A ministry spokesman, quoted by the official SPA news agency, did not mention the exact number of suspects arrested.

“Certain people wanted in the hunt have been caught and a manhunt has been launched to arrest those still on the run,” the spokesman said.

Large amounts of arms, include C4 plastic explosives, bombs, machineguns, bullets and products used to make bombs and explosives were seized.

Warning

Saudi Deputy Premier Crown Prince, Abd Allah bin Abd al-Aziz, warned that a “handful of terrorists and criminals wanted to destroy relations between Muslims and others by distorting the image of Islam”, the Saudi Gazette reported on Monday.

Abd al-Aziz said the “tiny group” needed to be combated.  “The natural abode of a Muslim is not in dark caves or terrorist hideouts,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has come under intense US pressure to clamp down on Islamists after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Pressure

Internally, the monarchy has also received pressure for political reforms to take place.

Last month, a group of more than 300 Saudis, including women, called on their crown prince to implement social and political reforms.

A group of 300 Saudis, mainly intellectuals, in a petition to the crown prince, has called for reforms

“It is necessary to begin a process of radical and overall reforms,” said 305 signatories of a petition sent to Crown Prince Abd Allah bin Abd al-Aziz last week entitled For the Defence of the Homeland.
 
The signatories, who included intellectuals, academics and businessmen, condemned “terrorism in all its forms”, but said “the delay in adopting radical reforms and the absence of popular consultation in decision-making are among the leading causes behind the dangerous change the country has seen."
 
In January this year, a similar petition was sent to the crown prince.
 
In it, more than 100 Saudi intellectuals called for a separation of powers, an elected parliament instead of the current appointed Shura (Consultative) Council, and the creation of civil society institutions that would promote a culture of tolerance and dialogue.

Elections

Two weeks ago, the Saudi cabinet announced its intention to hold its first election.

The decision also coincided with the opening of the first human rights conference in Riyadh.

"The council of ministers decided to widen participation of citizens in running local affairs through elections by activating municipal councils, with half the members of each council being elected," the state news agency SPA said.

However, London-based Saudi dissident Dr Muhammad al-Massari, speaking to Aljazeera.net, dismissed the announcement as "window dressing". "If we can be assured that the elections will be clean and fair some regions might benefit", he said.