SArabia arrests 44 AQaeda suspects

RIYADH: Saudi authorities have arrested 44 suspected militants who sought to recruit youths and finance their "deviant activities" through charitable donations, an Interior Ministry statement said Wednesday.

The statement said ongoing investigations have revealed the "danger posed by the members of the network and the tight links" between some of them and the foreign-based leadership of "the deviant group," a euphemism Saudi officials use to refer to al-Qaida.

Authorities seized more than 60 machine-guns and scores of boxes of ammunition, some buried in the backyard of one of the arrested suspects, as well as 96 electronics circuits that work as switches to ignite explosive materials from a long distance, according to the statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The 44 were arrested in a campaign that began more than a year ago and ended Aug. 2. All but one of them are Saudi, the statement added.

It said some of those arrested have received training in the kingdom and abroad on preparing explosives, forging travel documents and using light and heavy weapons.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki told The Associated Press that the 44 "represented some of the roots of terrorism in Saudi Arabia."

"They're like an engine that manipulates others while working in the shadows," he said.

Al-Turki said the 44 sought to set up cells "that would carry out their goals without their direct involvement."

Thirty members of the group hold advanced university degrees, mostly in the field of science, according to al-Turki.

Saudi Arabia has pursued an aggressive campaign against militants since May 2003, when they first began attacks in the kingdom. The country is the birthplace of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and home to 15 of the 19th Sept. 11 hijackers.

Last month, Saudi officials announced that a Saudi criminal court has convicted and sentenced 330 al-Qaida militants to jail terms, fines and travel bans in the country's first known terrorism trials for suspected al-Qaida members.

The 330 are believed to be among the 991 suspected militants that Interior Minister Prince Nayef has said have been charged with participating in terrorist attacks over the past five years.