Saudis display terror arsenal

The Australian/January 14, 2004

Saudi Arabia has revealed the enormous scale of the threat to the kingdom by putting on show an arsenal of weapons and 24 tonnes of explosives seized in a major crackdown on Islamist hardliners.

The authorities again vowed Tuesday to wipe out "all the terrorist cells" as state television replayed astonishing footage of enough military materiel to equip a small army.

At the same time, confessions by seven Saudi "members of terror cells" said to be involved in suicide bombers that left 52 dead last year were also aired in a blaze of publicity.

An interior ministry statement said some 300 explosives belts as worn by suicide bombers and nearly 24 tonnes of explosive materials had been uncovered as part of the war on terror over the previous six months.

The statement said security forces had also seized 1,020 weapons such as Kalashnikov assault rifles and other arms, more than 352,300 rounds of ammunition and 674 detonators "for use in 350 bombings".

Communications equipment, timers and equipment to set up truck bombs were also seized.

Television pictures showed the arsenal laid out on the floor piece by piece.

Security forces also seized more than 300 rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and launchers and more than 430 hand grenades, some locally made and others produced abroad.

The ministry statement said security forces had detained "a large number" of people used as "terror tools," without giving specific numbers, as well as other suspects.

"We are determined to go on hunting for criminals and wiping out all the terrorist cells," said the statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

"The ministry will show no leniency to those who sponsor these criminals, support them or finance them," it warned.

The ministry picked up on previous official declarations that terrorists following a "deviant" Islamic ideology claiming to be inspired by Wahhabism, the strict Muslim doctrine implemented in Saudi Arabia, are seeking to overthrow the house of Saud.

"All the terrorist aggressions committed in the kingdom have been perpetrated by people carrying deviant ideas which they seek to impose through terror," the statement said.

It also carried the recorded remarks of the "members of terror cells" about their activities.

Inciters "take advantage of the ignorance of youths ... and distort (Islamic) texts," encouraging them to commit acts of terror such as "slaughtering the king or bombing the Americans" in exchange for paradise, said one of the men shown on television and cited in the ministry statement.

"We hear the tapes of Osama bin Laden," said another in a reference to the Saudi-born chief of the Al-Qaeda terror movement.

Some said the indoctrination included takfeer, or branding other Muslims as heretics.

"He spoke of jihad (holy war) and supporting Muslims ... He initially did not speak of takfeer ... but he ultimately branded the (Saudi) state as heretical," said one of the men in reference to the unnamed person who incited him to resort to violence.

Describing how they had been brainwashed, the men also cited the influence of mujahedeen who fought in Afghanistan and fatwas, or religious edicts, appearing on the Internet.

Other purported confessions mentioned a camp at an undisclosed site where militants were trained in the use of "light weapons," such as machine-guns, and another camp in the holy city of Mecca where militants underwent training in dismantling, assembling and firing weapons.

Saudi Arabia has said a number of times that it had smashed terror cells, seized weapons and arrested hundreds of suspected Islamist extremists in the wake of three simultaneous attacks on expatriate housing complexes in the Saudi capital last May 12 that killed 35 people, including eight Americans.

But suicide bombers suspected of links with Al-Qaeda struck again on November 8, setting off a car bomb in another Riyadh expatriate housing complex and killing 17 people, mostly Arabs.

On December 6, the government published a list of 26 terror suspects as prime targets. One was killed in a clash with security forces in Riyadh on December 8.

The interior ministry promised a reward equivalent to US$1.9 million to anyone providing information that would stop a potential attack.

The kingdom, accused by the United States of being soft on terror after the September 11, 2001 attacks in which 15 of 19 suicide hijackers were Saudis, has embarked on economic and social reforms in parallel to the crackdown on terror.

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