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(photo credit: AP)
Saudi Arabia — Saudi authorities on Friday said they arrested 149 al-Qaida suspects in a months-long sweep and thwarted attacks inside the kingdom on government officials, media personalities and civilian targets.
Saudi Arabia's anti-terror campaign has largely crushed al-Qaida's operations in the kingdom since a series of attacks there that began in 2003. Some key militants, however, fled across the southern border to Yemen, where the regional al-Qaida branch has re-established a stronghold from which to plot attacks on Saudi Arabia and beyond.
The new arrest raids over the past eight months revealed that al-Qaida-linked militants have also been able to maintain or rebuild an organizational structure inside Saudi Arabia with close links to al-Qaida leaders in Yemen.
Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki said those arrested had organized themselves into three networks across the kingdom that had no knowledge of one another as well as several independent smaller cells.
Most of the suspects arrested were Saudis; 25 were foreigners, said Turki. One woman was also among them.
Saudi forces seized weapons and about $600,000 in the raids, he said.
The groups had foreign links, raised funds and trained their members in the use of weapons and making explosives. They also sent some members to areas of conflict outside of Saudi Arabia, he said, without elaborating.
Turki said the sweep was not connected to last month's failed mail bomb plot, which the Yemen-based al-Qaida offshoot has claimed it was behind. Saudi Arabia provided the key intelligence information that led to the last-minute foiling of the plot, in which mail bombs addressed to the US ended up on planes flying out of Yemen. The unexploded bombs were intercepted at airports in Dubai and England.
Turki said those arrested had been planning more than half a dozen attacks against Saudi government and military officials and establishments, as well as civilians and media figures. Some of the attacks were in advanced stages of preparations, he said.
"Uncovering these cells is part of work that never stops," he said. "The security authorities are continuously working to combat this misled group whether inside the kingdom or outside it, as it targets us or others through their abuse of Islam."
He said planning documents and computers were also seized.
Some suspects connected to the plots have not been arrested and some are abroad, he said. Interpol has been informed.
Some of the suspects were contributors to militant forums on the Internet and were identified by their usernames.
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