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Saudi denies Qaeda planned to attack hajj: report

Says intelligence about "bloody assault" was incorrect

Saudi Arabia has denied it foiled an al-Qaeda attack on this year's hajj, rejecting a U.S. report that it had advance intelligence of a plot against pilgrims in Mecca, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

The Arab News daily quoted interior ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki as rejecting a report in the U.S.-based Internet publication Middle East Times citing American intelligence officials.

That report said massive security arrangements for the hajj earlier this month focused on intelligence that al-Qaeda had planned to attack Mecca and the more than 2.4 million participants in the annual Muslim pilgrimage.

"We didn't launch any huge counterterrorism operation," Turki said, calling the Middle East Times report "incorrect," Arab News reported.

The Middle East Times, sister publication of Washington's conservative Washington Times, reported on December 16 that the massive security at the hajj was because of intelligence "that al-Qaeda planned to launch a bloody assault on Muslim pilgrims taking part in the annual pilgrimage."

Turki called the security operations in Mecca normal for the hajj, Arab News reported.

"This is not something new. It's normal, we do it all the time," he said.

He also denied the Middle East Times report that the Saudis had launched preemptive raids against suspected al-Qaeda cells three months before the hajj, saying that "no such arrests were made."