The State Department said today it’s trying to verify a Saudi report that nine Americans were among 33 swept up in an anti-terrorism operation in the kingdom.
The Saudi Gazette reported Sunday that four Americans were arrested a week ago and five more were taken into custody later in the week. Also seized during that period were 14 Saudis, three Yemenis, two Syrians, an Indonesian, a Filipino, an Emirati, a Kazakh and a Palestinian.
It wasn’t clear what their terror links may have been; the Saudis have arrested many suspected ISIS members over the past several months.
On Friday, four people were killed and 36 were wounded in a suicide bombing and shooting at Al-Ridha Mosque in Al-Ahsa province. The casualty count would have been higher had security not stopped the attackers at the gate.
A surviving 27-year-old terrorist at the mosque “sustained major injuries after being thrashed by worshippers,” Arab News reported.
It’s not know if any of the detained Americans were connected to that plot. The Arab News called the terror arrests a “pre-emptive crackdown.”
“What I can tell you is we’ve seen these reports and are working hard to ascertain more details about them and about the veracity of them,” State Department press secretary John Kirby told reporters today. “And we are in touch with Saudi authorities. But I don’t have anything definitive with respect to the actual truth of these reports.”
“…I’m just not at liberty to say more until we know more. And when we do and I have something more specifically I can speak to, I certainly will.”
At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest wouldn’t confirm if Americans had been arrested.
“The State Department is still working to determine whether or not that is true, and so I’d refer you to the State Department for an update on those ongoing efforts,” Earnest said.
On Sunday, unnamed U.S. officials told Reuters they didn’t believe the reports, but were still checking names of those arrested against databases.
There’s currently a State Department travel warning in effect for Saudi, noting “there have been attacks on U.S. citizens and other Western expatriates within the past year and there continue to be reports of threats against U.S. citizens and other Westerners, as well as sites frequented by them.”
“There have been multiple Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) directed and inspired attacks on mosques in the past four months,” the warning adds.