Source: New York Times, 27/11/2010 By ROBERT F. WORTH
CAIRO — Saudi Arabia announced Friday that it had arrested 149 suspected militants from Al Qaeda over the past eight months, including many with ties to Yemen.
The announcement came amid renewed global concerns about the terrorist group’s Yemen-based affiliate, which claimed responsibility for the effort last month to send explosives by package delivery companies to the United States. The affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has also said it plans to continue aiming at the United States with a new strategy of small attacks aimed primarily at damaging the financial system, rather than killing large numbers of civilians.
The recent arrests disrupted 19 Al Qaeda cells that had been raising money and recruiting members for attacks on Saudi government facilities, officials and journalists, said Gen. Mansour al-Turki, the chief spokesman of Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry. They included 124 Saudis and 25 people of other nationalities — Arabs, Africans and South Asians, he added.
Most cells were very small, were operating independently, and were in the early stages of planning attacks, he said.
Saudi authorities have announced large batches of arrests at regular intervals in the last few years. In March, they announced the capture of 113 Qaeda militants, including 52 Yemenis.
Saudi Arabia has developed a far more sophisticated counterterrorism program since 2003, when militants launched a string of deadly attacks inside the kingdom. In addition to expanded paramilitary units and surveillance systems, the program has included “soft” elements like a much heralded jihadist rehabilitation program and educational efforts.
The result is that many militants have fled to Yemen, where remote mountains and deserts, and the country’s conflict-ridden environment, make it easier to avoid detection. Al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate has many Saudi members, and the group has made clear that it hopes to use Yemen as a base from which to overthrow the Saudi monarchy.
Yet jihadists clearly continue to operate inside Saudi Arabia, the homeland of 15 of the 19 hijackers in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Those recently arrested used the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which ended last week, to raise funds and indoctrinate people, General Turki said.
Thomas Hegghammer, a research fellow at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, said, “We shouldn’t assume the jihadi scene in Saudi Arabia has gone away, even if most of these cells are being nipped in the bud.”