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Saudi commandos free hostages/8 Indians among 22 killed

By Atul Aneja

MANAMA, MAY 30. Saudi Arabia's elite commandos ended a 25-hour hostage drama by storming a residential complex in the oil city of Al Khobar in the early hours of today, freeing dozens of people held captive by an Al-Qaeda affiliated militant group which carried out multiple strikes in which 22 persons, including eight Indians, were killed.

Some of the captives were killed during the raid, but most are said to be safe.

Three of the militants escaped and a fourth — the leader of the group — was arrested, the Saudi Interior Ministry said. Apart from the eight Indians, nationals of Britain, Egypt, Italy, the Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, and the United States were killed during these attacks, it said. Besides, 25 people of different nationalities were wounded.

An AFP report earlier quoting a survivor said that the attackers had killed nine hostages, including seven Asians and a Swede by slitting their throats when they attempted to escape last night.

The rescue effort gathered momentum shortly after sunrise, when at least three transport helicopters landed around 40 commandos on the rooftop of the building where the hostages were being held. This was the second rescue attempt by the Saudi security forces, who had abandoned an earlier effort after discovering overnight that militants had rigged the six-storey building with explosives.

The hostage drama began to unfold after militants on Saturday sprayed gunfire on the Al Khobar Petroleum Centre building, where offices of a large number of international oil companies are located. They then moved into three compounds, where senior oil executives lived or had their offices. The assailants killed 16 people, including seven foreigners, before taking 40 to 60 people hostage in the building in the Oasis compound.

The Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, hinted that the rescue had become inevitable once the captors began subjecting hostages to "evil things." He said that seven of the American hostages had been freed, out of which two had been wounded. Earlier, militants released five Lebanese nationals following intervention by Lebanon's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

The multiple strikes in Al Khobar, the nerve centre of the Saudi oil industry is likely to push further the already high international oil prices, which are currently hovering around the $40 a barrel mark. The surge in prices is expected to materialise on Tuesday when markets in the U.S. open after a long weekend.

A group affiliated to Al-Qaeda took responsibility for the strike.

A website, alsaha.fares.net, speaking on behalf of Al-Qaeda, claimed that the gunmen who stormed the building killed 10 Indians.

It said: "10 Indians ... among the murderers of our Muslim brothers in Kashmir" were killed.

A statement signed by "Al -Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula" claimed that a number of "crusaders" had been killed during the attacks on U.S. companies.

Indian victims identified

The following is the list of the eight Indians killed in the twin attacks by the militants.

While Lawrence Gregory Monice from Mangalore, Karnataka, was killed in the crossfire between Saudi security forces and the militants, the other Indian nationals were gunned down by the Al-Qaeda operatives, sources in Saudi Arabia said.

The other Indians, were identified as P.K. Pradeep Kumar and J.N. Jose (both from Kerala), Charles Clethens Carlos and John Fernando (Goa), Suresh Kumar and J. Ram (Rajasthan) and Vikram (Bihar), the sources told PTI over telephone.

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