Saudi arrests 88 in 'anti-terrorism' drive
RIYADH // Saudi Arabia said yesterday it had arrested 88 men suspected of being parts of an Al Qaeda cell that was plotting attacks inside and outside the kingdom.
The interior ministry did not give any details about the alleged plots, but said 59 of the men arrested had previously served prison sentences for similar offences.
The arrests were made over the past several days after Saudi security forces monitored the group for months and learned about their plans, the ministry’s spokesman, Mansour Al Turki, said.
He said Saudi forces “are serious in tracking down” anyone who joins a terrorist group.
“It is unfortunate that some of those who had completed their sentences and were released by court orders returned to their previous ways,” Mr Al Turki said.
Saudi King Abdullah on Friday underscored the threat posed by militants unless rapid action was taken.
The ministry said the suspects were all Saudis except for three Yemenis and one whose identity remains unknown.
The authorities launched a massive crackdown on Al Qaeda following a spate of deadly attacks in the kingdom from 2003 to 2006.
It released scores of militants after passing them through a controversial rehabilitation programme set up seven years ago to persuade them that their actions violated the teachings of Islam.
But many graduates of the programme returned to militancy, including Saeed Al Shehri, who went on to become deputy leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula before being killed in a US drone strike in Yemen last year.
The interior ministry in March published a list of “terror” groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Nusra Front, which is Al Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate, and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an extremist militant group fighting in Syria and Iraq.
It also includes the little-known Shiite militant group Saudi Hizbollah as well as Shiite Houthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen.
Saudi Arabia’s top cleric last month branded Al Qaeda and ISIL as “enemy number one” of Islam.
And King Abdullah was quoted as saying: “Terrorism knows no border and its danger could affect several countries outside the Middle East.
“If we ignore them, I am sure they will reach Europe in a month and America in another month.”
Saudi authorities set up specialised terrorism courts in 2011 to try dozens of Saudis and foreigners accused of belonging to Al Qaeda or involvement in the unrest unleashed in 2003.
Meanwhile, a small fire erupted on a gas pipeline in the Eastern Province on Tuesday after assailants shot at a security patrol, Saudi security and oil industry sources said.
The pipeline has been repaired and there was no impact on oil or gas production, the sources said
* Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters
Updated: September 3, 2014 04:00 AM