RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) – A criminal court has issued verdicts in Saudi Arabia’s first known terrorism trial for accused al-Qaeda militants, the prosecution said Wednesday.
The prosecution did not say what the verdicts were or how many people were tried, but Al-Arabiya TV quoted a Justice Ministry spokesman as saying 330 people were found guilty, including one who was given a death sentence.
Saudi Arabia has pursued an aggressive campaign against militants since May 2003, when they first began attacks in the kingdom, which is bin Laden’s birthplace and home to 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers. The network’s attacks have targeted expatriate residential compounds, oil installations and government buildings.
The first known legal proceedings did not start until last year, however.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Bureau of Investigation and General Prosecution said an unspecified number of detainees were put on trial. He did not say when the trials began, but there have been vague reports of such trials in local media recently.
“A specialized criminal court has recently issued several preliminary verdicts in cases of defendants in al-Qaeda and state security terrorism crimes,” said the statement, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. The defendants can appeal.
The spokesman, whose name was not revealed, said the defendants were accused of belonging to the “deviant group,” a euphemism for al-Qaeda.
They were also accused of supporting and financing terrorism, going to areas of conflict to fight, and coordinating and communicating with “external parties that seek to conspire against national security by creating chaos and disrupting security, he said.
The statement said the charge sheets included “incriminating evidence of these dangerous acts and proof that every defendant has carried out the charges against him.”
Interior Minister Prince Naif announced last year that 991 suspected militants had been charged with participating in terrorist attacks over the past five years.
That announcement in October marked a significant step in the kingdom’s fight against terrorism. Authorities had been reluctant to resort to trials for terrorism charges that could result in death sentences until they had shown the public that every effort had been made to give the men a chance to renounce their crimes and be rehabilitated.
There have been no major attacks since February 2006, when suicide bombers tried but failed to attack an oil facility at the Abqaiq oil complex, the world’s largest oil processing facility, in eastern Saudi Arabia.