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Saudi cleric warns Saudis to shun militants

RIYADH, July 3 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's top religious official warned on Thursday Saudis and foreigners living in the kingdom to not hide information about militants in the world's largest oil exporter.

The statement from Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh follows a government announcement last week that it is holding 520 suspects, arrested since January, who planned car bomb attacks against oil and security installations.

"I warn citizens and residents from concealing them and giving them shelter, this would be a great sin," the statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency said.

His comments form part of an ongoing publicity campaign against militant ideology in the kingdom.

"Aggressions against Muslims and occupation of land ... cannot be a justification for explosions, denouncing other Muslims as infidels and disobeying the Muslim social consensus," the government-appointed mufti said.

"Obeying the Muslim ruler without sedition is as a basic principle of Muslims who follow the path of the Prophet."

Militants allied to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda began a campaign to destabilise the U.S.-allied government in 2003 but the violence was brought to an end by security forces in a counter-insurgency campaign that won plaudits in the West.

The last major attack was a failed attempt to storm the world's largest oil processing plant at Abqaiq in February 2006.

Since then the government says it has arrested hundreds of suspects, but analysts say they doubt many were hardcore militants reestablishing al Qaeda.

They say the announcements are partly preventative to remind Saudis to be vigilant since radical Islamist ideology remains prevalent in society. Many Saudis have gone to fight in Iraq.

This week state television showed two former militant supporters who confessed over how they organised the Internet operations of al Qaeda's campaign.

Editing by Mariam Karouny

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