* Sixty-two suspects detained, Interior Ministry says
* Round-up reflects fears of radicalisation from Syrian war
* Concern peaceful dissidents being targeted -rights groups
(Recasts throughout with added background and context)
By Rania El Gamal and Yara Bayoumy
RIYADH, May 6 Saudi Arabia has detained 62
suspected al Qaeda militants with links to radicals in Syria and
Yemen who were plotting attacks on government and foreign
targets in the kingdom, its Interior Ministry said on Tuesday.
The world's No. 1 oil exporter is increasingly concerned
that Syria's civil war is radicalising more of its own citizens
and has announced tough new measures to counter militancy.
The 62 represent the largest group of people said by
authorities to have been detained on suspicion of Islamist
militancy for at least two years in the conservative Islamic
kingdom, which has imprisoned thousands over the past decade in
its battle against al Qaeda.
Some 35 of the detainees had previously been held by the
Saudi authorities on security charges before being released,
Major General Mansour Turki, the Interior Ministry's security
spokesman, told a televised news conference.
"They swore allegiance to their warlord and started in
constructing components of the organisation, means of support
and planning for terrorist operations targeting government
installations and foreign interests and the assassination of
security personalities," he said.
He said the group had links to the al Qaeda-affiliated
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is both a
powerful force among rebels in Syria's civil war and an
anti-government combatant across the border in turbulent Iraq.
International rights groups have said some of the thousands
of people detained and jailed by Saudi Arabia on security
grounds over the past decade were peaceful dissidents, something
the authorities deny.
The groups have also voiced concern at a new
"anti-terrorism" law that gives the authorities wide scope to
detain and jail people as militants for criticising the ruling
Turki said monitoring of social media played an important
role in uncovering the group of 62, and had shown how al Qaeda
members in Yemen and Syria were communicating with each other in
coordination with members of the group inside Saudi Arabia.
ANOTHER 44 WANTED OVER MILITANCY
The authorities found a laboratory to make explosives and
seized funds worth nearly one million Saudi riyals ($266,000)
intended for the cell, Turki said. State television showed
dozens of seized mobile phones, laptops and tablet computers.
He said the cell comprised 59 Saudis, a Pakistani, a Yemeni
and a Palestinian, and that one detainee was the group's leader.
Turki added that the authorities were still seeking another
44 people suspected of having links to the group.
While Saudi Arabia is a leading supporter of the insurgency
against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, it also fears the
conflict could reinvigorate a threat from militants within its
The Interior Ministry has said that anger at the Syrian
conflict has spurred a surge in online militancy, and that it
fears Saudis who travel to Syria to fight with the rebels might
join al Qaeda and return to the kingdom to carry out attacks.
An al Qaeda insurgency inside Saudi Arabia from 2003-06 was
mainly led by veterans of civil wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,
and after it was crushed its survivors fled to neighbouring
Yemen where they founded a new branch of the movement.
Al Qaeda has thrived in south Yemen since then, exploiting
weak government and widespread poverty, but a Yemeni government
offensive ousted militants from their main regional stronghold
on Tuesday, the Defence Ministry said.
In February, King Abdullah issued a decree that any Saudi
who travelled abroad to fight faced three-20 years in prison and
that any who supported a militant group would be jailed for
five-30 years. ISIL was named as a banned terrorist group.
Separately, a group calling itself the al-Zaraqwiyya
Battalion" after the late Iraqi al Qaeda leader announced on
Twitter it had been set up in Saudi Arabia to target Shi'ite
Muslims, SITE monitoring reported on Tuesday.
The group said "legitimate targets" included Shi'ite
gatherings, their homes and cars, and individuals who defend
them. Shi'ism is seen as heretical by al Qaeda. Most Saudi
Shi'ites live in the country's Eastern Province.
($1 = 3.7505 Saudi Riyals)
(Writing by Angus McDowall in Riyadh, editing by Mark Heinrich)