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Britain, Australia warn of terror attack in Saudi
( 2003-10-25 14:56) (Agencies)

Britain has dramatically raised its warning to travelers not to go to Saudi Arabia, saying terror attacks may be imminent.

"We advise British nationals against all but essential travel to Saudi Arabia. We believe that terrorists may be in the final phases of planning attacks," the Foreign Office said in a new warning issued on Friday.

The previous warning had said simply that attacks against Westerners were "likely."

Australia also said it had new information that terrorists might be close to carrying out new attacks in Saudi Arabia.

The Australian Foreign Affairs and Trade Department said on Saturday that the level of its warning against non-essential travel to the country was unchanged.

But it said in new guidance issued on Thursday "There is new information suggesting that further terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia may be in the final stages of planning."

The warnings followed an admission from Saudi Arabia that it had arrested nearly 600 people in a crackdown on militants since suspected al Qaeda suicide bombers struck Riyadh in May.

The conservative kingdom, birthplace of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has faced intense pressure to crush al Qaeda cells since the September 11, 2001, hijacked-plane attacks on the United States in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.

It intensified its efforts against the network after the May 12 bombings in Riyadh which killed 35 people, including nine Americans, and analysts say it has sharply stepped up cooperation with Washington.

In the latest crackdown, Saudi Arabia said on Monday it had arrested Islamic militants and seized large amounts of weapons and explosives, including bomb-belts used by suicide bombers.

Saudi Arabia has also tightened up monitoring of charities which have been accused of channeling funds to militant groups worldwide, shutting down some overseas branches of domestic charity groups.

The human rights pressure group Amnesty International accused the Saudi authorities on Friday of arresting without cause 250 people at a peaceful demonstration in Riyadh on October 14.

"The Saudi Arabian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all people held solely for the non-violent expression of their conscientiously held beliefs," it said in a statement.

"The protest took place while a human rights conference organized by the Saudi Arabian Red Crescent was taking place in Riyadh. Contrary to what was announced by the Saudi Arabian authorities then, Amnesty International was not invited to attend the conference," it added.

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