Saudi gun battle foils terror attack

Two militants were killed in a shoot-out with police in the holy Saudi Arabian city of Mecca today.

An Interior Ministry official said police foiled a terrorist operation “that did not respect the sanctity of holy places and the month of Ramadan.”

The shoot-out occurred after police surrounded two buildings in Mecca’s al-Share’a district at 8am local time (5am Irish time).

"The terrorists began shooting heavily at security forces, using automatic rifles and hand grenades," said the official.

Police fired back at the militants as they were attempting to flee the area in two cars, hitting one of the vehicles and killing two of its occupants.

A cache of weapons and bombs were found inside the car, the official said.

Security forces also seized firearms including Kalashnikov rifles, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, and material to make explosives in the raided premises. Passports, identification cards, and leaflets were also found.

Police are searching for the militants who escaped, the official said. It was not clear how many were at large.

The government has been cracking down on Islamic militants since May 12 suicide bombings in Riyadh killed 26 people and nine attackers.

On June 14, a raid on a terror cell plotting attacks in Mecca killed five al-Qaida militants and two security agents. Police also found six dozen bombs and other weapons in the militants’ hide-out.

Saudis had reacted angrily to the threats against Mecca, the birthplace of Islam’s seventh century prophet and the heart of the annual pilgrimage every able-bodied Muslim is required to perform at least once.

The legitimacy of Saudi rulers rests partly on their custodianship of the holy city, which is off-limits to non-Muslims. A strike on Mecca could be seen as a strike on the regime.

More than 200 suspects have been arrested and more than a dozen killed in a series of high-profile police raids since the Riyadh attacks.

The Riyadh bombings also sparked unprecedented public discussion of the role of religion in Saudi society, with some daring to argue that the strict form of Islam preached in the kingdom fostered intolerance and extremism.

Saudi Arabia has been under pressure to crush networks that include al-Qaida, the terror group blamed for the September 11 attacks on the United States. Fifteen of the hijackers were Saudis.

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