The Saudi interior ministry has announced the arrests of 149 terror suspects belonging to 19 different groups and that the operation disrupted at least 10 terror plots.
The announcement by the Saudi Interior Ministry described an elaborate sting-operation against dozens of terror suspects. It was the biggest operation of its kind to be announced in Saudi Arabia in months.
Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour ben Turki said the suspects, the majority of them Saudis, were arrested after eight months of police work. He said the 19 terror cells that were busted operated independently and that few of the suspects knew each other.
The Saudi TV news channel al-Ikhberiya showed images of dozens of computers that were confiscated during the operation. It said the computer hard drives contained information about terror plots and their financing.
Spokesman ben Turki noted that at least 10 separate plots had been uncovered and foiled. He said many of the plotters had come to visit Saudi Arabia during the Muslim Hajj season. He also said most of the plots targeted government installations.
He says most of the plots did not point to any oil installations being targeted. He emphasizes that the main aim (of the plots) appears to be public buildings and military installations. But, he noted, all of the intended targets are still not clear since many of the suspects were arrested only recently and the investigation is ongoing.
Ben Turki, however, played down any possible link between the latest arrests and the recent mail-bomb plot by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
He says the (arrests) took place over a period of eight months and that the operation was not the work of just a day or two. For this reason, he says, it would be difficult to link this operation to the parcel bomb plot, whose existence (Saudi intelligence) uncovered and broadcast to the parties who were being targeted.
Veteran Saudi editor and publisher Jamal Khashoggi pointed out that the arrests are a worrisome development, because they highlight how successful al-Qaida has been in recruiting and putting together a decentralized terror network.
"We are not clear if there is a supreme commander to all of those cells," said Khashoggi. "Also, the spokesman of the ministry of the interior spoke of cells who were not aware of other cells. They were independent cells. So, those 149 people, they don't all know each other, and this is really a success story for al Qaida, that it is able to create independent cells here and there, without a central command."
Saudi Interior ministry spokesman ben Turki said many of the potential recruits contacted by al-Qaida recruits over the Internet were under the age of 20 and susceptible to the recruiting efforts because of their religious fervor.