RIYADH (Agencies) — Saudi Arabia said it plans to put in the dock a total of 991 defendants in the first trials of Al-Qaeda suspects after more than five years of deadly Islamist violence.
The legal proceedings mark a significant step in Saudi Arabia’s fight against terror. Authorities had been reluctant to hold 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 repent.
“In the past few years, the kingdom has been the target of an organized terrorist campaign linked to networks of strife and sedition overseas,” said Interior Minister Prince Naif in his statement carried by The Saudi Press Agency.
“This campaign targeted the way of life, economy and principles of Saudi society and sought to create chaos,” he added. “It has direct links to a deviant group that adopts the (mind-set) of al-Qaeda.”
Saudi Arabia has faced a string of attacks against Western targets and oil facilities in the OPEC powerhouse since May 2003 and hundreds of suspected Islamist sympathisers have been arrested.
Giving a first-ever official toll, Prince Naif said the wave of attacks in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom had killed a total of 90 civilians — both foreigners and Saudis, and 74 members of the security forces.
He said 657 members of the security forces and 439 civilians had been wounded in the attacks, adding that security forces had foiled more than 160 “terrorist operations.”
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.
It was not clear from the statement whether the trials would start immediately or be delayed until December after al-Adha feast.