I’ve read the AP, BBC, and Reuters reports on this story and nowhere does it say the cells were linked, so this may have been a sort of “Five Families” operation to hit a bunch of different people simultaneously while their guard was down. Come to think of it, none of them specify when the arrests were made, either. It could be that they’ve been busting people continuously over the past six months and only chose to go public today.

172 people, though. That’s a lotta jihad. From Reuters:

Saudi Arabia has arrested more than 170 suspected al Qaeda-linked militants, some of whom were training as pilots to carry out suicide attacks on oil facilities in the kingdom, the Interior Ministry said on Friday.

The ministry, in a statement read on state television, also said police seized weapons and more than 20 million riyals ($5.33 million) in cash, from what Al Arabiya television said were seven armed militant cells.

“Some had begun training on the use of weapons, and some were sent to other countries to study aviation in preparation to use them to carry out terrorist operations inside the kingdom,” the statement said.

“One of their main targets was to carry out suicide attacks against public figures and oil installations and to target military bases inside and outside (the country),” it added.

It said the suspects, mostly Saudis, had been “influenced by the deviant ideology,” a reference frequently used by Saudi officials to refer to al Qaeda.

The Beeb also cites the $5.33 million figure but the AP goes a tad higher. They say it was $32 million.

Just thinking out loud here — just “airing” a theory, as our pal Sully might say — but most of the Saudi oil fields are in areas populated by the country’s Shiite minority. If Iran’s worried about a U.S. or Israeli attack and looking to lash back at the Sunnis, Saudi oil would be a prime target, with some of the local Shiites perhaps being willing to shelter Iranian saboteurs who have already infiltrated the area. The Beeb and the AP note Al Qaeda’s jihad against the Saudis but notably don’t draw the inference Reuters did about which group was meant by the reference to “the deviant ideology.” It’s worth keeping an eye on this to see if any news trickles out about some of the suspects being Shiite or linked to Hezbollah.

Exit question: So, when do they let them all go?

Update: The Saudi Interior Ministry says “some” were linked to Al Qaeda. And adds that not all of the military targets were inside Saudi Arabia.