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Sheila MacVicar: Alert Saudi officials arrest 3 at airport

CNN's Sheila MacVicar
CNN's Sheila MacVicar

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (CNN) -- Security officials claimed important arrests in Saudi Arabia this week, announcing the airport arrests of three men they said planned to fly a plane into a building in Jeddah.

CNN correspondent Sheila MacVicar on Wednesday spoke to anchor Bill Hemmer from Saudi Arabia about the arrests and terror-driven concern in the nation.

MACVICAR: These arrests took place on Monday evening. The men were supposed to be boarding a Saudia Airlines flight to Sudan. Saudia is, of course, the national airline of Saudi Arabia. And authorities at the airport in Jeddah, the Red Sea city, on the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia, noticed that one of the men was acting in a way that drew their attention. They realized that one of the men they recognized, he was on their wanted list, we are told. He was taken into custody with the two men he was traveling with.

Saudi authorities say that they believe all three men were members of the same cell which carried out last week's bombing attacks here in Riyadh. We are told that these three men were in a different safe house from men who were first identified in early May when Saudi authorities found a large cache of weapons and explosives -- that they knew of the attacks last week although they did not participate in them.

We are told also that, when they were seized at the airport, they were found to be in possession of knives and, we are told, documents that resembled a kind of last will and testament -- something that will be familiar to investigators from the hijackers of 9/11, who carried similar kinds of documents.

We are told that these three men remain in custody. We are told that, of course, Saudi authorities believe they will have a great deal to say about those who carried out last week's bombing attacks -- the planners, the perpetrators and perhaps even their whereabouts now.

Again, the plan, as we understand it, according to a Saudi security source, was that they were going to hijack this Saudia flight and then attempt to fly the plane into a building in downtown Jeddah. That again comes from a Saudi security source.

HEMMER: How was this tipped off? Were they picked up going onto the plane, or did somebody else give the information over before this happened?

MACVICAR: As we understand it, it was alert Saudi authorities in the Jeddah airport who realized there was something unusual about this group. They began looking at them. They realized that one of the three men was someone whose face they had been looking at for some time. His name was on a wanted list and that prompted them to bring the three into custody.

Now it's not clear at this point, obviously, where they were in the airport: if they had already cleared security, if they were just at check-in. But as I said, Saudi authorities found they were in possession of knives, and they now believe that their intent was to hijack that Saudia flight and fly it into a building in Jeddah.

Again, these men are being linked to the same cell as those who carried out the attacks. All of this comes at a time when the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is at a very much heightened state of security alert. We are told by Saudi intelligence sources that this is the highest state of alert. There are embassies which are closed here, international schools closed.

Some residential compounds have told their residents, certainly last night, to stay indoors, and they were banning all visitors from entering the compounds. And there is very much more visible security on the streets because, again, as we are told, there is credible information that more attacks may be in the planning and that those attacks may be imminent.

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