in a shootout with security forces in the capital yesterday only five days after authorities put him at the top of a new list of wanted militants.

The dawn clash in which Moroccan-born Yunis Mohamed Ibrahim al-Hayari was gunned down was part of a series of offensives against presumed Al Qaeda militants who unleashed a spate of bombings and shootings in the kingdom two years ago.

The clash erupted “after security forces came under fire when they raided a suspected militants’ hideout in eastern Riyadh”, the interior ministry said.

Six policemen were wounded, and another suspect was arrested, it added.

The shootout in the Rawda neighbourhood came hot on the heels of the ministry’s release on Tuesday of a new list of 36 wanted militants linked to the wave of violence which began in May 2003.

Hayari topped the list, the third issued by the ministry in the past two years. It included 21 suspects thought to be outside Saudi Arabia, one of whom has since turned himself in to authorities via the Saudi embassy in Beirut.

The ministry statement said security forces carried out two simultaneous raids of suspected hideouts of the “deviant group” — official terminology for presumed Al Qaeda militants.

In the other raid, “two people were arrested without offering any resistance,” it said.

“Disguising himself, Hayari had been moving back and forth in the dens of the deviant group and is known as being experienced in preparing explosives,” the ministry said.

“He was directly involved in some of the incidents which occurred in the country and was recently named by his colleagues, after his predecessors perished, as the head of sedition.”

Hayari, 36, entered Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage visa in February 2001 accompanied by his wife and daughter but stayed on in the kingdom illegally, according to the interior ministry.

He was one of seven non-Saudis on the latest list, which according to press reports and accounts by militants’ relatives, includes several who are either battling US-led forces in Iraq or have been killed in fighting there.

But Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz said later yesterday that the government had no confirmation that any of the wanted militants was killed in Iraq.

Nayef said the three arrested during the twin raids did not figure on the new list, though they were “known to security agencies.”

Yesterday’s operation was launched after security forces kept tabs on the hideouts, not as the result of a tipoff, he said, urging citizens to be “more and more responsive” by informing on suspects.

Hayari “was dangerous, but there are (other) individuals who are no less so,” Nayef, whose remarks were carried by official media, said after visiting the wounded policemen in hospital.

He warned that militants who did not surrender would meet the fate of the group killed or arrested yesterday, while “those who give themselves up would be treated like those who give themselves up”, meaning more leniently.

The two-year-old violence in the world’s top oil producer and exporter has claimed the lives of 90 civilians, 42 security personnel and 113 militants, according to official figures.

All but two on a 26-strong list of most-wanted militants published in December 2003 have been killed or arrested. That includes one killed in Iraq, according to an Internet statement attributed to Al Qaeda’s chief there, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

An earlier list identified 19 wanted suspects.

The release of the new list suggested that Riyadh still has some way to go to eradicate the threat from Saudi-born Osama bin Laden’s network despite a series of blows dealt to the group.

Security forces killed Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin, leader of ‘Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’, a year ago and his purported successor during a three-day gunbattle in April that left 15 militants dead.

The latest clash broke out around four hours after British Prime Minister Tony Blair ended a lightning visit to Saudi Arabia during which he held talks with Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.

The crown prince told US President George W Bush in an Independence Day message that Saudi Arabia was determined to “work with its friends to uproot all factors of destruction and terrorism”.

“We take this opportunity to express to you … our determination to continue to actively (work) for all that serves the stability of this world,” the official SPA agency quoted Prince Abdullah as saying. — AFP

See our last post on the unrest in Saudi Arabia.