RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Police arrested 172 Islamic militants, some of whom had trained abroad as pilots so they could fly aircraft in attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil fields, the Interior Ministry said Friday. A spokesman said all that remained in the plot "was to set the zero hour."
The ministry issued a statement saying the detainees were planning to carry out suicide atttacks against "public figures, oil facilities, refineries ... and military zones" - some of which were outside the kingdom
"They had reached an advance stage of readiness and what remained only was to set the zero hour for their attacks," Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Mansour al-Turki told the Associated Press in a phone call. "They had the personnel, the money, the arms. Almost all the elements for terror attacks were complete except for setting the zero hour for the attacks."
The ministry did not say the militants would fly aircraft into oil refineries, as the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers flew planes into buildings in New York and Washington, but its statement said some detainees had been "sent to other countries to study flying in preparation for using them to carry out terrorist attacks inside the kingdom."
The militants also planned to storm Saudi prisons to free the inmates, the statement said. More than $5.3 million was seized in the operation, one of the largest sweeps against terror cells in the kingdoms.
"Certainly anytime the Saudis or anyone else takes action against those involed in terrorism it's a good thing. It's something that makes the world safer and makes America safer," Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman, said in Washington.
The Saudi statement said some of the military targets were outside the kingdom. Al-Turki said the arrests occurred "at various and successive times" but did not elaborate.
The Saudi state TV channel Al-Ekhbariah broadcast footage of large weapons cache discovered buried in the desert. The arms included bricks of plastic explosives, ammunition cartridges, handguns and rifles wrapped in plastic sheeting.
The ministry referred to the militants only as a "deviant group" - the Saudi term for Islamic terrorist.
Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Mansour al-Turki told the privately owned Al-Arabiya TV channel that the militants included non-Saudis.
Al-Ekhbariah showed investigators breaking tiled floors with hammers to uncover pipes that contained weapons. In one scene, an official upends a plastic pipe and bullets and little packets of plastic explosives spill out.
The channel also showed investigators digging up plastic sacks in the desert.
The al-Qaida terror group, whose leader Osama bin Laden is a Saudi, has called for attacks on the kingdom's oil facilities as a means of crippling both the kingdom's economy and the hurting the West, which he accuses of paying too little for Arab oil.
Associated Press writer Donna Abu Nasr contributed to this report from Beirut, Lebanon.