Sun, Nov 28, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Foiled Saudi al-Qaeda cells were recruiting members

Reuters, RIYADH

Saudi Arabia said on Friday it had captured 149 al-Qaeda militants in recent months who were raising money and recruiting members to carry out attacks inside the kingdom, with links to other militants in Somalia and Yemen.

The announcement by the world’s largest oil-exporting country was made with Saudi Arabia’s elderly King Abdullah in the US recovering from surgery to treat a blood clot complication from a slipped disc.

“In the past eight months, 149 people linked to al-Qaeda were arrested, among them were 124 Saudis and 25 were from other nationalities,” Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour Turki told a news conference.

Turki said the attackers belonged to 19 al-Qaeda cells and were planning to target government facilities, security officials and journalists in the kingdom. He gave no names of targets.

When asked whether they had also targeted oil installations in Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, he said: “We cannot exclude this. Investigations are ongoing.”

The television channel al Arabiya reported that the kingdom had also foiled plans to attack Saudi oil installations.

The non-Saudi suspects were Arabs, Africans and South Asians, he said, adding that the thwarted cells had associations with al-Qaeda in Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan.

“These cells have links with al-Qaeda, who are disturbing the security in Yemen, with Somalia and organizations in Afghanistan,” Turki said.

One cell had links to Somalia, but the large majority had ties to Yemen. Most cells were very small, were operating independently and still in the stages of being set up, he said.

The ministry confiscated 2.24 million riyals (US$597,000) from al-Qaeda suspects, Turki said, and militants had tried to collect money and spread their ideology during the Muslim pilgrimages of hajj and umrah in Saudi Arabia.

Analysts said that while the announcement was not unusual for Saudi Arabia, it pointed to the kingdom’s continuing struggle against militancy, but also its -improved intelligence and tactics in fighting al-Qaeda.

“There is no doubt that there is a security problem. Particularly it seems [to be] coming from inside Yemen,” said Neil Partrick, an independent Britain-based analyst on the Middle East.

“In the last five years the Saudi security services ... have become more efficient at intercepting security threats, whether those directed against soft targets or those against major installations,” Partrick said.

A Saudi Arabian counter-terrorism drive halted a violent al-Qaeda campaign in the country from 2003 to 2006. Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni and Saudi wings merged last year into a new group, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen.

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