Saudi police defuse third car bomb in week


Saudi police defused a car bomb in the capital Riyadh today, the third explosive-rigged vehicle found in the Gulf state in less than a week.

An Interior Ministry official said police had been looking for the four-wheel-drive car and security sources said it was discovered early this morning in an eastern Riyadh neighbourhood where militants have often clashed with police.

Saudi Arabia is battling a surge in militant violence believed to be linked to Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network and the kingdom has cracked down on militants since suicide bombings killed at least 50 people last year.

On Tuesday, police found two similar car bombs north of  Riyadh. Five policemen were killed in fierce clashes in and around the capital last week, as well as two neighbourhood patrol guards.

On Thursday, the United States ordered nonessential diplomats out of Saudi Arabia and warned all Americans they should leave, citing fresh signals of possible attacks on US and Western interests.    The British embassy also urged its citizens to be alert.

Since Monday, police have been hunting down a group of militants who fled the capital after gun battles in which they fired rocket propelled grenades at police. The same group is believed to have killed four policemen at checkpoints.

A security source said police had arrested a suspected militant in the Red Sea city of Jeddah in connection with the recent clashes but he did not give more details.

Last week, one of Saudi Arabia's most wanted al-Qaeda militants, in a video carried on an Islamist website, called on Muslims to kill Americans everywhere and vowed attacks against Arab leaders allied to Washington.

Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, is a close US ally. It has blamed the 2003 bombings at Riyadh residential compounds on al-Qaeda.

A leading cleric at Islam's holiest shrine in Saudi Arabia told Muslims yesterday it was their duty to foil militant attacks. Saudi Arabia has offered rewards of up to €1.5 million to any one with information leading to militants' arrests.