Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry on Monday said its forces had uncovered an Islamic State group-linked terrorist network that was involved in past attacks in the kingdom and was planning future attacks against civilians, security personnel and government sites. The state-run Saudi Press Agency posted images on its Twitter account showing a pressure cooker, an assault rifle equipped with a silencer and suicide vests that were seized by security forces in the months-long operation.
Though US authorities have been careful to say there is no evidence of a link to international terrorism, on Saturday a blast in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City injured 29 people, and another unexploded device made out of a pressure cooker was found several blocks away. Also, a pipe bomb exploded in a New Jersey shore town, though no one was injured. A pressure-cooker bomb was used in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki said in a press conference the Saudi-based terror network was comprised of three cells. Seventeen suspects, among them one Saudi woman, were arrested in the sweep. Eleven are Saudi citizens, in addition to three Yemenis, two Egyptians and one Palestinian. Al-Turki said the network was involved in preparing suicide vests and improvised explosives, and providing logistics, cover, funding, arms and transportation for terrorist operations inside the kingdom. The network also communicated “with leaders abroad in all their activities,” he said.
Local Islamic State group branches and IS-linked attackers in Saudi Arabia have mostly targeted minority Shiites and security personnel, killing dozens of people over the past two years. The Interior Ministry said the terrorist network was involved in harboring two attackers involved in a bombing and shooting in the eastern al-Ahsa governorate against the Shiite Imam Reda Mosque. That attack in January killed two security officers and a civilian, as well as a suicide bomber.
The ministry said the group was also involved in a car bombing against a security officer in the capital, Riyadh, in February, a bombing against a security checkpoint in Riyadh in July 2015, a failed attempt to bomb an oil pipeline in the governorate of al-Dawadmi, and in the murder of a retired brigadier, whose death was announced in February.
Al-Turki said the security sweep also thwarted four terrorist attacks, including an attempt to attach a car bomb to the vehicle of a Defense Ministry official, a plan to attack general security trainees by placing an explosive device at the gate of their facility. The sweep, he said, also intercepted the delivery of two suicide vests and arrested a Saudi suspect planning to carry out a suicide bombing in al- Ahsa province. That suspect was allegedly monitoring religious, military and National Guard sites in the area, as well as the Imam Reda mosque that was previously targeted, and had communicated with extremists abroad regarding which site to attack.