Riyadh, July 21 (Reuters): Saudi Arabia, battling al Qaida after deadly bombings in May, today said it had arrested 16 militants planning more attacks and seized a huge cache of arms and explosives. State television said the detainees were members of a “terrorist cell”.
It showed stocks of arms, including rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and large amounts of chemicals it said could be used to make explosives.
”A number of bags filled with more than 20 tonnes of chemical substances to make explosives were found hidden underground,” the television said.
”Security forces were able to foil a terrorist plot planned against vital Saudi installations and targets,” it quoted an interior ministry official as saying.
The television said Saudi security forces were chasing other militants linked to the cell, but did not identify the 16 suspects or say what their targets were.
It was the biggest of a series of police weapons finds shown on television in recent months in the Islamic state, which some U.S. commentators have accused of being soft of terror. The arrests follow a crackdown by Saudi Arabia Ä birthplace of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden Ä after three bombings in Riyadh in May killed 35 people, including nine Americans. The United States and Saudi Arabia blamed al Qaeda for the attacks.
Dubai-based Al Arabiya television showed bulldozers digging up boxes of weapons, night-vision goggles and gas masks. Al Arabiya said the detainees led police to the arms stashes.
Saudi television showed automatic rifles, binoculars, mobile telephones, surveillance cameras, bullet-proof vests, passports, forged identity cards, cars, motorcycles, audio tapes, computers and cash boxes to collect donations.
It said the chemicals and weapons were found in farms and homes in the capital Riyadh, as well as in the country's eastern province and in a province north of Riyadh.
Western sources in Saudi Arabia say the authorities are cooperating closely with U.S. investigators in tackling Saudi-based members and financiers of al Qaeda, which the United States blames for the September 11 attacks in 2001.