x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Five arrested in Saudi over security concerns

Security forces lock down the city of Samatah, close to the border with Yemen, after arresting five men who they say are wanted for "security-related issues".

JEDDAH // Saudi security forces yesterday locked down the city of Samatah, close to the border with Yemen, after arresting five men who they said were wanted for "security-related issues". Authorities said the group was arrested on Thursday, one day after they rented an apartment, and that they were unarmed. Gen Mansour al Turki, spokesman for the ministry of interior, said the group was still being questioned and that as yet, he could not confirm any links to a terrorist plot.

Security forces tightened their control of Samatah yesterday and set up checkpoints around the city, which is close to Yemen. Yemen has recently become the base for many al Qa'eda militants who fled Saudi Arabia after a government crackdown. Many, however, have returned through the mountain passages that link the two countries. In August, al Qa'eda targeted the deputy interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Naif. The suicide bomber, Abdullah Assiri, was from Yemen and had travelled to Saudi through the border and to Jeddah where he blew himself up as he approached the prince.

Saudi officials have recently expressed concern that al Qa'eda could take advantage of the increasingly tense situation in Yemen, where the government is battling Shiite rebels in areas close to the Saudi border, to smuggle in fighters. Al Qa'eda militants, including fighters returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, have established sanctuaries in Yemen, particularly in three provinces bordering Saudi Arabia known as the "triangle of evil" because of the heavy militant presence.

In January, militants announced the creation of al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula, a merger between the terror network's Yemeni and Saudi branches, led by Naser Abdel-Karim al-Wahishi, a Yemeni who was once a close aide to bin Laden. On August 19, Saudi authorities announced the arrest of 44 suspected militants with al Qa'eda links in a year-long sweep. Since 2003 al Qa'eda launched a terrorist campaign of assaults, assassinations and bombings that left more than 150 Saudis and foreigners dead, and was followed by a sweeping roundup of some 9,000 suspected Islamic dissidents.

By some estimates more than 3,000 are still being held, and nearly 1,000 have been charged with terror-related offences. wmahdi@thenational.ae