DUBAI (Reuters) - Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula denied on Sunday it would stage any action to coincide with the Muslim haj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia after a Saudi minister said such an operation could not be ruled out.
Just over a week ago, AQAP claimed a plot to mail two parcel bombs to the United States that caused a global security alert. The explosives were intercepted in Dubai and Britain before they could be detonated following a tip-off from Saudi Arabia.
"We are against any crimes against pilgrims ... Haj is a pillar of Islam and we are most eager (not to spill) the blood of Muslims, wherever they may be. Mecca is more sacred than any other place," AQAP said in a statement posted on an Islamist website often used by militants.
The statement followed remarks last week by the Saudi interior minister in which he suggested al Qaeda may attack the around two million Muslims who are due to start their pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia on Sunday.
Asked whether al Qaeda might stage an attack on the haj or use the event to try and get fighters from Yemen into the kingdom, Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz said: "We cannot rule out any operation but we are ready to foil it.
Saudi Arabia is worried about infiltration across the 1,500 km- (900-mile) -long border it shares with Yemen and which is known for smuggling. The Yemen-based regional wing of al Qaeda has said it wants to topple the Saudi ruling family.
"Al Saud's desperate attempt to stamp out the mujahideen has made them fabricate lies, including the statement by the Saudi interior minister about the possibility of a destructive action by the mujahideen against pilgrims," AQAP said in the statement.
In August 2009, an AQAP suicide bomber tried to kill Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who heads Saudi Arabia's anti-terrorism campaign and is a member of the Saudi royal family.
In its statement, the group also condemned the U.S.-Saudi intelligence cooperation that led to the discovery of the parcel bomb plot.
"What proves that the Al Saud cooperates with and has full allegiance to the Americans and Jews is that they informed them about the explosive parcels, which were destined for the Jews and Americans," it said in the statement.
Writing by Mahmoud Habboush