Manama: Security forces in Saudi Arabia have thwarted an attempt to sneak two women and six children into Yemen, where they were supposed to join Al Qaeda.

The two women, in their 30s, and the children, the oldest of whom was 14, were all Saudi nationals.

They were accompanied by three Yemeni men, who were walking with them through desolate areas and dangerous mountains east of Jazan to cross the borders illegally.

According to news site Sabq, the group was around 400 metres from reaching Yemen when they were arrested last Friday at around 9pm by a border patrol.

Servicemen, stunned by the presence of two Saudi women and six children in the rugged area, referred them to the security authorities. Initial confessions confirmed that the children had been kidnapped and that the women were joining Al Qaeda and were taking them along.

“I had the shock of my life when I got a phone call informing me that my nephew had been found with other children and two women as they were being smuggled out of the kingdom to join the ranks of Al Qaeda,” Abu Saleh, the uncle of one of the children, said, quoted by Sabq on Wednesday.  “What will they do in Yemen? Will they free the Yemenis, target US drones or look after Al Qaeda logistics? How could they decide to go to Yemen without telling their families? How could they participate in kidnapping and smuggling out children? Everyone is deeply shocked that two women dare to do that and claim they want to join Al Qaeda in Yemen.”

A private plane carrying relatives of the women and the children as well as religious scholars and human rights activists were dispatched by the interior minister to Jazan to reason with them.

“I still had doubts about what happened until we saw the women and the poor children, who were not even aware of where they were being taken to or what was happening to them,” Abu Saleh said. “I have never seen such a deviant mind and blatant ignorance. I could not believe that someone who claimed he was going to a holy war would kidnap innocent children to use them. I wanted to ask the women to tell me what they would be doing with Al Qaeda in Yemen when their husbands and families were in Braida in Saudi Arabia.”

One of the women reportedly said that she did not know when her husband, who had been arrested in a case of terrorism, would be freed from jail. “We decided to go to Yemen after they told us that the situation there was excellent,” she reportedly said. “We did not expect it to be so difficult.”

News of the arrest is likely to focus attention on the increasing use by Al Qaeda of women for field operations and the recruitment of young people.

The Saudi-Yemen border is about 1,800 kilometres long and the area is often plagued by severe weather conditions, gun runners and drug smugglers. It is often used by Africans fleeing the perils of the Horn of Africa to reach Saudi Arabia, lured by promises of lucrative deals and better living conditions.

The movement out of the Horn of Africa is often described by UN experts as one of the largest flows of economic refugees on earth.