RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia said on Monday it had arrested 28 people suspected of seeking to regroup al Qaeda’s wing in the oil-exporting kingdom to carry out a “terror campaign”.
The official Saudi Press Agency said those detained were part of a total of 56 suspects arrested in a drive to round up Qaeda members in recent months, and “belonged to the deviant group (al Qaeda) ... and received directions to rebuild the group and start a terror campaign in the kingdom”.
The suspects were using a recording from al Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri to help raise money from ordinary Saudis, SPA said, citing a source in the ministry of interior.
“The bearer of this message is one of our trusted brothers, therefore please give him your donations for hundreds of the families of captives and martyrs in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Zawahri said in the audio recording aired by state television.
SPA said the recording was brought into the kingdom via the mobile telephone of a “person who had visited Mecca”.
The U.S.-allied Muslim kingdom detained 28 Qaeda militants in Mecca, Madina, Riyadh and an area near the country’s northern borders in December.
Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television said at the time that some militants were arrested on suspicion of planning attacks during the annual Muslim haj pilgrimage in Mecca.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter and home to Islam’s holiest sites, has been the target of attacks by militants linked to al Qaeda since 2003. Previously, militants opposed to the royal family had seized control of Mecca’s Grand Mosque in 1979.
In November, Saudi Arabia said it had arrested 208 militants for involvement in cells planning an imminent attack on an oil installation, as well as attacks on clerics and security forces.
Al Qaeda sympathisers — encouraged by calls from Saudi-born Osama bin Laden to attack the pro-Western Saudi government — have targeted foreign residential compounds, government buildings and energy sector installations.
Saudi Arabia has been building a 35,000-strong rapid reaction force to protect installations after a failed al Qaeda attack in 2006 on the world’s largest oil processing plant at Abqaiq.