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Riyadh Arrests 113 Al-Qaeda Militants It Says Were Planning Attacks

RIYADH (Reuters) -- Saudi Arabia said it had arrested 113 Al-Qaeda militants including suicide bombers who had been planning attacks on energy facilities in the world's top oil exporter.

The Interior Ministry said its sweep, among the biggest in several years, netted 58 suspected Saudi militants and 52 from Yemen, which jumped to the forefront of Western security concerns after a failed December attack on a U.S.-bound plane.

The militants were backed by Al-Qaeda in Yemen, it added.

The 113 militants were organized into three cells, including two planning suicide attacks on oil and security facilities in the oil-producing Eastern Province, home to the world's biggest oil refinery.

"The 12 in the two cells were suicide bombers," security affairs spokesman Mansour al-Turki said. "We have compelling evidence against all of those arrested, that they were plotting terrorist attacks inside the kingdom."

Authorities seized weapons, ammunition, and explosive belts, and said the militants were linked to a "deviant group that has chosen Yemen as a base for the launch of its criminal operations," employing terms used to typically refer to Al-Qaeda.

"The deviant group is using elements inside the kingdom who came [to Saudi Arabia] under the cover of work or pilgrimage or entered illegally," the ministry said in a statement.

Sanaa, struggling to stabilize a fractious country, has come under international pressure to end a northern war and focus on fighting Al-Qaeda, whose Yemen-based arm claimed responsibility for the attempted December plane bombing.

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest petroleum exporter and a crucial U.S. ally in the Middle East, was forced to confront its own role in rising militancy at home and abroad when its nationals turned out to be behind the September 11 attacks on the United States.

The mastermind of those attacks, Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was born in Saudi Arabia.