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Saudi militants shown repenting on state TV
( 2004-01-13 09:41) (Agencies)

Saudi state television aired on Monday what it said were confessions by captured militants, in the latest offensive against al Qaeda supporters blamed for suicide bombings that killed more than 50 people last year.

In the prime-time broadcast, the repentant militants said they were lured by promises of paradise, lectured on the Muslim duty of jihad, and played tapes from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to persuade them to take up arms.

Saudi Arabia, birthplace of bin Laden and home to Islam's holiest sites, is battling a wave of violence. Suicide bombings against residential compounds in the Saudi capital Riyadh in May and November killed more than 50 people.

Last month, in a possible change of tactics, militants targeted and narrowly missed killing two senior security officials in separate attacks, including a top counter-terror officer liaising with Western intelligence services.

The government has vowed to strike with an "iron fist" all those behind recent violence. It has also worked hard to eradicate any public support for the militants and repeatedly promised leniency for those who surrender to authorities.

It was not clear if any of the Islamic militants shown on Monday were directly involved in any attacks. They were not named and their faces were digitally obscured.

"We say thank God we were caught before we carried out any crime and harmed Muslims," one of the men said.

Others told how they were won over to the goal of a purist Islamic state and fulfilling religious demands to rid Arabia of non-Muslims, even declaring other Muslims who did not share their belief to be infidels.

One said he was shown fatwas, or religious edicts, on the Internet, including rulings which warned against working for the Saudi government which had become a "false God." Another described how recruits went to a resthouse in Riyadh where they learned to handle and clean guns, and how they were taken out to the desert for "training."

Some went to the holy city of Mecca where they spent three or four days in a camp learning to assemble and fire weapons with the militants.

"I was one of them, until recently. Thank God I was jailed and God enlightened me," said one.

Monday's broadcast included a government appeal to Saudi parents to "protect their sons from exploitation by terrorist groups who use them to fuel the fire of crime and aggression."

Showing graphic pictures of the destruction and injuries caused by last year's bombings, it said more than 23 tons of explosives had been seized by security forces, as well as hundreds of rocket propelled grenades and explosive belts.

The broadcast followed a series of televised retractions last year by three radical clerics who had praised the militants and urged Saudi citizens not to cooperate with security forces trying to round them up.

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