DHAHRAN, SAUDI ARABIA, JAN. 24 -- Two Iraqi Mirage F-1s loaded with bombs and Exocet anti-ship missiles were streaking low, heading south along the Saudi Arabian coast when Capt. Ayedh swung his F-15 fighter in behind them.

Minutes later, the two French-made fighters were destroyed, and the first Iraqi air attack in the week-old war was over. "I just rolled in behind them and shot them down," said the pilot, who asked that his last name not be used. "It was easy." The Iraqis did not fire back, he said.

British military officials said the pilot of a third Iraqi warplane that may have been part of the same mission apparently panicked and fired an Exocet missile wildly, then sped back across the Iraqi border. They said the Exocet was well out of range of coalition ships in the Persian Gulf and splashed harmlessly into the sea.

"It's hard to kill someone, but if he becomes an enemy, he deserves it," said the 30-year-old Ayedh a few hours after the twin killing.

The Saudi pilot was on a routine air patrol of the Saudi-Kuwait border area with three other Saudi jets when an AWACS radar plane picked up the Mirages and alerted the Saudi patrol, then 80 miles away from the Iraqis, military briefers said.

The Saudis closed to within 3,000 feet of the Iraqi jets before Ayedh fired. He would not say what type of missile he fired, but pilots typically use heat-seeking Sidewinder missiles at that range.

"They started breaking {away} in front of me, but it was too late," said Ayedh. "You know the F-15; nobody can beat it."

The brief skirmish marked a series of firsts in the war -- the first Iraqi attack, the first air-to-air kill by a Saudi pilot and the first double kill by any coalition flier.

"Every pilot I am sure is eager to shoot down an airplane," said Ayedh. "It was my day."

The air action could blunt criticism of Saudi efforts in the war. Some U.S. and British troops near the Kuwaiti border have grumbled about the sudden pullback of Saudi ground forces after the war began.

The Saudis have flown more than 1,000 of the 15,000 air sorties in the coalition's air war against Iraq. Today's two kills bring to 21 the number of Iraqi planes shot down in air combat. At least 22 more Iraqi planes have been destroyed on the ground.

Two Iraqi warplanes loaded with Exocets were downed yesterday by a Saudi pilot over the Persian Gulf.

In May 1987, the U.S. guided missile frigate Stark was heavily damaged by two Exocet missiles fired from an Iraqi Mirage F-1 fighter. Thirty-seven sailors were killed in the incident and two more seriously injured.

During the Iran-Iraq war, more than 100 Exocet anti-ship missiles were fired by Iraqi aircraft. Roughly 40 ships, most of them oil tankers were struck.

The Argentine air force and navy made extensive use of Exocets during the 1982 Falklands War against Britain, sinking the ships Sheffield and Atlantic Conveyor with the missiles. Compiled by James Schwartz -- The Washington Post SOURCES: Jane's Strategic Weapons; Periscope Data Base