- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 28, 2007

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Al Qaeda-linked plotters hoped to reproduce the September 11, 2001, attacks, planning to send suicide pilots to military bases and attack the oil refineries that drive the economy of Osama bin Laden’s homeland, the government said yesterday.

Revealing new details of the reported plot, a government spokesman said some of the 172 attackers trained as pilots in an unidentified “troubled country” nearby, hoping to use the planes to carry out suicide attacks.

The spokesman, Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, would not say where the training took place: “It could be Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, there are so many troubled regions in the world. I can’t specify.”

The militants wanted to use planes “like car bombs … to use the aircraft as a tool to carry out suicide operations,” Mr. al-Turki told the Associated Press.

Targets included Saudi military bases that militants had no other way of reaching but by blowing up an aircraft, he said.

“The last group [we] rounded up are carriers of al Qaeda ideology, working on achieving al Qaeda goals, which is to take over the society,” Mr. al-Turki said.

The months-long roundup of Islamic militants from seven terror cells was one of the biggest terror sweeps since Saudi leaders began an unrelenting offensive against extremists after militants attacked foreigners and others involved in the country’s oil industry seeking to topple the monarchy for its alliance with the U.S.

But analysts say al Qaeda followers are determined to stay active in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam’s prophet Muhammad.

“This is the heart of Islam, the birthplace of Islam. Saudi Arabia has a huge psychological value for al Qaeda. … Despite the crackdown, al Qaeda will keep trying to establish itself in Saudi Arabia,” said Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism studies at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center.

Along with the planned suicide attacks, authorities said the latest arrests also thwarted plots to mount attacks on the kingdom’s oil refineries, break militants out of prison and send suicide attackers to kill government officials. The Interior Ministry also said some targets were outside the country, which it did not identify.

Mr. al-Turki did not elaborate or specifically say those detained were al Qaeda members, but his comments marked a rare mention of the terror network by Saudi officials, who customarily refer to the organization as a “deviant group.”

Saudi Arabia’s long alliance with the United States has angered Saudi extremists, especially bin Laden, who was born in Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the 19 airline hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks were also from here.

Militants have 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.

The four-year U.S.-led war in neighboring Iraq has also provided a training ground for al Qaeda-linked foreign fighters. U.S. officials have warned it could become a regional base for extremists planning attacks elsewhere in the region.

Saudi’s ruling family has pursued an aggressive campaign against militants since the May 2003 suicide attack on three housing estates for foreigners in Riyadh. The kingdom’s security forces have managed to kill or capture most of those on its list of the 26 most-wanted al Qaeda loyalists in the country.

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