Saudis Arrest 172 Militants in Oil Plot
By ABDULLAH SHIHRI
The Associated Press
This image made from footage broadcast by the Saudi state TV channel Al-Ekhbariah, Friday, April 27, 2007, is said by them to show weapons recovered during police operations. The weapons shown on television included AK-47 rifles and other rifles, brickettes of plastic explosives, AK-47 magazines, and handguns. Saudi police have arrested 172 Islamic militants, some of whom were being trained abroad as pilots so they could fly aircraft in attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil fields, the Interior Ministry said Friday. The ministry issued a statement saying the detainees were planning to carry out suicide attacks against "public figures, oil facilities, refineries ... and military zones" - some of which were outside the kingdom. (AP Photo/Al-Ekhbariah)
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Police arrested 172 Islamic militants, some of whom had trained abroad as pilots so they could fly aircraft in attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil fields, the Interior Ministry said Friday. A spokesman said all that remained in the plot "was to set the zero hour."
The ministry issued a statement saying the detainees were planning to carry out suicide atttacks against "public figures, oil facilities, refineries ... and military zones" some of which were outside the kingdom
"They had reached an advance stage of readiness and what remained only was to set the zero hour for their attacks," Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Mansour al-Turki told the Associated Press in a phone call. "They had the personnel, the money, the arms. Almost all the elements for terror attacks were complete except for setting the zero hour for the attacks."
The militants were detained in separate waves, he said, with one group confessing and leading security officials to the next group, as well as weapons' caches.
The ministry did not say the militants would fly aircraft into oil refineries, as the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers flew planes into buildings in New York and Washington, but its statement said some detainees had been "sent to other countries to study flying in preparation for using them to carry out terrorist attacks inside the kingdom."
The militants also planned to storm Saudi prisons to free the inmates, the statement said. More than $5.3 million was seized in the operation, one of the largest sweeps against terror cells in the kingdoms.
"Certainly anytime the Saudis or anyone else takes action against those involed in terrorism it's a good thing. It's something that makes the world safer and makes America safer," Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman, said in Washington.
The Saudi statement said some of the military targets were outside the kingdom. Al-Turki said the arrests occurred "at various and successive times" but did not elaborate.
The Saudi state TV channel Al-Ekhbariah broadcast footage of large weapons cache discovered buried in the desert. The arms included bricks of plastic explosives, ammunition cartridges, handguns and rifles wrapped in plastic sheeting.
The ministry referred to the militants only as a "deviant group" the Saudi term for Islamic terrorist.
Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Mansour al-Turki told the privately owned Al-Arabiya TV channel that the militants included non-Saudis.
Al-Ekhbariah showed investigators breaking tiled floors with hammers to uncover pipes that contained weapons. In one scene, an official upends a plastic pipe and bullets and little packets of plastic explosives spill out.
The channel also showed investigators digging up plastic sacks in the desert.
The al-Qaida terror group, whose leader Osama bin Laden is a Saudi, has called for attacks on the kingdom's oil facilities as a means of crippling both the kingdom's economy and the hurting the West, which he accuses of paying too little for Arab oil.
Saudi Arabia, Iraq's neighbor to the south, is predominantly Sunni. It was also the home to 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers.
With over 260 billion barrels of proven reserves a quarter of the world's total Saudi Arabia's oil industry has already been a target of Islamic extremists. In Dec. 2004, bin Laden, a Saudi exile, for the first time called on militants to attack oil targets in the Gulf to stop the flow of oil to the West.
In May 2004, attackers stormed the offices of a Houston-based oil company in the western Saudi oil hub of Yanbu. The fighting killed six Westerners, a Saudi and several militants. Several weeks later, al-Qaida-linked gunmen attacked oil company compounds in Khobar, on the eastern coast, and took hostages in a siege that killed 22 people, 19 of them foreigners.
In the most recent attack, in February 2006, security guards opened fire on two explosives-laden vehicles that were trying to enter the Abqaiq oil complex, the world's largest oil processing facility, in eastern Saudi Arabia. The vehicles exploded without damaging the facility.
The kingdom also devotes significant resources to defend its oil industry against these threats. The government planned to spend $2 billion of its $12 billion defense budget last year to protect the country's oil sector, Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi petroleum adviser with close ties to the government has said. Officials have also started discussing the creation of special oil-sector troops and an intelligence agency focusing on threats to the energy industry.
Previous reports have said the country keeps round-the-clock helicopter and F-15 fighter patrols over its export terminals, with as many as 30,000 troops protecting the oil infrastructure.
Associated Press writer Donna Abu Nasr contributed to this report from Beirut, Lebanon.
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