431 suspects nabbed in Saudi crackdown on ISIS cells

37 others killed in arrests; attacks on Shi'ite mosques, diplomatic mission foiled

RIYADH • Saudi Arabia said it has broken up a network linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and made more than 430 arrests, foiling new attacks on Shi'ite mosques and a diplomatic mission.

ISIS has claimed several deadly attacks in the Sunni-dominated kingdom. The authorities have "managed over the past few weeks to destroy an organisation, made of a cluster of cells, which is linked to the terrorist Daesh organisation", the Interior Ministry announced on Saturday, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

The cells were involved in several attacks and plots, including deadly suicide bombings of Shi'ite mosques in the kingdom's Eastern Province, it said. Most of the 431 suspects arrested were Saudis.

"Six successive suicide operations which targeted mosques in the Eastern Province every Friday, timed with assassinations of security men, were thwarted," the ministry said in a statement.

It said 37 people were killed during the arrests, including security personnel and civilians, and 120 were wounded. Six "terrorists" were also killed in the operations.

The group had plotted to attack a diplomatic mission, the statement said without elaborating.

Among the suspects were 144 people accused of supporting the network by "spreading the deviant ideology on the Internet and recruiting new members".

The ministry said 97 of those arrested were linked to a cell busted earlier and to a November attack on a Shi'ite mosque in Dalwa that killed seven people, including children. Another 190 suspects were allegedly involved in plots following bomb attacks on Shi'ite mosques in Qatif and Dammam, as well as an attack on Saudi security forces.

ISIS, which considers Shi'ites to be heretics, claimed responsibility for the mosque attacks. On successive Fridays in May, two suicide bombings at mosques of the minority Shi'ite community in Eastern Province killed 25 people.

ISIS controls swathes of neighbouring Iraq and Syria and has claimed widespread abuses, including the beheading of hostages.

It claimed an unprecedented attack on a Shi'ite mosque in Kuwait and several attacks in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Gulf neighbours last year joined a United States-led military coalition to bomb ISIS in Syria, raising concerns about possible retaliation in the kingdom.

Interior Minister Crown Prince Mohammed Nayef said at the height of the attacks in May that Saudi Arabia's security remained "under control". He said: "Incidents such as this will not destabilise us. We have been through bigger ones." He had led a crackdown on Al-Qaeda, which waged a terror campaign between 2003 and 2007.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2015, with the headline '431 suspects nabbed in Saudi crackdown on ISIS cells'. Print Edition | Subscribe