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Saudi Officials Say Khobar Hostages Freed - 2004-05-30


Saudi security forces stormed a building in the Persian Gulf oil city of Khobar today (Sunday) and said they captured suspected Islamic militants who had spread a wave of terror through a foreigners' housing compound.

Saudi officials say most of the hostages -- a group of about 50 people, many of them foreigners employed by oil firms -- are now free, but there is no official word on their condition.

The militants reportedly killed several hostages during the ordeal. There also are unconfirmed reports that two of seven gunmen were killed during the rescue operation, but that the militants' leader was among those captured.

At least 10 people -- both Saudis and foreigners -- died early Saturday in the first wave of bloodshed at the Oasis residential complex in Khobar, which has offices, apartments, shops and recreational facilities for many foreigners.

Khobar is a commercial center on Saudi Arabia's east coast, close to Dhahran in an area that is the headquarters of the kingdom's vital oil industry.

When an alarm was raised after the first round of killings, the gunmen, who wore military clothing, fled to a high-rise apartment building in the Oasis complex, where they seized scores of hostages.

Reports from the scene say the attackers confronted residents of the apartment building, asking whether they were Christians or Muslims, as they collected their hostages.

A standoff between Saudi authorities surrounding the building and the gunmen lasted until just after sunrise today, Saudi helicopters dropped armed members of a raiding party onto the roof of the building amid sporadic gunfire.

An Islamist site on the Internet posted a notice Saturday from a group calling itself "al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula" that claimed responsibility for the attack. The announcement said the group is fighting against U.S. companies that it contends are stealing Muslims' oil wealth.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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