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Saudis say 330 convicted in terrorism trials

  • Story Highlights
  • Saudi Press Agency: Court said prisoners members in a "deviant group"
  • "Deviant group" refers al Qaeda, founded by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden
  • Al Qaeda launched a wave of attacks in Saudi Arabia in 2003
  • Human Rights Watch: Saudis broke promise to allow outside observers at trials
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(CNN) -- Saudi Arabian authorities Wednesday announced the convictions of 330 people accused of taking part in terrorist plots, with an unspecified number receiving prison sentences.

In a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, the court said the prisoners were convicted of membership in a "deviant group" -- a reference to the al Qaeda terrorist network, founded by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden.

Those convicted were "involved in the deviant group's work, communication, coordination and working with external forces that are conspiring against the national security to spread chaos and disrupt security," the statement said.

The plots included financing attacks within Saudi Arabia and defying King Abdullah's order against joining Islamic insurgencies in countries like Iraq and Somalia, the statement said.

Saudi authorities announced in October that they would put on trial nearly 1,000 people accused of having ties to al Qaeda, which supports the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy and carried out the 2001 suicide hijackings in the United States, the kingdom's leading ally.

Al Qaeda launched a wave of attacks on government buildings, oil installations and international contractors in Saudi Arabia in 2003. Saudi authorities rounded up several thousand suspected militants in a crackdown that followed the attacks, with many of them being held for years without charges, according to the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.

Sarah Whitson, the organization's Middle East director, said the Saudi government broke an initial promise to allow outside observers into the trials. The defendants faced "very vague" charges with limited access to lawyers, Whitson said.

"They have been completely closed, which is quite unfortunate, because the flawed nature of the trials would have been much more readily apparent," she said.

Justice Ministry spokesman Sheikh Abdullah al-Saadan said on Saudi television that the defendants were given "preliminary sanctions" ranging from fines and travel restrictions to house arrest or prison time. He did not provide details of the sentences, however.

CNN's Saad Abedine and Matt Smith contributed to this report

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