French teenager becomes 4th victim of Saudi attack

MEDINA, Saudi Arabia Tue Feb 27, 2007 1:23pm EST

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MEDINA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - A French teenager died from bullet wounds on Tuesday, the fourth victim of an attack in which militants singled out and shot the males in a group of French tourists on a desert trip in Saudi Arabia.

The boy's father was among three French expatriates working in Saudi Arabia who were killed on Monday in the first attack on foreigners by suspected al Qaeda militants in the kingdom in 2-1/2 years.

The attackers picked on a group of nine French nationals living in Riyadh who were visiting historic sites and camping in the desert in the scenic western region of the vast country.

An acquaintance who did not want to be named said the men were machine-gunned in front of the women and children in the group, confirming a report from a security source.

"He (the boy) died from the consequences of his shoulder injury. Part of the bullet was still there. He was bleeding. We carried out an operation but it was no good. He died this morning," chief hospital doctor Metwakkil Hajjaj told Reuters by telephone from Medina.

He said the teenager was called Mubarak, the Muslim son of a French woman of Moroccan origin. He was 17.

His mother, Zakiya, was distraught. "I cannot speak. I have just seen my husband murdered and my son die," she told Reuters.

At her request, prayers will be held over the bodies of her husband and son at the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina, Islam's second holiest city, French ambassador Charles-Henri d'Aragon said in Medina. The father converted to Islam last year.

One of the dead Frenchmen was a secondary school teacher and two worked for the French firm Schneider Electric.

The bodies will be flown to Riyadh and France.

VIOLENT CAMPAIGN

Islamic militants swearing allegiance to al Qaeda launched a violent campaign to topple the U.S.-allied Saudi monarchy in 2003, carryout out suicide bomb attacks on foreigners and government installations, including the oil industry.

Frenchman Laurent Barbot was shot dead in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah by suspected al Qaeda militants in September 2004, the year in which the violence was at its height, but there had been no major attacks on foreigners since then.

The Islamist radicals have said they want to drive "infidel" Westerners out of Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and home to its holiest sites.

King Abdullah said in June that al Qaeda militants had been "defeated" and were "finished". The authorities arrested dozens of al Qaeda sympathizers in recent months, some of whom were planning attacks, and called on Saudis to be vigilant.

French President Jacques Chirac called on Riyadh on Monday to track down the attackers and ensure foreigners' safety. King Abdullah phoned him on Tuesday vowing action, Saudi media said.

Tough security measures and a powerful publicity campaign helped crush the violence but analysts and diplomats have said the underlying drives of radical Islamic ideology and anger at Western policy in the region remain strong.

Some of the estimated 100,000 Western residents in Saudi Arabia left after the earlier attacks, reducing the number to around 60,000, but many have since returned, diplomats say.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Hammond in Riyadh)

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