Saudis ‘foil hajj attack plot’
Interior ministry says group planned “terrorist act” during the annual pilgrimage.
“The group aimed to trouble the security of the pilgrimage,” the television report said, but quoted Saudi sources as saying the attack did not target Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca or the pilgrims.
They said the arrests were made in several different cities of the oil-rich kingdom.
Sami Zeidan, reporting for Al Jazeera from Mecca, said Saudi authorities had affirmed the group was “not only linked to al-Qaeda but also intended to disrupt the hajj”.
“We’ve heard of arrests before in Mecca,” he said, “But the talk of al-Qaeda targeting hajj is a new element.”
He added: “It’s difficult to see what al-Qaeda would gain from an attack that would disrupt the Muslim pilgrimage … It leaves a lot of question marks.”
Nearly three million pilgrims travelled to Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj season, which ended on Friday with a final visit to Mecca after days rituals in the surrounding hills.
The authorities were on high alert this year because of the participation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the first president from Iran to take part in the pilgrimage.
Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi Arabia’s interior minister, said in early December that his forces had foiled “more than 180 terrorist operations” since a wave of bombings and shootings by the Saudi branch of al-Qaeda broke out four years ago.
The Muslim kingdom also said it arrested 208 suspected al-Qaeda fighters over the past few months.