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Saudi: Militant suspects had flight training

The arrest of 172 suspected militants did not end the al-Qaida-linked threat in Saudi Arabia, the interior minister was quoted as saying on Saturday, vowing to maintain a crack down on the group.
/ Source: news services

Some of the militants arrested in a terror sweep in Saudi Arabia trained to use civilian aircraft in suicide missions, a Saudi interior ministry spokesman said Saturday.

Meanwhile, the interior minister was quoted as saying that the Friday crackdown that netted 172 suspected al-Qaida militants did not mean the group was no longer a threat.

"They were trained on civilian aircrafts, to use the aircraft as a tool to carry out suicide operations," Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki told The Associated Press. "The last group (we) rounded up are carriers of al-Qaida ideology, working on achieving al-Qaida goals, which is to take over the society."

The comments mark a rare mention of al-Qaida by Saudi officials, who customarily refer to the organization as a "deviant group."

Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz also told the Arabic-language al-Riyadh daily that a Saudi man was being held on suspicion of leading one of the seven cells which had been smashed, foiling a plot to attack oil facilities and military bases.

Cannot say we are finished
"We cannot say that we are finished from these deviants," said Prince Nayef. "But efforts will continue. The eyes ... are wide open and efforts are under way to purify our country from every evil," he added.

The Interior Ministry said on Friday it foiled an al-Qaida-linked plot to attack oil facilities, military bases and public figures in western-allied Saudi Arabia, arresting a total of 172 people, including some who had trained to use aircraft for suicide attacks.

It said police also seized weapons, computers and more than 20 million riyals ($5 million) in cash.

Islamist militants swearing allegiance to al-Qaida launched a violent campaign to topple the U.S.-allied Saudi monarchy in 2003, carrying out suicide bomb attacks on foreigners and government installations, including the oil industry.

Saudi Arabia is the world's top oil exporter, supplying about 7 million barrels a day to world markets. It holds nearly a quarter of the world's oil reserves.

Most of the 19 al-Qaida militants who commandeered hijacked planes in the Sept. 11 attack on the United States were Saudis.