Saudi Arabia detains 43 suspected militants

RIYADH (AFP) — Saudi security forces have detained 43 suspected militants, including two Somalis, an Ethiopian and an Iraqi, the interior ministry said Saturday after a deadly gunbattle in the capital.

The ministry said the arrests had been made in different parts of the oil-rich kingdom since May 9. Two arrests followed a firefight in Riyadh Friday in which six suspected Al Qaeda militants and a policeman were killed.

Security forces, tracking down members of the “deviant group,” rounded up 27 suspects, including two Somalis and an Ethiopian, in Riyadh, the Holy City of Mecca, the oil-rich Eastern Province and the northern frontier  region  between  May 9 and 23, a ministry spokesman said.

Saudi authorities refer to suspected Al Qaeda militants who launched a wave of attacks in May 2003 as the “deviant group”. Four suspects wanted on security charges, including an Iraqi, were arrested on May 17 during a raid on a desert camp in Hafr Al Baten, in the northeast of the Gulf country, the spokesman said.

“Weapons and documents were seized during the raid, which was followed by the arrest of nine Saudi members of the group,” he said.

The spokesman said Friday’s shoot-out in Al Nakhil neighbourhood of the capital broke out after security forces chasing members of the same group came under fire.

The spokesman named the six killed during the firefight, at least three of whom recently fled from their place of detention, according to informed sources.

He withheld the identity of a seventh suspect wounded and detained during the gunbattle, citing the interest of the investigation.

Seventeen policemen were also injured in the predawn shoot-out.

The ministry said security forces seized “weapons, ammunition, money, forged documents” as well as communications equipment and forged licence plates in the hideout.

Policemen at the scene said Friday they had seized a videotape showing that the group had been plotting to carry out a suicide bombing against a security target in Riyadh within the next two days.

Saudi King Abdullah pledged in April to annihilate Al Qaeda-linked militants in the kingdom, vowing to “combat the ideology of those who accuse others of infidelity”. Security forces have succeeded in eliminating a number of successive Al Qaeda commanders in Saudi Arabia.

At least 90 civilians, 55 security personnel and 136 militants have died since the unrest began in May 2003, according to the last official tally. Hundreds more have been wounded.

Saudi forces in February thwarted a plot to blow up the world’s largest oil-processing plant, the first such attempted attack on Saudi Arabia’s vital oil infrastructure that was later claimed by Al Qaeda.

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