Saudis arrest 172 in 'terror raid'
TV grab of Saudi police digging in desert areas and seizing weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades
Saudi officials say they have foiled an al Qaeda-linked plot to attack oil facilities and military bases in the kingdom and arrested up to 172 suspects, including trainee pilots preparing for suicide operations.
The interior ministry said in a statement on on Friday that police seized weapons and over $5.33m in cash from seven armed cells.
The statement, broadcast on Al-Ekhbaria state television, said: "Some had begun training on the use of weapons, and some were sent to other countries to study aviation in preparation to use them to carry out terrorist operations inside the kingdom."
The ministry said that the suspects were plotting to carry out suicide attacks on public figures and oil installations in addition to targeting military bases.
Saudi Arabia is the world's top oil exporter, supplying about seven million barrels a day to world markets. It holds nearly a quarter of the world's oil reserves.
The Saudi interior ministry said the suspects had been "influenced by the deviant ideology", a reference used by the kingdom's officials to refer to al-Qaeda.
Most of the 19 al-Qaeda fighters who commandeered hijacked planes in the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US were Saudis.
Muslim fighters swearing allegiance to al-Qaeda launched a violent campaign to topple the Saudi monarchy in 2003, carrying out suicide bomb attacks on foreigners and government buildings, including the oil industry.
Mansour al-Turki, an interior ministry spokesman, said: "It is obvious that the deviant group is still trying to revive its criminal activities in the kingdom."
He said that a total of 172 suspects from seven cells have been arrested, mostly Saudis but including some foreigners, who had trained abroad.
"They are linked to foreign elements and had benefited from restive areas to recruit, plan and train (for attacks)," al-Turki said, in an apparent reference to Iraq, where up to 3,000 Saudi fighters are believed to have joined Iraqis in their fight against US-backed Iraqi government forces.
Television pictures showed police digging in desert areas and searching buildings, seizing weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles, computers and bundles of money.