RIYADH -- Saudi Arabian security forces yesterday seized a walled compound where Islamic militants had been barricaded for days, ending the kingdom's largest gun battle with armed extremists. At least 14 of the militants were killed.
The slain militants included top leaders of the Saudi branch of Al Qaeda, state television said. Six others were captured in the three days of fierce firefights in the desert town of Rass, the station said, quoting security officials.
For nearly 48 hours, the gunmen had been holed up in the villa compound about 220 miles northwest of the capital, Riyadh, and near Buraydah, a known stronghold of Islamic fundamentalists. Surrounded by hundreds of Saudi special forces, they had a large arsenal of weapons and fired heavy volleys of automatic weapons fire and grenades.
In a statement read on Saudi television, Crown Prince Abdullah congratulated the security forces, who had ''demonstrated their courage in facing up to terror acts. We thank each one of them for their heroic deeds."
The death toll is the highest in a single fight since the kingdom's war on terrorism began in May 2003, when suicide bombers attacked three compounds housing foreign residents in Riyadh.
Among the dead were two militants on Saudi Arabia's list of most-wanted terrorists, said a senior military official in Rass, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Once the standoff was over, some forces withdrew, while others combed the area, collecting documents and searching for weapons and evidence, the official said.
The battle began Sunday morning when security forces, acting on a tip, arrived at another building in Rass. Militants opened fire with automatic rifles and grenades, sparking a clash with police that killed three suspected terrorists. The rest fled to the villa.
During the shootout, one militant surrendered and two others were wounded and captured.
Officials say 35 police were wounded during the fighting in Rass.
The senior military official in Rass said among those killed were Kareem Altohami al-Mojati, a Moroccan, and Saud Homood Obaid al-Otaibi, a Saudi, who were ranked fourth and seventh respectively on Saudi Arabia's list of 26 most-wanted terrorist suspects with links to Al Qaeda, issued in December 2003.
Mansour Al-Turki, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, could not confirm that the two wanted militants were among those killed.
Arab TV stations, including Saudi-owned Arabiya and Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, cited security sources as saying Mojati and Otaibi had been killed.
Saudi newspapers have said Mojati is a battle-hardened fighter who had fought in Afghanistan and a supporter of Osama bin Laden. The papers claimed Mojati had helped plan the May 2003 suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco, that killed 33 bystanders and 12 suicide bombers.