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Saudi Arabia Claims Mass Arrest of Islamic State Militants

Saudi officials say the "deviant" Islamist group is working tirelessly to undermine the country's security, but a wave of arrests has thwarted planned terrorist attacks.

Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday it had detained 93 suspected members of the Islamic State (IS) in six waves of arrests that it said had prevented terrorist attacks against the US embassy, senior military personnel, and civilian targets.

In a statement released on its website the Saudi interior ministry said it would continue to pursue the "deviant group" which was "ceaselessly" trying to undermine the security of the country.


Among the 93 people detained since December was a 65-person group accused of planning to promote "sectarian unrest" by attacking prisons and residential compounds.

Another busted cell operating under the name "Soldiers of the Land of the Two Holy Mosques" -— a reference to Saudi Arabia as home to two of Islam's holiest sites — is accused of providing firearms training for militant recruits in the "wilderness" of the Qassim region, northeast of the capital Riyadh. According to the Interior Ministry statement, the group of 15 Saudis, led by a bomb-making specialist, also tested equipment used to make "explosive materials" in laboratories ahead of planned attacks on both military and civilian targets.

Related: Saudi Arabia Says Gunman Allegedly Behind Police Killings Received Instructions from Islamic State.

The vast majority of those arrested in connection with suspected affiliation to IS are Saudi nationals, but two Syrians were also detained in March in relation to an alleged plot to attack the US embassy in the kingdom with a "car packed full of explosives."

The US has not yet commented on the claims of the foiled suicide car bomb attack, but the timing given by Saudi officials coincides with a security alert that saw US consular services in the country halted and diplomatic missions postponed.

Last year IS called on its followers in Saudi Arabia to attack Western targets and the Shia minority in the kingdom, rather than join militants fighting in Syria or Iraq.

Earlier on Tuesday, Saudi officials said that security forces had captured Nawaf bin Sharif Samir al Onaizi, one of two men allegedly affiliated with IS who are wanted for the drive-by shooting of two police officers in Riyadh three weeks ago.

Saudi Interior Ministry spokesperson Major General Mansour al Turk said that Onaizi was detained after a tip-off led security services to his hiding place in the Ramah area of Qassim. The Saudi authorities had previously offered a 1 million riyal ($267,000) reward for the capture of Onaizi, who was detained last Friday.

Related: Gitmo Detainee, Who the US Claims Was Bin Laden's Bodyguard, Argues for His Release.

Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem