Saudi forces kill al-Qaeda leader

Saudi Arabia's security forces killed the regional leader of al-Qaida yesterday in a gun battle in the holy city of Medina, the interior ministry reported last night.

Former prison guard Salih al-Awfi, 39, was among up to six militants said to have died during a series of police swoops in Medina and the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

According to a government statement, police raided six al-Qaida hideouts in Medina, near the mosque where the Prophet Muhammad was buried, before coming across a seventh house where Awfi and two others were holed up.

"They [the militants] opened fire heavily on the security forces and pedestrians," before police returned fire, the statement said.

"Investigators were able to prove through verification procedures that one of the two killed is the wanted Salih al-Awfi," it added, Guardian.

According to Financial Times, Over the past two years Saudi Arabia has been fighting Islamist extremists who have attacked expatriate workers and government symbols, leaving more than 90 people dead.

Awfi is said to have taken over as al-Qaeda chief in Saudi Arabia in June last year after the killing of Abdulaziz al-Muqrin, until then the top al-Qaeda suspect.

According to an online publication that reports on Saudi Arabia, Awfi was wrongly reported killed when his house in Riyadh was raided last July. The police found the severed head of Paul Johnson, the American hostage killed by Muqrin, in his freezer.

Security forces have been hunting Awfi for nearly two years. His name appeared on the list of 26 suspects most wanted by the authorities published in May 2003. Since then most of those on the list have been captured or killed. Earlier this year, however, the government issued another list of 36 suspects, underlining that the struggle against al-Qaeda was far from over.

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