New York Times
June 26, 2008 RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — The Saudi authorities have arrested and detained 520 people so far this year who are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda, the Interior Ministry said Wednesday.
In a statement reported by the official Saudi Press Agency, the ministry said some of those arrested had been plotting bomb attacks against an oil installation and what it called a security target, but it provided no details.
The ministry said police officers had found money, weapons and ammunition owned by the suspects, who had buried some of it in remote areas. The men, who are from Africa, Asia and other regions, were organized into cells whose leaders were based outside Saudi Arabia, the statement added.
One of the men was reportedly found with a message from Al Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri, urging him to raise money and saying the terrorist group would provide militants from Iraq, Afghanistan and North Africa “to target oil installations and fight security forces.”
The ministry said that 181 others had been arrested since January but released because there was no evidence linking them to Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda has called for attacks against the Saudi government, criticizing its alliance with the United States and hoping to disrupt the flow of oil to the West.
In February 2006, two explosives-laden vehicles tried to enter the Abqaiq oil complex, the world’s largest oil processing plant, in eastern Saudi Arabia. But guards opened fire and the vehicles exploded without damaging the plant.
The ministry said several of the suspects were trying to get jobs inside oil installations in eastern Saudi Arabia, which holds much of the reserves of the world’s top crude exporter.
Another man who was arrested was suspected of trying to raise money in the western Saudi oil hub of Yanbu, where attackers stormed the offices of a Houston-based oil company in 2004.
Some of those arrested also tried to recruit Saudis “by spreading misleading propaganda on the Internet” and undermining government-appointed clerics, the ministry said. The ministry’s statement referred to those detained as members of a “deviant group” — a Saudi euphemism for Al Qaeda and its sympathizers.
A State Department spokesman, Tom Casey, said the reports of the arrests were an indication “a lot more” needed to be done in fighting terrorism.
“It’s just another indication that Al Qaeda and the terrorist groups out there remain, and remain a challenge not only for the United States and for Saudi Arabia but for the broader region and, really, for the world,” he said.