A top Saudi Al-Qaeda member urged Muslims in his last message before being killed, to join the insurgency in Iraq and snipe at Americans in other Arab states, according to the group's online magazine.

In one of the fiercest gun battles yet with Al-Qaeda militants, Saud Homoud Al-Otaibi was killed earlier this month by Saudi security forces in the north of the Kingdom.

"We call on all true Muslims to shoulder their responsibility and rush to jihad (holy war) and fight God's enemies," he wrote in an introduction to the latest edition of Saut Al-Jihad, posted on Islamist Websites yesterday. "Those who cannot join the mujahideen (holy fighters) in the peninsula (Saudi Arabia), why don't they head to Iraq and other fronts? And if they cannot go to the frontlines, why don't they snipe at Americans and kill the enemies of God, the crusaders and apostates, in Saudi Arabia and other countries?"

In early April, Saudi officials said that the government had dealt a blow to Al-Qaeda, killing three top members who were on the wanted list, as well as several other militants. Only three on the original list of 26 remain at large. But the interior minister also said he could not rule out more attacks in the world's largest oil exporter, which has been battling a 2-year-old wave of violence by supporters of Saudi-born Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian appointed by bin Laden as his deputy in Iraq, has been leading a campaign of attacks against U.S. forces and the Iraqi government. Hundreds of Saudi men are believed to have slipped away to fight there, angered by the U.S. military occupation that they see as an affront to Muslim honor. Otaibi said Saudi Arabia could not stop the jihad.

"Despite what has befallen us in Saudi Arabia and other countries, let the tyrant know that our war all over the world is one. It starts with ... Americans everywhere, and will not end until the (Arab) tyrants are all overthrown."

Al-Qaeda has vowed to expel "infidels" from the Arabian Peninsula and overthrow Arab rulers it sees as U.S. agents. Fifteen suspected Al-Qaeda militants were killed in the three-day gun battle with Saudi security forces in the Al-Qassim region, a haven for Islamist militants some 320km (199 miles) north of Riyadh. The dead also included Abdel Karim Al-Mejati, the presumed Moroccan mastermind of the Madrid train bombings in March 2004. The gun battle was the bloodiest in a nearly two-year-old campaign by security forces against Islamist militants who are behind a spate of attacks in the oil-rich Gulf Kingdom. The violence has claimed at least 221 lives, according to an official toll.

Meanwhile, a number of suspected terrorists killed or apprehended in Saudi Arabia had a history of drug addiction, the Interior Minister said. Prince Nayef's comments to reporters Tuesday night followed a report that day in the widely read Okaz daily newspaper that seven of the militants killed by security forces in early April were addicts. The newspaper, believed to be close to the Interior Ministry, quoted an unnamed Jordanian doctor as saying that the seven had undergone treatment at a private institution in Jordan for addiction to morphine and cocaine.

"In fact, it was proven through investigation that a decent number of them (the terrorists) have a history of that," Nayef told reporters. He did not elaborate and it was not immediately clear if he specifically meant the militants involved in the Ras incident or terror suspects in general.

Saudi officials have been eager to portray terrorists as deviants of society who are acting under outside influence, even referring to them as the "deviant group" in official statements. At a terror conference in Riyadh in February, the Saudi government sought to link terrorists' activities to drug trafficking.