Saudi Arabian security forces detained 149 people over the past eight months suspected of links with al-Qaeda, Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour al-Turki said.
The arrests foiled about 10 planned attacks, including on government and military targets and officials and media personalities, al-Turki told a televised press conference in Riyadh today. The investigation is ongoing and it’s too early to determine whether oil installations were also targeted, he said.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil supplier, stepped up operations against al-Qaeda in 2004 after militants struck an oil installation and stormed a housing complex in the city of al-Khobar, killing 22 foreign workers. Many al-Qaeda fighters seeking to escape the crackdown fled across the border to Yemen, the source of several recent attempted bombings by the group.
Saudi authorities “have a lid on the situation,” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, in a phone interview. Still, “one slip-up and there could be an embarrassment,” he said.
Saudi Arabia’s 86-year-old ruler, King Abdullah, underwent surgery in New York on Nov. 24 for a blood clot and slipped disc. He delegated management of the country’s affairs to Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz during his absence.
The latest arrests prevented some attacks that were “in advanced stages,” al-Turki said.
Of those detained, 124 were Saudis and one was a woman, and other suspects are being pursued, he said. Security forces broke up 19 cells of the organization, including one tasked with collecting money, and seized 2.4 million riyals ($640,000).
“No doubt al-Qaeda seeks to raise funds from within Saudi Arabia,” al-Turki said. “Al-Qaeda wants to exploit the enthusiasm of Saudis to do charity work and philanthropy.”
Saudi nationals and residents helped authorities uncover the terrorist cells, al-Turki said. Saudi television showed seized laptops and bundles of money.
The U.S. said on Oct. 29 that Saudi Arabia helped uncover a plot last month to ship packages of explosives to the U.S. from Yemen. U.S., European and Yemeni investigators are working to uncover more details of a plan involving two bombs concealed in printer cartridges found in packages that originated in Yemen.
Earlier this month, ten suspects were detained in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany following an investigation of a possible terror attack in Belgium.
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