x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Saudi sweep for al Qa'eda suspects nets 149

A Saudi official says 25 foreigners are among the suspected members of the terror group arrested over the past eight months.

Saudi Arabia has arrested 149 suspected al Qa'eda-linked militants in 19 separate cells planning attacks on state officials, foreigners and journalists, the interior ministry said on Friday.

The arrests, which took place over the past eight months, involved both Saudi and foreign nationals with links to al Qa'eda operations mainly in Yemen, but also in Afghanistan and Somalia, interior ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki told reporters.

"The largest majority of them (the cells) were created by AQAP," Turki said, referring to al Qa'eda on the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based group led by both Yemenis and Saudis.

"Some had links to al Qa'eda in Afghanistan (and) some actually had links to Al-Qaeda in Somalia," he added.

Turki gave few details about the cells' activities. "Most of the plots were against individuals," he said -- mainly Saudi security and political officials, journalists and resident "non-Muslim" foreigners, he said.

One cell was apparently training people in the use of electronic bombs, possibly car bombs, while another was raising money for al Qa'eda abroad, he said.

"This is a continuous effort by al Qa'eda. Al Qa'eda will never give up," Turki said.

Of the 149, 25 were foreigners identified only as being Arab, African and Asian in origin.

One woman, a Saudi, was also arrested for posting al Qa'eda materials on the Internet under multiple pseudonyms, Turki said.

Most of the people in the 19 cells had links to AQAP, which has increasingly been behind international bombing attempts including the parcel bombs intercepted en route to the United States in October.

"They sent some (people) here; in most cases AQAP recruited them from inside Saudi Arabia," he said.

Troves of documents and weapons that would have been used in attacks were also recovered, Turki said, adding that the kingdom has contacted Interpol for the arrest of others linked to the plans.

Authorities also recovered the sum of 2.24 million riyals (about 600,000 dollars) from the cells that was to be used to support al Qa'eda both inside and outside Saudi Arabia.

On October 5, al Qa'eda militants threatened fresh attacks on Saudi royal family members in a video message posted on the Internet to mark a 2009 failed bombing which had targeted the interior minister.