RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has issued global arrest warrants for 47 suspected al Qaeda militants believed to be hiding in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq who it said had tried to build cells inside the top oil exporter.
Some of the 47 Saudis, whose pictures were shown and names read out on state television, hold senior functions inside al Qaeda, the Interior Ministry said on Sunday.
“One of their goals is to establish terrorism cells inside the kingdom and recruit Saudis to send abroad for training,” Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour Turki told reporters.
The announcement follows Saudi Arabia’s arrest of 149 militants in November suspected of running 19 cells to prepare attacks in the kingdom and send militants to training camps in Yemen and Somalia.
Some of the 47 wanted men, all described as “very dangerous,” had connections with the 149 previously arrested, Turki said.
Sixteen of the wanted suspects had left Saudi Arabia for Yemen, while 27 were last reported to be in Pakistan or Afghanistan and four in Iraq, the ministry said. The average age of the suspects was 26.
Al Qaeda launched a campaign to destabilize U.S. ally Saudi Arabia in 2003 which was brought to a halt after a campaign of arrests.
Al Qaeda’s Saudi and Yemeni wing then merged in 2009. Saudi Arabia and Yemen share a 1,500 km (930 mile) mountainous border which al Qaeda has often used to infiltrate its fighters.
Saudi concerns about al Qaeda’s presence in Yemen deepened after the kingdom’s top anti-terrorism official, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, was slightly hurt in a suicide attack in August 2009 by a Saudi posing as a repentant militant returning from Yemen.
In October a plot to send two parcel bombs from Yemen to the United States was foiled following a tip-off from Saudi Arabia.
Suspects on the latest list were involved in weapons and explosives training, and giving technical support to al Qaeda.
Since 2003, Saudi Arabia has issued other lists of dozens of wanted militants.
On Saturday, the Justice Ministry said it had tried 442 cases against militants involved in al Qaeda’s 2003-2006 bombing campaign. In total, 325 verdicts are currently pending appeals.
The Interior Ministry called on the militants to turn themselves in and return to normal life.
Saudi Arabia has put hundreds of militants through a rehabilitation program which included education by clerics to “correct” their thinking and financial help to start a new life.
Editing by Jon Hemming