Al-Qaeda denies plot to target Muslim pilgrims in Saudi Arabia
A branch of al-Qaeda denied on Sunday that it was seeking to attack Muslims conducting the hajj pilgrimage, after a Saudi Arabian minister warned that he could not rule out the possibility of such operations, DPA reported.
"We are keen not to spill the blood of Muslims, wherever they are. Mecca is more sacred than any other place," al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said in a statement.
The message was posted to Islamist websites on the first day of hajj, the annual sacred Islamic pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Some 2.5 million people are expected to take part in the ritual.
Riyadh's interior minister, Prince Nayef bin Abul Aziz, said last week that officials are on alert for a possible al-Qaeda attack.
"We don't rule out any attempt of action that disturbs the security of pilgrims. But we are ready for any possibility," he said.
But AQAP, a Yemen-based group believed to be behind a recent attempt to send parcel bombs to the United States, slammed Saudi Arabia for making the suggestion and for cooperating with the West to defeat the militant organisation.
The discovery of the parcel bombs in Britain and Dubai, officials say, came after a tip-off from Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia was engaging in "desperate attempts" to eliminate the group, AQAP charged, saying there was never a plan to target the pilgrims.
The group, affiliated with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network, is also alleged to have been involved in last year's Christmas Day attempt to blow up a plane over Detroit and a shooting spree that left 13 dead at a military base in Fort Hood, Texas.
AQAP was formed in January 2009 from the merger of al-Qaeda's Yemeni and Saudi branches.