Al-Qaida suspect dies in Saudi raid
JIZAN, Saudi Arabia — Tear gas hung in the air Wednesday and blood and bullets littered the halls of a Saudi apartment building a day after a shootout with security forces killed three suspected militants, including an alleged al-Qaida operative wanted by the FBI for terror threats against the United States.
The alleged operative, Zubayr al-Rimi, died in the latest dramatic raid in Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on Islamic militants.
“My son is dead and it is all over,” al-Rimi’s father was quoted as telling the Saudi daily newspaper Al-Riyadh on Wednesday. The father earlier called on his son to surrender.
Zubayr al-Rimi is believed to have been the chief deputy of Abu Bakr al-Azdi, the former top al-Qaida man in Saudi Arabia who surrendered to Saudi authorities June 26.
Al-Rimi’s name appears on a Saudi list of 19 militants connected to the May 12 suicide bombings of foreign housing compounds in Riyadh, which killed 35 people including nine attackers, according to a Saudi Interior Ministry official. Saudi officials have said the 19 were in contact with al-Qaida, the group suspected in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Six days before the second anniversary of Sept. 11, the FBI issued a bulletin saying it was searching worldwide for al-Rimi, along with another Saudi, a Moroccan and a Tunisian in connection with possible terrorist threats against the United States.
Al-Rimi was killed after security forces stormed an apartment building Tuesday in the southern town of Jizan, seeking five militants who had barricaded themselves inside. The three-story building houses employees, many of them foreigners, of the King Fahd Central Hospital next door.
At least one security officer also died in a prolonged shootout and two suspected militants were arrested, the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. Al-Rimi and the other suspects were planning a terror attack, according to an official statement on Saudi state television.
In Washington, John Pistole, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, said al-Rimi died in the apartment building raid after the FBI received information Tuesday concerning his whereabouts.
“They engaged in a gun battle and now al-Rimi and another individual were killed,” Pistole told a subcommittee of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee.
The Saudi government has cracked down on Islamic militants since the May 12 bombings. Large caches of weapons have been unearthed, more than 200 suspects arrested and more than a dozen killed in police raids — revealing both the government’s determination to control militancy and a disturbingly wide network of extremists.
Al-Rimi, also known as Sultan Jubran Sultan al-Qahtani, had lived near Jihan, in Asir. His body was identified by his father, the Saudi newspaper Al-Riyadh reported.
Al-Rimi’s father said he last saw his son two years ago and believed his son started to adopt extremist thought while studying physical education at a university in Abha in southwestern Saudi Arabia. He never finished his university degree, traveling instead to Afghanistan.
At least 11 of the 19 militants on the Saudi list have been killed or arrested. They include Abu Bakr, also known as Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi, the suspected mastermind of the May 12 attacks who surrendered in June; and the No. 1 figure on the list — al-Qaida member Turki Nasser al-Dandani — who was killed in a raid in northern Saudi Arabia in July.
Another suspect, killed in a police chase in June, was reportedly carrying a letter written by al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden. Four of the 19 were among the nine bombers killed in the May 12 attacks.
The building where al-Rimi was killed was part of a complex housing about 3,000 foreigners — mostly from the Indian subcontinent, the Philippines and the Far East — as well as Saudis. The May 12 suicide bombings targeted three expatriate compounds.