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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Saudi says 34 militants seized in al Qaeda swoop

RIYADH (Reuters) - Four militants arrested in the Saudi city of Jeddah this week were part of a group of 34 men rounded up in an effort to prevent a resurgence of al Qaeda violence, the Saudi interior ministry said on Saturday.

The four Islamist radicals surrendered on Monday after Saudi security forces besieged the building where they had an apartment in the Red Sea port.

"Security work led to the arrest of 34 people of different nationalities in Mecca, Medina, Riyadh and Jeddah because they belonged to the 'deviant group' and had links to escapees from the Malaz prison," a statement on official news agency SPA said.

Officials have said that two of the men arrested on Monday were among seven people who escaped from the Malaz detention center in Riyadh in June.

Saturday's statement said weapons and locally-made explosives were found in the Jeddah apartment.

"They were using the flat as a hide-out and as a factory for instruments of death and destruction," it said. It did not specify when the other 30 men were arrested but said they had been under surveillance in recent weeks.

Officials say more than 136 militants and 150 foreigners and Saudis, including security forces, have died in attacks and clashes with police since May 2003, when suicide bombers hit three Western housing compounds in Riyadh.

The violent campaign by supporters of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has ebbed in the face of toughened security measures.

King Abdullah said in comments published on Saturday that he had personally intervened to ensure that the lives of militants -- who he called "rascals", using an Arabic word normally used to refer to naughty children -- were spared in the Jeddah siege.

The comments in an interview with the Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat suggested that Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, is increasingly confident that it has tamed the 3-year-old militant campaign to depose the U.S.-allied royals.
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