Saudi Arabia dismantles ‘major’ terrorist group

The group plotted attacks against government facilities and foreign interests, the interior ministry said

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Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry said on Tuesday it had dismantled a major “terrorist organization” with links to extremist elements in Syria and Yemen that was plotting attacks against government facilities and foreign interests.

According to a ministry statement, 62 suspected members of the group - among them three foreigners; a Palestinian, a Yemeni and a Pakistani - were arrested.

Among the Saudi detainees, there are 35 who had previously been detained on security-related allegations and released, it said.

Members of the organization have “links with extremist elements in Syria and Yemen,” it said, adding that authorities are still hunting down 44 others whose names have been submitted to Interpol.

Interior Ministry Spokesman Major General Mansour al-Turki told reporters in Riyadh that the organization has also made “direct” contact with the Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The group had been targeting “government and foreign interests” and had planned “wide -scale assassinations.”

The statement said “suspicious activities on social networks” had facilitated the arrests, without providing further details.

In a later interview with Al Arabiya News Channel, al-Turki said terrorist cells in the kingdom are increasingly focused on smuggling operations along the southern border with Yemen.

Last month Jazan police arrested two women from Qassim and three Yemenis for trying to cross the border into Yemen to join al-Qaeda.

Major General al-Turki said security forces had also dismantled a factory used to make explosives and seized about 1 million Saudi Riyals ($266,000).

Al-Turki said the factory was also used in “making electronic circuits which are used in explosions, jamming and eavesdropping.”

Equipment used in forging documents was also seized in the plant, he said.

The Interior Ministry spokesman said the group raised most of its finances through the internet. Other amounts came from unspecified donations, he noted.

Al-Turki explained that the goal of the terrorist group was to spread chaos in the kingdom.

Faris Bin Hizam, a Saudi expert in Islamist movement, told Al Arabiya News Channel in an interview on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia has been constant target of terrorist groups based in neighboring countries, especially Iraq and Syria.

But he said increased security efforts coupled with growing cooperation from ordinary citizens crippled terrorist groups’ ability to circumvent detection.

The Interior Ministry in March published a list of “terror” groups, including Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, al-Nusra Front, which is al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria, another jihadist group fighting in Syria and Iraq.

It also includes the little-known Saudi Hezbollah Shiite militant group, as well as Shiite Huthi rebels fighting in neighboring Yemen.

The ministry has said it will prosecute anyone who backs such groups “financially or morally,” or who seeks to promote them in the media and on social networks.

It also forbids “participation in, calling for, or incitement to fighting in conflict zones in other countries” as well as calling for demonstrations or taking part in them.

After a wave of deadly al-Qaeda attacks in the kingdom between 2003 and 2006, Saudi authorities cracked down on the local branch of the group founded by the late Osama bin Laden, himself Saudi-born.

Members of that group went on to merge with Yemeni militants to form al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen and seen as one of the network’s most formidable affiliates.

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