Riyadh says arrests militants planning oil attacks

Wed Mar 24, 2010 1:54pm EDT
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By Souhail Karam

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday it had arrested 113 al Qaeda militants including suicide bombers who had been planning attacks on energy facilities in the world's top oil exporter.

The interior ministry said its sweep, among the biggest in several years, netted 58 suspected Saudi militants and 52 from Yemen, which jumped to the forefront of Western security concerns after a failed attack on a U.S.-bound jet in December.

The militants, who were also from Bangladesh, Eritrea and Somalia, were backed by al Qaeda in Yemen, it added in a statement, without giving the dates of the arrests.

Henry Wilkinson, a counter-terrorism expert at Janusian security consultants in London, said the arrests showed the Saudi oil sector remained a priority target for al Qaeda.

Saudi security was making it difficult for militants to operate in the kingdom but counter-terrorist activity was having little impact on al Qaeda's regional arm, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), in Yemen, he said.

AQAP "represents a consistent, if not growing threat to the oil sector and Western interests in the region," he said.

The 113 militants were organized into three cells, including two planning suicide attacks on oil and security facilities in Saudi Arabia's oil-producing Eastern Province, home to the world's biggest oil refinery.

"The 12 in the two cells were suicide bombers," security affairs spokesman Mansour al-Turki said. "We have compelling evidence against all of those arrested, that they were plotting terrorist attacks inside the kingdom."   Continued...