RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has begun the trial of 16 suspected al Qaeda members accused of killing a policeman and plotting attacks on government officials and military weapons facilities, Saudi media reported on Sunday.
The group is also accused of financing “terrorism” in other countries, smuggling weapons and training and sending militants to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, Asharq al-Awsat newspaper said.
Saudi Arabia faced a militant insurgency from 2003-06 in which al Qaeda members staged attacks on residential compounds for foreign workers and Saudi government facilities, killing dozens.
The authorities ended the assaults after arresting thousands of suspected militants and launching a media campaign to discredit their ideology with the backing of influential clerics and tribal leaders.
Last year the Interior Ministry said nearly 5,700 people had been arrested of whom 5,000 had faced a court, but human rights groups inside Saudi Arabia say more than 12,000 were jailed, including political prisoners who have demanded reforms.
The trial of 14 Saudis, one Pakistani and one Afghan citizen started on Saturday in the special criminal court in the Saudi capital Riyadh, which was set up to handle trials of suspected militants and is only open to selected local media.
They are accused of killing a policeman with poison and planning the assassination of a top Saudi figure. One of the defendants was also accused of making religious edicts against Saudi Arabia’s rulers.
Reporting By Angus McDowall; editing by Sami Aboudi