RIYADH, Saudi Arabia // A Saudi justice official said Sunday that 41 foreigners were among the more than 300 people brought before judges in the first known trials of al Qa'eda suspects in the kingdom. The trials, which came six years after al Qa'eda first struck in Saudi Arabia, were made public last week when verdicts were announced. Al Qa'eda has targeted expatriate residential compounds, oil installations and government buildings in Saudi Arabia since 2003. The defendants were accused of belonging to the terrorist network, supporting and financing terrorism, going to areas of conflict to fight and coordinating with groups outside Saudi Arabia seeking to harm the country.
On Sunday, Justice Ministry spokesman Sheik Abdullah al Saadan gave several more details on the trials, which he said began in December, though they were not made public until this month. He said the defendants included 41 non-Saudis, though he did not specify their nationalities. He said 323 militants were sentenced to prison terms ranging from a few months to 30 years. Seven were found innocent of some of the charges against them, he said.
In last week's announcement, he said one of the men was sentenced to death, though he gave no new details on that person on Monday. He said the defendants have 30 days to appeal. His remarks were carried by the Saudi Press Agency. The 330 are believed to be among the 991 suspected militants that Interior Minister Prince Nayef has said had been charged with participating in terrorist attacks over the past five years.
Mr Al Saadan said plans are under way to allow the press to cover subsequent trials. There have been no major attacks since February 2006, when suicide bombers tried but failed to attack an oil facility at the Abqaiq oil complex, the world's largest oil processing facility, in eastern Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has pursued an aggressive campaign against militants. But authorities had been reluctant to resort to trials for terrorism charges that could result in death sentences until they had shown the public that every effort had been made to give the men a chance to renounce their crimes and be rehabilitated.