RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia announced yesterday that it had arrested 208 suspected terrorists in six cells and thwarted several planned attacks in the kingdom's largest terror sweep to date.
Among the plots, the Interior Ministry said, the capture of eight Al Qaeda-linked suspects "preempted an imminent attack on an oil installation" in the country's east, which is home to most Saudi petroleum reserves. A ministry statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency said the eight were led by a non-Saudi man, who was among those arrested.
Eighteen other suspects led by a non-Saudi missile expert were arrested for "planning to smuggle eight missiles into the kingdom to carry out terrorist operations," the statement said.
The kingdom, which is the birth place of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has been waging a heavy crackdown on Al Qaeda militants since a 2003 wave of attacks on foreigners here.
The largest previous sweep by Saudi authorities was announced in April. It netted 172 militants, including pilots allegedly trained for oil refinery attacks using civilian planes.
Yesterday's announcement indicated that Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists were still actively attempting to destabilize the monarchy, which holds a quarter of the world's proven oil reserves.
In other arrests, the Interior Ministry said:
112 Saudis were taken into custody for links and "coordination with outside circles" to assist in smuggling them to "troubled areas" - Saudi shorthand for Iraq and Afghanistan - for training, after which the men would have come back for attacks inside the kingdom.
32 Saudis and non-Saudis were arrested for providing financial aid to Al Qaeda operations here.
22 people were arrested for allegedly supporting Al Qaeda and plotting to assassinate the country's religious leaders and security officials.
16 men were detained in the holy city of Medina for colluding to issue a publication propagating "misleading ideology" and criminal acts. The group also worked on helping volunteers go fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The statement said security authorities seized a "large quantity of [terrorist] material" in the sweep but declined to elaborate.
In early October, Saudi's top religious leader, Sheik Abdel-Aziz bin Abdullah al-Sheik, issued a religious edict prohibiting sending people to Iraq to take part in the anti-American insurgency there in the name of Islamic jihad, or holy war.