Saudi Arabia: Militant groups remain active despite record arrests

Detainees are accused of having links to Al Qaeda, but human rights groups fear arbitrary arrests have been made.

The last year has seen a major crackdown on alleged Islamic militants in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, according to numbers released by the country's Interior Ministry. The figures suggest that militant groups continue to be active despite recent comments quoted in The Washington Post by General Michael Hayden, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, suggesting a "near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia."

According to the BBC, more people were arrested in the past 12 months than in any other year in recent history.

Abu Dhabi's new English-language daily, The National, reports that many of those arrested are accused by Saudi officials of links with Al Qaeda.

Speaking to the Financial Times, General Mansour al-Turki, the Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman, outlined some of the alleged activities of those arrested.

Arab News, a Saudi English-language daily, reports that a number of those arrested were in direct contact with the top Al Qaeda leadership.

Islamic militants have long targeted Saudi Arabia for its ties with Western powers and the corruption of its rulers, flush with oil money. The Associated Press highlights Al Qaeda's campaign against Saudi Arabia:

Reports in the Arab News further suggest that some of the arrested militants had returned from fighting in Iraq, while others were facilitating the movement of fighters into Iraq to battle US forces.

But commentators say Saudi Arabia has fueled the problem by supporting the strict Wahhabi doctrine and, in the past, actively supporting those traveling abroad to fight for Islam. Indeed, the kingdom has long been home to a majority of the foreign fighters entering Iraq, reports The Guardian.

Terrorist activity in Saudi Arabia was largely quelled by a major crackdown in 2003 following several attacks that were blamed on Al Qaeda. However, a report in Time magazine suggests that the group remains stronger than imagined.

Human rights groups continue, however, to express doubts regarding the legitimacy of Saudi detentions, accusing the country of arbitrary arrests and torture. In a comment piece published by the Guardian Unlimited, Christoph Wilcke, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, wrote:

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