June 24, 2006

Saudi Arabia says 42 Islamist militants arrested

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia announced on Saturday the
arrest of 42 suspected Islamist militants in raids across the
kingdom, a day after police killed six men in a shoot-out in

An Interior Ministry statement said 15 of the suspects were
arrested after the clash early on Friday in which one policeman
was killed and 17 others were wounded.

State television said that four men wanted by security
forces, including an Iraqi, were arrested in a raid on Saturday
at a desert hideout in the northeastern town of Hafr al-Baten.

The raid led to the arrest of nine Saudis "involved in
terrorism" who were part of the same group, it said adding that
weapons and documents were seized during the operation.

The statement also said that 27 Islamists had been arrested
last month in the capital Riyadh, the Muslim holy city of
Mecca, the Eastern Province and the northern border region,
including 24 Saudis, two Somalis and an Ethiopian.

It said the 27 men were involved in "suspicious activities"
connected to radical Islamist groups. A security source told
Reuters the arrested men and the six killed on Friday were part
of a wider militant cell, numbering around 50 people, that had
been broken up.

Saudi Arabia, a vast desert kingdom, is the world's biggest
oil exporter.

In Friday's incident, police said the three-hour clash
began after they surrounded a house to prevent planned attacks.
The authorities have given no details of the plans.

A wounded suspect arrested during the clash on Friday is
being interrogated, the statement said without giving further

Islamist militants allied to Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's
al Qaeda group have been waging a violent campaign aimed at
toppling the U.S.-backed monarchy and expelling Westerners from
the birthplace of Islam.

Officials say about 150 foreigners and Saudis, including
security forces, and 130 militants have died in attacks and
clashes with police since May 2003, when al Qaeda suicide
bombers hit three Western housing compounds in Riyadh.

In February, they tried to attack the world's largest oil
processing plant at Abqaiq, but analysts say that in the face
of tough Saudi security policies backed by Western intelligence
agencies, the campaign has run out of steam for the moment.