RIYADH/JEDDAH: During the last six months, Saudi security forces have arrested 701 militants for allegedly plotting to carry out terrorist attacks on oil facilities and other vital installations across the Kingdom, the Interior Ministry announced yesterday.
“Some of the arrested suspects were planning to stage terrorist attacks on oil fields and installations,” Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, spokesman for the ministry told Arab News.
He said the militants — Saudis and foreigners — were trying to regroup and strengthen the Al-Qaeda terror network in Saudi Arabia.
“The exact involvement of these new detainees, who were apprehended during the last six to eight months is not immediately known,” the spokesman said.
“However, the five terror groups mentioned in the statement are not linked to one another.”
He added: “Of the total 701 arrested, 520 are still in detention while the remaining 181 have been released as there was no evidence to prove their connection with terrorist groups.”
The large-scale security sweep has been carried out over the past few months in various parts of the Kingdom and police have confiscated weapons, ammunition, sophisticated electronic equipment and money from the militants.
In one instance, Al-Turki said a cell controlled by African immigrants was broken up in the oil-rich Eastern Province. The Africans were attempting to influence employees in oil installations to secure jobs. Without giving details, he said the cell had also begun planning an attack on “an oil site and a security target with car bombs.”
Al-Turki said many of the arrested militants, who have been publicizing and promoting Al-Qaeda ideology, had links with foreign organizations.
“These militants have also been recruiting innocent Saudis and foreigners into terror cells operating in the region,” he added. “These terrorists were using Haj as a means of bringing more foreign Al-Qaeda cadres into the Kingdom.”
However, he said, no new regulations are going to be introduced with regard to Haj and Umrah visas.
Al-Turki refused to give a breakdown of the number of Saudis and foreigners arrested, saying he did not want to name any country or nationality. He said that some had been busy raising funds for terrorist operations and that this fundraising needed to be investigated further. He declined to specify where the detainees were being held.
When asked why the announcement was made, Al-Turki answered that it was in the context of normal ministry security briefings. He said the militants wanted to destabilize the Kingdom.
The militants were trying every conceivable means to collect money for terrorist operations inside and outside the Kingdom, he said, adding: “They used Saudis’ religious sentiments to influence them and recruit them as suicide bombers.”
Al-Turki said Al-Qaeda leaders abroad were recruiting Asian and African militants to carry out operations inside the Kingdom, adding that they were targeting mainly economic installations.
Explaining the mode of collecting funds for terrorism by militants, he said they stole money meant for charitable activities by using donation boxes that appeared to be affiliated to a charity but in fact were not.
One of those arrested was carrying a recorded message of Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman Al-Zawahri on the memory card of a cell phone. “The bearer of this message is one of our trusted brothers; therefore, please give him your donations to help hundreds of families of captives and martyrs in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” the message said.
Al-Turki said the arrested militants included members of a cell in Yanbu that was promoting their takfiri (branding opponents as infidels) ideology and collecting funds for terrorist activities. They had forged coupons for sacrificial animals that are sold to pilgrims.
About the arrest of another group of militants recently, he said: “There was a 22-member cell which formed a special team to assassinate Islamic scholars and security officers.” The assassination move came after imams and khateebs across the country joined the fight against terrorism and extremism.
Police arrested 112 suspects for coordinating with foreign parties to facilitate the travel of militants to disturbed regions, Al-Turki said, in a reference to those that convince Saudis to travel to Iraq in order to fight alongside insurgents.
Al-Turki said the arrested financiers included Saudis as well as expatriates, adding that they had provided financial support to Al-Qaeda militants in the Kingdom and abroad.
Speaking about the media cell in Madinah that promoted deviant ideologies and thoughts, he said the cell had provided every encouragement to commit crimes. The media cell published a news bulletin called Echo of Iraq and facilitated the travel of militants to the war-torn country.
The spokesman cautioned Saudis and expatriates about terrorist groups that try to destabilize the Kingdom and urged them to lend their support to flushing the terrorists from the country. “Security forces will not allow anybody to interfere with the Kingdom’s security,” he added.
Last March, the ministry announced the arrest of 28 militants, who were involved in rebuilding Al-Qaeda network in Saudi Arabia to launch another campaign of terror across the country. Prior to that, police arrested 28 militants for allegedly planning to attack sites outside Makkah and Madinah during the Haj season.
— With input by Ghazanfar Ali Khan &
P.K. Abdul Ghafour