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Wed 24 Mar 2010 11:46 PM

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Riyadh arrests militants planning attacks.

The sweep, the biggest in years, netted 58 suspected militants from Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh arrests militants planning attacks.
ATTACK STOPPED: Saudi Arabia said that it had arrested 113 suspected Al Qaeda militants including suicide bombers. (Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia said 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 December attack on a US bound plane.

The militants were backed by al Qaeda in Yemen, it added.

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

Mansour al Turki, security affair's spokesman, said: "The 12 in the two cells were suicide bombers."

He added: "We have compelling evidence against all of those arrested, that they were plotting terrorist attacks inside the kingdom."

Authorities seized weapons, ammunition and explosive belts, and said the militants were linked to a "deviant group that has chosen Yemen as a base for the launch of its criminal operations," employing terms used to typically refer to al Qaeda.

In a statement, the ministry said: "The deviant group is using elements inside the kingdom who came (to Saudi Arabia) under the cover of work or pilgrimage or entered illegally."

Sanaa, struggling to stabilize a fractious country, has come under international pressure to end a northern war and focus on fighting al Qaeda, whose Yemen based arm claimed responsibility for the attempted December plane bombing.

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest petroleum exporter and a crucial US ally in the Middle East, was forced to confront its own role in rising militancy at home and abroad when its nationals turned out to be behind the September 11 attacks on the United States.

The mastermind of those attacks, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was born in Saudi Arabia.

Authorities said the two suicide bombing cells were comprised of 11 Saudis and a Yemeni who security officials described as the brother of a prominent member of al Qaeda. It said they were in early stages of preparing suicide attacks.

Some 101 militants were detained in the southern province of Jazan, near the border with Yemen. In addition to Yemeni and Saudi militants, those arrested also included militants from Bangladesh, Eritrea and Somalia.

The dates of these arrests were not disclosed.

The interior ministry said: "The network ... which included suicide bombers was set up to lead attacks within the kingdom and target installations, and monitor security members as potential targets in concurrence with the recent events at the kingdom's southern borders."

Saudi Arabia and Western countries fear al Qaeda, whose regional arm is based in Yemen, is exploiting instability on multiple fronts in impoverished Yemen to launch attacks in the region and beyond.

Riyadh, which was drawn into a Yemeni war with separate Shi'ite insurgents in November, fears Yemen's fight with al Qaeda could also spill over to its territory.

Saudi concerns about Yemen were amplified after the kingdom's top anti terrorism official Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was slightly hurt in a suicide attack in his house in September by a Saudi bomber posing as a repentant militant returning from Yemen.

Islamist militants launched a violent campaign to topple the US allied monarchy in 2003, killing nearly 200 people, including foreign residents.

But a Saudi security crackdown coupled with tighter controls on financing and the spread of militant ideas helped curb violence inside the kingdom after 2006. (Reuters)

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