RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has detained 88 people, more than half of them Saudis, on suspicion of plotting “terrorist” attacks at home and abroad, the Interior Ministry said Tuesday. A ministry statement said it had been following a number of suspects in view of what it called the spread of “strife and sick ideas” that lured members of the community to “places of strife.”
Some of the suspects had links to the Al-Qaeda splinter group ISIS operating in Syria and Iraq, to the Nusra Front group in Syria or to the Al-Qaeda branch in Yemen, ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Turki said after a news conference.
“They showed their support to the organizations in Syria and Iraq and also in Yemen, and they wanted to get involved in their activities. Some of them tried to get ... instructions of what he should do, how he should act inside the kingdom.”
He said those who were in contact with militant groups overseas may not have also been in contact with each other.
Turki said that 48 of those arrested were Saudis and many had been planning assassinations.
The detentions included eight people whose arrest in the town of Tumair was reported last week. One of those arrested had been preparing sermons for use by Islamist militant groups in Iraq and Syria, Turki said.
The likely targets for assassination were government security officials, he said, but might also include preachers who argued against militant ideology. Turki said that around 2,500 Saudis were believed to be involved in militant activities abroad, including in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan.
The news came as a small fire broke out on a gas pipeline in eastern Saudi Arabia after assailants shot at a police patrol, security and oil industry sources said, in an incident that may heighten concern about the vulnerability of Saudi energy infrastructure.
The pipeline has been repaired and there was no impact on oil or gas production in the world’s top crude exporter, the sources said.
But the incident marks the first time the kingdom’s physical energy infrastructure has been damaged in a violent attack since 2006, when Saudi security forces foiled an attack by Al-Qaeda militants on the giant Abqaiq processing plant.
The brief fire was started by a bullet hitting the pipeline after shots were fired at a police car patrolling the oil-rich Eastern Province, said according to Turki.
One policeman was wounded in the leg, he said.
A resident in the eastern district of Qatif said the incident had taken place close to a checkpoint at the entrance to the village of Awamiya, but that it had caused no damage to homes or other property.
Awamiya in Qatif district has been the location of Saudi Arabia’s most persistent unrest, with protests by members of the kingdom’s Shiite minority in 2011 continuing until last year, coupled with occasional shooting and fire-bomb attacks on police.