Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi security forces on Saturday arrested 431 people suspected of belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and carrying out a number of attacks in the Kingdom as well as plotting future operations, officials said.
Those arrested were planning to carry out attacks on seven mosques in the capital Riyadh and Dammam during Friday prayers in the coming weeks as well as attacks on security forces and government and diplomatic buildings, the Interior Ministry said.
Most of the suspects were Saudi nationals but also included foreigners from nine different countries including Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Nigeria, and Chad, Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki said at a news conference in Riyadh on Saturday.
He also revealed that the suspects were involved in several attacks in the Kingdom over the past months including a suicide bombing in May at the Ali Ibn Abi Talib Mosque in the eastern Qatif province, which killed at least 21 worshippers and injured 97.
The suspects had also been planning attacks in June during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to coincide with attacks which took place in Tunisia and Kuwait on June 27 and which were claimed by ISIS.
Weapons, ammunition, explosives, and laptops and hard drives containing information detailing the plans were seized during raids on homes the suspects were using, Turki said.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Ahmed Al-Muwakili, an expert on terrorist groups, said the Interior Ministry statement was “surprising,” not only with regard to the size of the ISIS cell in the Kingdom, but also the amount of operations they had planned.
He said the attacks were “a clear sign that ISIS wished to sow sectarian strife [in the Kingdom] . . . something we have also seen throughout other countries in the region.”
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Council of Senior Religious Scholars said on Saturday it would continue to condemn groups such as ISIS as well as issue clear fatwas (religious opinions) against the extremist ideology which fuels terrorism. It also called on families in the Kingdom to do more to protect their children from being radicalized online via social media websites.