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Suspected militants kill selves in Mecca

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Two suspected militants blew themselves up in the holy city of Mecca to avoid arrest yesterday hours after a third suspect was killed in a shootout with security forces in the capital of Riyadh, Saudi officials said.

It was the second day of confrontations this week between the militants and police and the latest clash in a nationwide security crackdown set off by suicide car bombings on May 12 on Western compounds in Riyadh. About 600 suspects believed linked to Al Qaeda have been arrested since the May attacks, which killed 35 people, including the nine attackers.

The two who killed themselves in Mecca detonated explosives when security forces closed in to arrest them, a security official said. Helicopters and police cars were dispatched to the area afterward.

The two probably belonged to a terror cell that clashed with Saudi police in Mecca on Monday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. That cell had been linked to Al Qaeda, the terrorist network blamed for the May 12 attacks as well as the Sept. 11, 2001, onslaught in the United States.

Earlier yesterday, Saudi police clashed with suspected terrorists in a narrow street in Riyadh. An Interior Ministry official said one suspect was killed and eight police officers were slightly injured.

Several militants were captured after the Riyadh shootout, a police officer on the scene said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. Several more militants escaped in cars, a neighbor said.

The official said security forces were searching a Riyadh neighborhood at 4 a.m. when "a number of terrorists left the site, firing weapons and bombs."

The security forces fired back as two helicopters flew overhead, residents said. The Interior Ministry official said the confrontation lasted about five hours.

The militants appeared to have taken refuge in several large, unfinished houses on Mohammed al-Rahouni Street. Two houses had scattered bullet holes on their walls.

A charred car lay in front of one house. Three other cars across the street were pocked with bullet holes. Pale yellow, plastic handcuffs were scattered nearby, and children played with spent bullets.

"I was watching television when I heard the shooting. I quickly turned off the TV and ran into my mother's room to hide," said 11-year-old Badran Moussa, who was up late because Saudis fast -- and often sleep -- during daylight during Ramadan.

A neighbor, Badr Julaifi, said he saw several militants escape in two cars, and he heard that five militants had been arrested. Twelve to 17 militants were involved in the shootout, according to residents and a police officer on the scene. Members of the religious police stopped an Associated Press reporter from finishing interviews with male onlookers because she was "shamelessly mingling with men." In Saudi Arabia, men and women are allowed to mix only if they are related.

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