Page last updated at 11:08 GMT, Tuesday, 21 October 2008 12:08 UK

Hundreds face Saudi terror trials

Aftermath of attack on US consulate in Jeddah, 6 December 2006
Prince Nayef said 164 people had died in attacks

Saudi Arabia has laid charges against 991 suspected al-Qaeda militants, the interior minister says.

Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz said authorities had started to "bring the suspects before the judiciary".

He gave no details of trial dates, specific charges or the identities of suspects. He said 164 people had died in militant attacks since 2003.

Analysts say Riyadh has been reluctant to try suspected militants, fearing a backlash by domestic sympathisers.

"In the past few years, the kingdom has been the target of an organised terrorist campaign linked to networks of strife and sedition overseas," Prince Nayef said in a statement reported by the Saudi Press Agency.

He added that the campaign was directly linked to the organisation called al-Qaeda.

Rights concerns

Militants have been responsible for more than 30 attacks in the conservative Muslim kingdom since May 2003, he added.

Ninety civilians and 74 members of the security forces had been killed, while 439 civilians and 657 members of the security forces had been injured, he said.

Another 160 attacks were foiled, his statement said.

The US-based group Human Rights Watch said it had requested authorisation to send observers to the trials.

The group said Saudi Arabia held about 3,000 suspected militants in its intelligence detention facilities for years without charge or access to legal counsel.

In November 2007, it freed 1,500 suspects after a re-education programme but has arrested many more since, it said.

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