Saudis capture large Al Qaida cell that targeted U.S. forces

Thursday, May 8, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi Arabia has captured a large Al Qaida cell that had planned to attack U.S.interests in the kingdom.

Saudi officials said the cell was composed of 19 members who had trained in Al Qaida camps in Afghanistan. They said the cell had accumulated a large amount of weapons, including the advanced RDX explosive.

"The security services seized a large stash of weapons, explosives and munitions in Riyad Tuesday which were intended to carry out acts of terrorism," a Saudi Interior Ministry statement said.

The ministry said 19 people have been arrested, 17 of them were Saudis. The non-Saudis were identified as a Yemeni and an Iraqi, with Canadian nationality.

The statement said additional arrests have also been made. The ministry said additional details would be released later.

Later, Western diplomatic sources said the Al Qaida cell had planned to attack a series of U.S. and British targets in the kingdom. The sources said it was not clear whether the Al Qaida cell was responsible for previous attacks on Westerners in Saudi Arabia.

The ministry said the seizure of the weapons took place during a pursuit of unidentified suspects connected to an explosion that took place east of Riyad on March 18. A ministry source said a shootout erupted during the pursuit and the fleeing gunman hijacked a car.

"Inspection operations carried out by the security men led to the capture of 55 hand bombs, 208 shots, 87 gunshots, in addition to travel documents, identity cards, notebooks, bulletins as well as 253,717 Saudi riyals and $5,300," the ministry said. "When the house from which the suspects fled was searched, five big iron bags full of about 377 kilograms of explosives, four machine guns with three boxes containing about 2,250 bullets and other ammunitions, in addition to five computer sets, and a number of telecommunications devices were found. Meanwhile, a car, containing three gun machines and quantities of masks as well as other items, was detected at the courtyard of the house."

Saudi officials said more than 200 Al Qaida insurgents have been in detention. As late as March, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz assured the United States that Al Qaida no longer posed a threat.

Last week, the State Department urged Americans to leave Saudi Arabia and warned that terrorists were in the final stage of an attack on U.S. nationals in the kingdom. The department also warned Americans against traveling to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi Interior Ministry urged anybody who knows of any insurgency plots to contact authorities. The ministry warned against sheltering any insurgency suspects.

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