"PA" via the Scotsman
Saudi authorities gave safe passage to three al-Qaida gunmen after the they killed 10 of the hostages they were holding at a hotel in the oil hub of Khobar, a senior security official said.
The Saudi official said upon hearing hostages had been killed, US officials advised the Saudis that letting the militants go would avert a bigger catastrophe.
The US embassy in Riyadh did not have immediate comment on the Saudi official’s account, which dovetailed with witness accounts.
Officially, the Saudi Interior Ministry has said the three used hostages as human shields to escape Saudi commandos on Sunday and a fourth attacker, said to be the ringleader, was captured.
The official said the three walked away at about 2:20 a.m. on Sunday, hours before 80 commandoes landed on the roof of the hotel by helicopter and began knocking on the hostages’ doors to tell them they were free to leave.
At 2:20 a.m., reporters less than a block away from the Oasis Compound housing the hotel saw bullets streaking over their heads from the direction of the complex. The official said that was machine gun fire from one of two accomplices who were in a car not far from the site and were covering the three men’s escape.
The attackers walked across the compound, stole a van and fled Khobar to nearby Dammam, the official said. They then abandoned the vehicle for a car commandeered at gunpoint from a Saudi driver and drove off with police in pursuit.
The three left behind a fourth militant because they thought he was dead, the official said. Saudi authorities had reported the gunman they had in custody was wounded.