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Saudi official lauds 'major blow' to al Qaeda

Militants vow to keep fighting U.S. and its allies


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(CNN) -- "A major blow" has been dealt to al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia with the killing of four of its top leaders in the kingdom, Saudi foreign policy adviser Adel al-Jubeir said Saturday.

Among the dead is Abdel Aziz al-Muqrin, the nation's most-wanted militant and the self-proclaimed leader of al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Al-Muqrin claimed responsibility for the beheading of U.S. hostage Paul Johnson Jr.

There are conflicting reports on whether Johnson's remains have been found.

Al-Jubeir said that contrary to earlier reports from Saudi security officials, Johnson's corpse has not been recovered.

"We are searching for the body," he told reporters Saturday in Washington. "We believe we know the area where it might be, in the northern outskirts of Riyadh, but haven't found the body yet."

Al-Jubeir insisted that if Saudi forces had found remains, a tattoo would help identify them as Johnson's, DNA tests would be conducted and a speedy burial would be arranged.

Saudi security sources had said a headless body had been found but that the identity could not be confirmed.

Al-Jubeir said al-Muqrin was killed during a shootout with Saudi security forces Friday night.

An al Qaeda cell in Saudi Arabia vowed revenge for the death of al-Muqrin and three other members in a statement posted to an Islamist Web site.

The group al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula vowed that the men al-Muqrin trained will take over the struggle against the United States and its allies. The group said it will continue to fight jihad and that the killing of its "brothers" will strengthen the effort.

The Web site -- Voice of Jihad -- and Saudi officials identified the other three as Faisal al Dakhil, Turki al Muteiri and Ibrahim al Durayhim.

Dhakil "is believed to be the No. 2 al Qaeda person in Saudi Arabia working closely and immediately under al-Muqrin," al-Jubeir said.

Al-Jubeir said al-Muqrin's body has been "positively identified by a number of people who were very close to him."

"The body matched all of the criteria that we had on him, and we are going through DNA testing of samples to make 200 percent sure that he is in fact al-Muqrin," al-Jubeir said. "But so far we have absolutely no doubt that it is him."

Twelve others were captured by Saudi forces Friday. Their identities have not been officially released.

In a news conference on Arabic-language television Saturday, U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Oberwetter lauded Saudi efforts and said al-Muqrin was "among the most vicious of the crop on the [Arabian] Peninsula involved in a number of activities against Westerners."

Johnson was kidnapped a week ago by a group calling itself the Falluja Squadron, led by al-Muqrin. Al-Muqrin had promised to kill Johnson if his demands to free al Qaeda members in Saudi Arabia weren't met.

On Friday, a Web site posted three photographs of Johnson's head and body.

The determination that Johnson was killed was based on an analysis of the videotape released by the terrorist group, al-Jubeir said.

"This is the group that has been the same that has carried out operations since November," a security source said. "So while there are some out there, we hope that this means large-scale attacks won't happen again."

Saudi security sources said authorities also confiscated a vehicle that was used in an attack on a British Broadcasting Corp. crew that left a cameraman dead.

One Saudi security force member was killed in Friday night's shootout and two others were wounded.


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