Al Qaeda wanted to attack Saudi capital

A former leader of AQAP reveals Iran sought to play big role in Gulf region.

Riyadh: The Al Qaeda wanted to carry out a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia capital, a former leader of the terrorist outfit has said.

Muhammad al-Awfi, a Saudi Arabian, said in an interview to the Arabic satellite TV channel Al-Arabiya: "Our efforts were concentrated on recruiting young Saudis, because we wanted to carry out an attack on Riyadh at all costs, given that Saudi Arabia is a reference point for the world`s Muslims."

Muhammad al-Awfi is a former leader of the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The group was formed in 2009 with the merger between al Qaeda`s Yemeni and Saudi branches, and is believed to be based in southern Yemen.

He is currently cooperating with Saudi Arabian authorities and supplying them with information on the al Qaeda.

"Al Qaeda cells located outside the Middle East also received orders to attacks Riyadh targets," al-Awfi said.

He also claimed that Iran was seeking to play a big role in Gulf region, and was intervening in Yemen through the al-Houthi Shia rebels based in the north of the country.

AQAP had claimed a recent suicide bombing targeting al-Houthis rebels in Yemen, and threatened that additional attacks were planned against them, according to the US-based SITE intelligence website.

In a message dated November 25, 2010, and issued on jihadist forums on November 28, AQAP declared that the Houthis are "legitimate targets" for their fighters, SITE said.

SITE quoted AQAP as saying that they "formed special units to protect our Sunni brothers in a series of operations to uproot the despicable plant that the Iranian Shias planted in Saada (northern Yemeni governorate) and its surroundings..."

Yemeni Sunnis needed to recognise the danger posed to them by the al-Houthis, according to the AQAP message.