RIYADH, Saudi – One of the seven recently exposed Saudi terrorist cells used Syria as a base for coordinating with Al Qaeda in Iraq and held training camps in the Yemeni desert, a newspaper owned by Saudi royal family said Tuesday.
The Al-Watan paper report provided new detail on the what Saudi authorities have described as the biggest terrorist plot ever uncovered in the kingdom. The government in April announced that a monthslong terror sweep had netted 172 militants, some of who had trained abroad as pilots and planned attacks on government and military targets inside Saudi Arabia. The militants were said to have ben organized in seven cells.
"One of the uncovered cells used Syria as a `safe house' for meetings and coordination with active elements of Al Qaeda in Iraq," Al-Watan claimed. "The houses were used for recruiting and testing loyalties of new members, most of them were youngsters."
The paper said that this cell, described as the most dangerous of the seven, had members train in camps in a mountainous area inside neighboring Yemen and close to the Saudi border.
Al-Watan, which is known to be owned by a member of the Saudi royal family, provided no sourcing for its report. In Syria, officials were not immediately available for comment on the Saudi paper's claim.
"The extremist group exploited the absence of any Yemeni authorities' control over this region and held permanent camps there. Selected members crossed the border in groups of three to four for training," Al-Watan said. "They stayed there until the zero hour to carry out the suicide operations."
Authorities said the sweep thwarted the militants' plots to mount air attacks on the kingdom's oil refineries, break militants out of prison and send suicide attackers to kill government officials.
Saudi Arabia's long alliance with the United States has angered Saudi extremists, especially Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden, who was born in Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the 19 airline hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks were also from here.
In the kingdom, an austere strain of Islam known as Wahhabism is followed by the country's predominantly Sunni Muslim population, and militant groups have attracted Saudi recruits with extremist leanings.
Militants have in the past attacked foreigners living in Saudi Arabia and the country's oil industry, which has more than 260 billion barrels of proven oil reserves — a quarter of the world's total. Bin Laden also has urged such attacks to hurt the flow of oil to the West.