"Yes, there have been some arrests but there is no need to exaggerate them and accord them a greater magnitude than in reality," Information Minister Hamad bin Muhammad al-Rashidi told the state ONA agency on Sunday.

"The reason for the arrests was the setting up of an organisation aimed at harming national security, which is one of the red lines," he said.

It was the first official confirmation of the arrests by Oman, which according to relatives' accounts and media reports has detained at least 100 people, including prominent academics.

Relatives' account

"Several professors from the education and Islamic studies faculties of Sultan Qabuus University are among more than 100 people who were arrested on 9 January," one family member told AFP last week.

"The reason for the arrests was the setting up of an organisation aimed at harming national security"

Hamad bin Muhammad
al-Rashidi,
Omani information minister

His account was corroborated by the testimony of relatives of other detainees.

Family members said those arrested were followers of the Ibadi Muslim sect dominant in the small Gulf sultanate, not Sunni Muslims.

Relatives said the security forces gave no reason for the arrests but added that they came amid rumours of a plot to sabotage the Muscat Festival, a month-long shopping and cultural event that opened last Friday.

Weapons seized

Security forces had intercepted an arms shipment from neighbouring Yemen, Usama bin Ladin's ancestral homeland where US special forces have been operating since the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, family members said.

But they strongly denied any link between their detained
relatives and the arms shipment or al-Qaida.

The Saudi-owned daily al-Hayat reported on Wednesday that about 300 suspects, including "military officials", had been detained in a wave of arrests this month. It too said the crackdown followed an arms seizure near the Yemeni border.