Riyadh, Dec 22: Saudi Arabia"s Interior Ministry has said that security forces have arrested suspected al-Qaeda operatives, who had plans to disrupt this year"s Haj pilgrimage.
"The authorities have arrested a group, which planned to carry out a terrorist act aimed at harming security and damaging the (Hajj) pilgrimage," Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman, General Mansur al-Turqi, said. The spokesman said the attack planned by a "deviant group", the Saudi term for militants linked to al-Qaeda, did not, however, target Islam's holiest sites in Mecca or the pilgrims. Earlier, a Dubai-based television quoted Saudi security officials as saying that the authorities have arrested an al-Qaeda linked group planning to carry out attacks during the Haj.
Saudi sources said the arrests were made in different cities of the oil-rich kingdom. "The group aimed to trouble the security of the pilgrimage" which has this week attracted almost 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims from around the world to Islam's holiest sites in western Saudi Arabia, the television report said.
Members of the group, whose number is unknown, were arrested "three days before the start of the Haj ", or at the end of last week, sources said.
The reports emerged as the Haj ended on Friday. The authorities were on high alert this year because of the participation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the first President from the Islamic republic to take part in the Haj.
Earlier, Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz said that his forces had foiled "more than 180 terrorist operations" since a wave of bombings and shootings by the Saudi branch of al-Qaeda broke out four years ago.
According to official Saudi figures, a total of 2,454,325 pilgrims from 181 nations, 1,707,814 of them from outside the Gulf state, performed this year's pilgrimage, The News reported.