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Saudi military goes on alert in anticipation of war

Wednesday, January 8, 2003

LONDON Saudi Arabia has placed its military on alert in expectation of a U.S.-led war against Iraq. The government information agency also reported skirmishes between Saudi troops and insurgents in the Al Qaida stronghold of Buraidah.

Saudi opposition sources said the army and National Guard moved troops to the northern border with Kuwait. Troops were also moved to strategic installations, particularly oil facilities, to boost security.

Saudi security forces have been on guard against attacks by Al Qaida, Middle East Newsline reported. The Saudi agency reoprted that Saudi troops clashed with suspected Al Qaida insurgents in Buraidah in the central region of the kingdom.

Buraidah, regarded as the heartland of the ruling Wahabi sect, is an Al Qaida stronghold. Witnesses said hundreds of compact disks containing sermons in support of Al Qaeda were distributed in the city after the mosque prayers on Friday.

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The Washington-based Saudi Information Agency said the military issued what was termed a Level-2 alert. The move cancels all leave by both officers and soldiers.

The agency said the Saudi military has also deployed PAC-2 air and missile defense units along the northern border near Kuwait. Mechanized divisions from the National Guard have been ordered to move to the Khafer Baten, headquarters of the Gulf Cooperation Council military force as well as the King Khaled Military City.

Last June, the kingdom held a major military exercise near the Jordanian border. Saudi opposition sources said the exercise concealed a crackdown on dissidents and suspected insurgents in northern Saudi Arabia.

Witnesses said two military helicopters and more than 60 security vehicles have been operating in the city in search of an Al Qaida operative. They said gunfire was heard in Buraidah during a manhunt for Al Qaida fugitive Aziz Al Omari.

Earlier, Saudi opposition and Arab diplomatic sources reported that more than 40 suspected Al Qaida detainees launched a hunger strike in Al Rweis prison in Jedda. The sources said more than 100 people linked to Al Qaida are being held in the jail.

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