Saudi police say nine Americans in ‘terror’ sweep of 33; U.S. yet to confirm report

AFP-JIJI/reuters

Saudi authorities have arrested nine American citizens among 33 “terror” suspects rounded up over the past days, the Saudi Gazette newspaper reported on Sunday.

Four Americans were arrested on Monday and five others over the past four days, the paper reported citing an unidentified source.

The arrests also included 14 Saudis, three Yemenis, two Syrians, an Indonesian, a Filipino, an Emirati, a Kazakhstan national and a Palestinian, the paper said.

It did not say if any of the “terror suspects” was linked to the Islamic State group, which has claimed several deadly attacks against security forces and Shiites in the kingdom in recent months.

On Friday, a suicide bomber attacked a Shiite mosque in Eastern Province killing four people before worshippers disarmed and tied up his accomplice who had fired on them.

Islamic State, a radical Sunni group that considers Shiites heretics, did not claim that attack.

The Saudi Gazette said some 532 Islamic State suspects accused of plotting attacks in the kingdom are being questioned ahead of their trial at the criminal court in Riyadh.

They are members of six cells arrested in “pre-emptive” raids across the kingdom and include a Saudi woman and a Filipina, the paper said.

Also on Sunday, the Saudi interior ministry said they were searching for nine suspects allegedly involved in an August suicide bombing that targeted a mosque inside a police headquarters, killing 15 people.

Islamic State had claimed the attack in the southern city of Abha.

The ministry said in a statement that three other suspects, including a member of the kingdom’s special forces, had been arrested in connection with the Abha mosque bombing.

The oil-rich kingdom offered rewards between 1 million riyals ($276,000) and 7 million riyals ($1.87 million) for anyone who helps in the arrest of a suspect or thwarts an attack.

U.S. officials on Sunday could not confirm a Saudi news report that nine U.S. citizens were among 33 suspects detained on terrorism charges in Saudi Arabia over the past week.

The English-language daily Saudi Gazette, citing an unnamed source, on Sunday reported that four Americans were detained on Monday and another five in the following days. Saudi authorities also detained 14 Saudis, three Yemenis, two Syrians, an Indonesian, a Filipino, a United Arab Emirates citizen, a Palestinian and a citizen of Kazakhstan, the report said.

Three U.S. officials told Reuters that the U.S. government could not confirm that any Americans were among the 33 suspects detained.

However, U.S. and Saudi authorities were still checking names against databases, said one of the officials. None of the U.S. officials was authorized to speak publicly, and the U.S. Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Saudi Arabia in 2014 declared Islamic State a terrorist organization and has detained hundreds of its supporters. The group, which controls territory in Iraq and Syria, has staged a series of attacks in the kingdom.

On Friday an attack at a Shiite Muslim mosque in Saudi Arabia’s al-Ahsa district in Eastern Province killed four people and injured 18, the latest in a string of attacks claimed by Sunni jihadis that have left over 50 dead in the past year.

The website of the Interior Ministry’s militant rehabilitation center listed four U.S. citizens as having been detained on Jan. 25 and four more over the previous three months. It did not list any more recent detentions.

The Interior Ministry spokesman directed Reuters to the website, which gives information on all people detained as militant suspects, but gave no further comment.

The ministry on Saturday identified one of the attackers in al-Ahsa as 22-year-old Abdulrahman al-Tuwaijri, a Saudi citizen, who detonated an explosive vest outside the Imam Rida mosque in the Mahasen district of Hofuf in al-Ahsa.

A 27-year-old was also arrested wearing an explosive vest and carrying hand grenades when members of the mosque’s congregation seized him after he fired shots at them during the attack, the ministry said.

Attacks by supporters of Islamic State in Saudi Arabia include two bombings and two mass shootings at Shiite mosques. A mosque used by Sunni security services was also bombed

The Saudi clergy have denounced the group as “kharijites,” an early Islamic sect reviled by Muslims for its extreme ideology.