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Saudi Arabia says it thwarted plot to attack U.S. Embassy

Saudi Arabia has arrested dozens of suspects it says planned attacks on the U.S. Embassy and elsewhere

Saudi Arabia's security forces foiled a suicide bomb plot in March targeting the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, a top spokesman for Saudi security forces said Tuesday.

A Saudi citizen and a Syrian were arrested in the kingdom on March 14 for planning "a potential suicide car bombing" on the massive U.S. diplomatic compound in the capital, Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Turki said in a statement.

The Saudi citizen was suspected of involvement in illegal fundraising for the plot and a third individual, a Syrian living in a gulf state, was also involved, Turki said.

The timing of the arrests coincides with a U.S. decision to stop consular services at the embassy and at the U.S. diplomatic missions in Jidda and Dhahran in mid-March.

The foiled embassy plot was part of a wave of arrests in Saudi Arabia over the last five months that netted 93 suspects, many of whom reportedly have ties to Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, he said.

The sweep included a cell of 65 people arrested in March who allegedly planned to storm residential compounds and prisons across Saudi Arabia. In recent months, five attacks in the kingdom connected to Islamic State have killed 15 civilians and security personnel, Turki said.

The operations are a stark sign that Islamic State militants have penetrated Saudi Arabia and are determined to hit targets and destabilize the home of Islam's holiest sites, Mecca and Medina. Last year, Saudi Arabia joined a U.S.-led coalition bombing the militant group in Iraq and Syria.

The number of arrests and the range of targets evoke a series of attacks in Saudi Arabia by Al Qaeda from 2004 to 2007 that killed dozens of people.

A U.S. counter-terrorism official confirmed that Islamic State has attempted to establish cells in Saudi Arabia, and that effort is consistent with the group's strategy to expand its territory beyond Iraq and Syria and establish "a pan-Islamic caliphate." The official spoke on condition of anonymity in discussing internal assessments.

Twitter: @ByBrianBennett

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