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Saudi Police Arrest Muslim Militants in Mecca - 2003-11-04

Saudi police say they have arrested six Muslim militants after Monday's raids on suspected terror cells in Mecca. Saudi Arabia's interior minister says the police prevented a terrorist attack against pilgrims to Mecca.

Saudi Interior Minister, Prince Nayef, said two of the alleged militants involved in Monday's police raids in Mecca had surrendered, while the others, one of them wounded, had been captured.

Asked if he thought the suspects were members of the al-Qaida network, the prince said all eight, including the two who were killed in Monday's raids, were "without any doubt" from the same organization.

Speaking to the state-controlled al-Riyadh newspaper, the prince said, "these people are targeting the month of Ramadan, this is an evil aim." He told the newspaper the suspects "wanted to make the entire country a place for terror, without any exception, and even in the holiest place on earth where Saudis and non-Saudis come to pray to God."

The Monday police raids in Mecca were the latest in a campaign by Saudi security forces to rein in suspected Muslim militants, that began under U.S. pressure after the September 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. cities. The campaign intensified after May 12 suicide bombings against Western residential compounds in Riyadh. Hundreds of suspected militants have been arrested in the campaign. Saudi authorities have linked some of the arrested with al-Qaida.

The nationalities for those arrested in Monday's raid were not immediately known, but suspected terrorists in similar security sweeps have not all been Saudi citizens. Hala Mustapha, an expert in Muslim militancy at Egypt's Diplomatic Institute, says those behind the terror could be from a wide range of places.

"Al-Qaida is a trans-national organization, so the members, the leaders of this organization of al-Qaida do not belong to just one nationality, or one state, but its a gathering from different nationalities," he said. On June 14, a police raid on a suspected terror cell in Mecca resulted in the death of five al-Qaida suspects and two security agents. Militants arrested in that raid included people from Chad and Egypt, Saudi authorities said at the time.