JEDDAH, 30 November 2003 — The news of the killing of a well-known Saudi poet in the Algerian desert by an armed group while on a hunting expedition has been received with shock and grief in Saudi Arabia.
News of the poet’s death dismayed his family, friends and fans who flocked to his home in Riyadh to offer their condolences.
Talal Al-Rasheed died and three of his companions were injured in the attack near Djelfa, 250 km south of the capital Algiers.
Ziyab Al-Mutairi, 15, a friend of the poet’s son, is among the injured who have been admitted to hospital. Two of Al-Rasheed’s cousins who were traveling in the same car were unhurt.
Al-Riyadh Arabic daily said the body was flown back by private plane on Friday on the orders of Prince Sultan, second deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation.
“I have lost a very close friend. This is a huge loss, and Al-Rasheed will be missed by everyone,” said Prince Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, himself a well-known poet.
No group has claimed responsibility for the killing, but Algeria has been the scene of bloody confrontations between the government and radical Islamic groups that has resulted in the death of more than 100,000 people over the past decade.
Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem said it was not known if the incident is terrorist-related.
Two off-road jeeps were stolen in the attack, in which a total of nine people were reported killed. Algerian Army and police have surrounded the area and opened an investigation into the shooting.
An official at the Saudi Embassy said the mission was in close contact with local authorities investigating the killing.
Born in 1963, Al-Rasheed began writing poetry at 14 using the pseudonym “Al-Multa” or lovesick. He uses the simple everyday language of the Bedouins in his love poems, a style popular among the younger generation of Saudis.
Al-Rasheed also published a number of literary magazines including “Fawazel,” “Ibda” and “Bawazel.”
Saudi Ambassador to Algeria Bakr Gazzaz, who is spending the Eid Al-Fitr vacation in Makkah, said he spoke to Al-Rasheed by phone on Tuesday, the first day of Eid.
He added the poet had driven some 90 km deep into the hostile area ignoring earlier warnings. The ambassador told Okaz newspaper the incident was not specifically directed against Al-Rasheed and his group but could have come as part of terrorist operations.