Saudi Arabia foiled a terror attack against the United States five years ago, a Saudi official said Sunday.
The official said the 2003 plot, which was first reported Sunday in Al-Watan newspaper, was one of 160 foiled terror plots the kingdom announced last month that it had foiled. At the time, authorities provided no details about the alleged plots.
It was unclear why Saudi authorities never publicly revealed the alleged 2003 plot previously and why it first surfaced in Al-Watan, which is government guided, on Sunday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the 2003 plot involved militants who planned to hijack a plane and blow it up over a densely populated city in the United States.
The militants planned to transit through the U.S. to another destination, according to the official. That way, they could avoid applying for the hard-to-get U.S. visas, a requirement for Saudis, the official added.
The official said the militants were preparing to execute the alleged plot when it was halted.
The official would not provide more details about the alleged plot including what city the militants planned to target and whether any arrests were made.
Over the past few years, the Interior Ministry has said the militants it has arrested had been planning to carry out attacks inside and outside the kingdom.
The issue of al Qaeda operatives in the kingdom has been in the news recently following Interior Minister Prince Nayef's announcement last month that authorities indicted 991 suspected militants on charges that they participated in terrorist attacks carried out in Saudi Arabia over the last five years.
Nayef said the militants have been responsible for more than 30 attacks in the kingdom since May 2003 that killed 164 people, including 74 security officials, and wounded hundreds.
Another 160 attacks were foiled, the ministry said at the time. The official said the countries that would have been targeted in any of the 160 attacks were notified through official channels at the time the plots were uncovered.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has pursued an aggressive campaign against militants since May 2003, when they first began their strikes in the kingdom. Subsequent attacks targeted oil installations, government buildings and other compounds.
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.
It is not clear when the militant trials will start.
By Associated Press Writer Donna Abu-Nasr