Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday it had broken up an 11-strong “terrorist cell” planning attacks and kidnappings and that it had seized guns and ammunition from the group.
The members of the “terrorist cell” — a common government reference to al-Qaeda and related groups — were arrested near the border with Yemen, interior ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki said.
The group, all Saudis, was planning to attack police installations and undertake kidnappings and robberies to finance their operations, Turki said by telephone.
“They were almost ready to start with acts against the kingdom,” he said.
It was too early to say precisely what their possible links to other groups were, he said, but he added: “They do have relationships to others outside the kingdom.”
They were equipped with small arms, such as pistols and shotguns, and their planned attacks were focused on the immediate area in southern Saudi Arabia, Turki said.
“They were not arrested at once, but taken one by one, until we were certain we had all of them,” he said.
In a statement, the ministry said the men had hidden themselves in a mountain cave near the border with weapons, food supplies, cameras and other equipment.
Saudi Arabia has been concerned during the past year over the rise of an al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen and its contacts with Saudi radicals. Several known Saudi militants have made their way into Yemen to join al-Qaeda operations there.
In January the Yemen branch of al-Qaeda announced in an Internet video message the merging of the Saudi and Yemeni branches into what it called al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, led by a Yemeni, Nasser al-Wahaishi.
Saudis have pressed Sanaa to take action against the group after a spate of attacks on foreign and government targets, including two suicide bomb attacks on South Korean tourists last month, leaving four dead, and two attacks last year on the US embassy.
In the past three months Yemen has handed over a number of militants to the Saudis, including a former Guantanamo prisoner, Mohamed Atiq Awayd al-Awfi, who had gone through Riyadh’s rehabilitation program for militants.
The Saudis had believed he had given up his support for radical Islamic groups, but he was reportedly lured by others to join up again with Islamic fighters inside Yemen.
At the end of last month, Yemen turned over to Saudis five more men it had arrested, including Ali Abdullah al-Harbi, who was on a Saudi most wanted list.
The Saudi government has cracked down hard on Islamic militants after a spate of attacks around the country during 2003 to 2004 left scores of foreigners and Saudis dead.
Hundreds of suspected Islamist sympathizers were killed or arrested in the wake of those attacks.
In February Riyadh released a list of 85 men wanted for ties to al-Qaeda or other militant groups, 83 Saudis and two Yemenis. Three people on the list, which was handed over to Interpol, have since been captured.