ABU DHABI Ñ Saudi Arabia has foiled an Al Qaida plot to
attack government installations and Muslim pilgrims in the kingdom.
Saudi officials said security forces raided an Al Qaida stronghold about
16 kilometers northeast of Mecca and killed at least two operatives and
captured a large arsenal of weapons, Middle East Newsline reported. They said the raid appeared to have
foiled an Al Qaida plan to attack Saudi government targets and Islamic
pilgrims in Mecca,
regarded as the seat of Islam.
"In Mecca there are only Muslims from inside and outside the kingdom,"
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz told the Al Riyad daily
on Tuesday. "They certainly [sought to target] buildings, installations and
people. All the seized weapons indicate such a plan."
The two suspected insurgents Ñ later identified as a Saudi and a
Pakistani Ñ were killed in a shootout on Monday during a raid of two
buildings said to have been used as a hideout in the suburb of Shira'a,
regarded as a pro-Al Qaida area.
Prince Nayef said Saudi security forces
captured six other suspected Al Qaida insurgents, two of whom surrendered
without a fight. The forces conducted the operation with the help of a
helicopter, which provided reconnaissance.
"They 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 Saudi interior minister said.
Officials said they found rocket-propelled grenades, automatic rifles,
pistols, explosives and ammunition in the buildings. In addition, Saudi
security forces found forged passports, identification cards, thousands of
pro-Al Qaida leaflets as well as material to assemble bombs.
Saudi opposition sources quoted witnesses as saying six Al Qaida
insurgents Ñ several of them identified as African nationals Ñ tried to
flee from the buildings and were killed. The sources said five Saudi
officers were also killed and one of the insurgents escaped in the shootout.
Saudi authorities had been bracing for a major Al Qaida attack during
the Islamic fast month of Ramadan. Opposition sources said armored personnel
carriers and other combat vehicles have been patrolling Mecca. About two
million people were expected to arrive in the city for the annual Islamic
pilgrimage, termed the Umrah.
The Saudi raid was the first since Australia, Britain and the United
States warned of an Al Qaida plot to attack Western civilian airliners
scheduled to arrive in the kingdom. Several Western countries had also urged
their nationals to postpone travel to Saudi Arabia.