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Saudis blame al Qaeda for attack

At least 22 people killed in 25 hours of violence in Khobar

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A dramatic raid using helicopters ends the 25-hour hostage standoff.
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(CNN) -- Saudi Arabian government officials Sunday blamed al Qaeda terrorists for a series of weekend attacks in the oil city of Khobar that left at least 22 people dead -- 19 of them from other countries.

Earlier in the day, Saudi security troops dropped in from helicopters and stormed a housing complex where four gunmen had been holed up since Saturday morning with as many as 50 hostages, many of them believed to be Western oil workers in the Persian Gulf port.

The commandos ended the standoff, freed some of the hostages and captured the operation's leader, an al Qaeda member near the top of the kingdom's most-wanted list, the Saudi Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The other three gunmen escaped, although one was wounded, the ministry said. Saudi officials said some hostages were saved, but it was unclear how many.

The ministry's statement followed a claim of responsibility posted on an Islamic Web site from the Jerusalem Brigade, a group Saudi officials said they believe is linked to al Qaeda.

Along with the statement was an audio recording attributed to Abdel Aziz Muqrin, identified by Saudi authorities as the country's top al Qaeda figure and at the top of the kingdom's most-wanted list.

The 25-hour rampage began Saturday at 7:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m. ET) when gunmen clad in military-style uniforms went on a shooting spree inside two oil industry office compounds of APICORP (Arab Petroleum Investments Corp.), Saudi officials said.

Moving between the buildings, they shot at people in cars, including one carrying four children to schools, the ministry said. The vehicle caught on fire and a 10-year-old Egyptian boy inside was killed.

The boy's father gave an emotional statement to Arab reporters on the scene.

"What is his guilt? That's not only my child, this is an innocent child going to school," Samir al-Ghunaimy said. "What is this? Terrorism? Islam? What is it? Those are not Muslims."

Most of the dead were among the 6 million expatriates who work in the Saudi petroleum industry and other jobs.

Besides the boy, the dead included three Saudis, one American, one Italian, eight Indians, three Filipinos, two Sri Lankans, one Swede, one South African and one Briton, the ministry said.

It was unclear whether some of the dead might have been hostages.

The audiotape attributed to Muqrin declared "a clear victory," saying the "heroes" managed to kill "many crusaders of different nationalities, among them an American who was dragged on the streets of the city. Another one is a high official in a British oil company, and another is an Italian who was slaughtered and given as a gift to the Italian government."

The written statement said more than 22 people were killed, including three Americans. The U.S. State Department said it had information that one American was killed.

Britain's Foreign Office said a British citizen named Michael Hamilton was missing and presumed dead.

The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh has advised all Americans to leave Saudi Arabia.

After their shooting spree in the APICORP office compounds, the attackers moved up the street and blasted their way into the sprawling Oasis residential complex, entering in at least three separate locations. They shot and killed at least two Saudi security guards before opening fire on surrounding buildings.

Troops jump from a helicopter to a complex where hostages were held.

The Interior Ministry said the gunmen attempted to drive their explosives-laden car to the residential complex.

When gates and guards thwarted their attempts to drive near the building, they scaled fences and began the rampage in which they took hostages, the ministry statement said.

Syrian-American Marwan Mowad, who was holed up in his villa during the attack, told CNN the attackers avoided entering the main gate because it was heavily secured.

He said he saw the gunmen target Westerners. "One guy, a Frenchman, his wife and kids, [the gunmen] knew they were inside [a villa] so they tried to put the place on fire," but the family survived, he said. (Full story)

Saudi security forces initially tried storming the complex from the ground either late Saturday or early Sunday, but stopped after some of the police were wounded, a Saudi official said. They tried to persuade the gunmen to surrender and release the hostages before again using force.

The ministry said security forces evacuated people from the complex in two stages before the assault. In the first, 201 were ushered out, and in the second, 41 people were evacuated, the ministry said. It was not clear how many of these if any had been held by the attackers.

A spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington said seven Americans were among those rescued before the assault. Several Lebanese hostages were released Saturday at the request of that country's ambassador.

On Sunday morning, more forces arrived by helicopter and stormed the roof of the complex.

The Jerusalem Brigade's statement on the Web site urged readers not to believe "false claims" that the Saudi forces had gotten any hostages released or arrested any of the "mujahedeen" who carried out the attacks.

"The mujahedeen did not leave any of the hostages alive; instead, all infidels and crusaders were executed."

The group's statement said Muslims were evacuated to a safe area.


The man claiming to be Mugrin vowed on the audiotape to continue attacking Westerners until all had left the "Arab peninsula."

He called his group "al Qaeda in the Arab peninsula." Muqrin and other suspected al Qaeda operatives have used the term "Arab peninsula" to refer to Saudi Arabia, whose government they want to overthrow.

He has also called the Saudi royal family "corrupt" and said the family has nothing to do with Islam.

Earlier this month, Swiss engineering company ABB evacuated its foreign workers from Yanbu in northwestern Saudi Arabia after gunmen stormed ABB's oil refinery compound on May 1 and killed five Westerners -- two Americans, two Britons and one Australian.

Saudi officials said those who carried out the May 1 attack -- all four of whom were also killed in the exchange of fire that day -- were on the list of wanted militants, and all were from Arab nations. Editor Caroline Faraj contributed to this report

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