Saudi security forces recently broke up an "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) terror network consisting of three cluster cells that had been planning attacks on military and civilian targets in the kingdom, authorities said.
The arrests were the result of a complex security investigation lasted several months, the Ministry of Interior said in a September 19th statement released through its official social media channels.
The dismantled network consisted of a total of 17 members, including a Yemeni, a Palestinian and an Egyptian national. One of those arrested was a woman.
The cells planned to target citizens, religious figures, security personnel and military and economic facilities, the statement said, and had provided "media and electronic support to ISIL and communicated with its elements abroad".
The authorities seized "improvised explosive devices (IEDs), ready-to-detonate explosive belts, metallic elbow joints used as IEDs, automatic weapons and silencers and live ammunition," Ministry of Interior spokesman Mansour al-Turki said.
They also confiscated more than 600,000 riyals ($160,000), he added.
Al-Turki said the intended targets included the General Security Training City, National Guard facilities and religious sites in al-Ahsa region, and an oil pipeline that passes near Dawadmi area and connects the east and west of the kingdom.
"Cluster cells are closed and secretive terrorist cells that are basically separate groups of individuals linked to leaders, wherein the members of each cell do not know each other or members of other cells," said retired Saudi army officer and military attaché Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Shehri.
The leaders themselves do not know each other and are only linked through the external leadership that assigns them tasks, he told Al-Mashareq, which is why uncovering these groups is one of the most difficult security operations.
This type of operation requires a great deal of intelligence work and surveillance effort, he added.
Nabbing multiple cluster cells at the same time is a "qualitative achievement" by the Saudi Intelligence Directorate, he noted, and is evidence of the security agencies’ thorough surveillance capabilities.
"Uncovering these terrorist groups spared the kingdom a huge loss in life and property," said Fadel al-Hindi, a supervisor at the King Abdulaziz University Centre for Social and Humanities Research.
The planned attacks had been targeting "all types of facilities, both military and civilian", he told Al-Mashareq, adding that the network's only aim was to shed blood and spread fear and terror.
The targeting of religious sites, training centres for General Security recruits and residential units that house tens of thousands of people, presents further evidence of the terrorist ideology espoused by these cells, he added.
It was clear that "the terrorists also were planning to hit the kingdom’s economy by attacking the oil pipeline in the Dawadmi area", he said.
"It is a central pipeline that connects the oil pipelines in the eastern and western parts of the kingdom and has a capacity of at least seven million barrels of oil," he said.
An attack on the pipeline would have caused "enormous losses", he said.
Some of the cell members have been charged with carrying out "cybercrime activities for the benefit of ISIL", Saudi Col. Jamal al-Nukhaifi told Al-Mashareq.
"Cracking down on these cells is an important, proactive step in combating cyber-terrorism in the kingdom," he said, particularly as online communication is one of the group's main conduits and its main tool of communication with "misled youth who fall into the trap of its ideas".
Uncovering the ISIL network "is an indication of the success of Saudi cyber-security authorities in monitoring and tracking down terrorists", al-Nukhaifi said.
"This is a very important step towards besieging the terrorists who disseminate their ideas through online recruitment," he added.
Al-Nukhaifi said the success of this operation should serve as a major deterrent to all youth in the kingdom or region who might be drawn to promote the group or sympathise with it.