Abd al-Aziz al-Muqrin, whose name tops the government's list of 26 most-wanted suspects, "fought for al-Qaida and organisations affiliated with it", the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper said on Wednesday.

Citing unnamed security sources, the paper said al-Muqrin, who is in his thirties, was the primary leader for al-Qaida cells in Saudi Arabia. 

He had been "involved in terror activities", stretching from Afghanistan to Bosnia, Algeria and Somalia and held a training role within al-Qaida network, the paper added.

On 6 December, the Saudi Interior Ministry published photographs of its most wanted suspects, including 23 Saudis, two Moroccans and a Yemeni, and promised a "generous financial reward" for information leading to their arrest. 

Government warning

A statement issued by the ministry urged the suspects to give themselves up and warned that those who sheltered or helped them would face "grave punishment". 

Saudi security forces have been on heightened alert since two devastating attacks in May and November, on residential compounds housing foreigners in Riyadh which left 52 people dead.

Al-Qaida purportedly claimed responsibility for the al-Muhaya compound attack on 8 November in an e-mail received by a Saudi magazine based in London and warned of more to come.

Since the two attacks, the security forces have conducted extensive searches for suspected extremists, resulting in hundreds of arrests and the confiscation of large quantities of weapons and explosives. 

The threat of new attacks on residential compounds has prompted Western embassies to issue fresh security alerts.