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Al Qaeda leader in Saudi Arabia killed in raid

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Six Islamic extremists were killed yesterday in police raids, and authorities said the dead included Al Qaeda's leader in Saudi Arabia, whose hideout contained the head of a murdered American. A police officer also was killed in the raid.

Saleh Mohammed al-Aoofi, the kingdom's top fugitive, had led local Al Qaeda operations since his predecessor was killed by police a year ago during a crackdown on religious militants in the homeland of Osama bin Laden and most of the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackers.

Aoofi was believed involved in the June 2004 kidnapping and beheading of engineer Paul M. Johnson Jr., whose body was shown in photos on the Internet. A few weeks after the slaying, police found Johnson's head in a freezer at an apartment Aoofi had used.

The former Saudi prison guard was one of two people at large from a list of 26 most-wanted militants issued in December 2003. The remaining militant is another Saudi, Talib Saud Abdullah al-Talib. The others have either been captured or killed.

Saudi authorities issued another list of 36 suspects in June, several of whom have been arrested or killed. It was not immediately known whether any of the 15 other suspects slain or captured in yesterday's raids were on that list.

The Interior Ministry said security officers staged a series of near-simultaneous raids at six suspected militant hideouts in Medina.

At a seventh site, police battled with three militants in a building, leaving two extremists dead, including Aoofi, the ministry said. The third suspect was wounded and captured, it said.

At the same time, police fought with militants at an apartment in the al-Massef neighborhood of Riyadh. Four extremists were killed, said a security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.

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