Islamic cells network uncovered

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MORE than 15 raids have uncovered a network of Islamic extremists, arms and sophisticated equipment all over Saudi Arabia, indicating sleeper cells authorities say they were unaware of before suicide bombings in the Saudi capital on 12 May.

In the latest gun battle with extremists, security forces checking an illegally parked lorry were fired at on Tuesday in Riyadh, the second time police were attacked by militants in as many days.

Last month, police found underground arsenals at farms in central and eastern Saudi Arabia, and cars and trucks ready for use as bombs. They have also discovered dozens of fake passports, surveillance equipment and donation boxes.

Mishari al-Thaidi, an expert on militants and a journalist with the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, said: "The extremists had infiltrated and developed sleeper cells in Saudi Arabia to an extent that neither society nor the authorities were aware of. I believe they were still in the process of getting organised and setting themselves up when they were first raided by police in May."

The raids have foiled many plots, some on an even larger scale than the Riyadh bombings, which killed 26 people and nine attackers, according to the interior minister Prince Nayef. The 12 May bombings targeted Riyadh housing compounds where foreigners as well as Saudis live; among the Saudi dead was Mohammed al-Balheed, the son of the deputy governor of Riyadh.

Since the Riyadh bombings, authorities have arrested more than 200 suspects. More than a dozen militants and at least ten security men have also died in gun battles with extremists.

The extent of the arsenal and the presence of militant networks in Saudi Arabia’s major cities indicates how powerful and far-reaching they are.