A Saudi court has sentenced a woman to 15 years in prison for sending 1 million riyals (£177,902) to al Qaeda's regional branch, a pan-Arab newspaper reported on Sunday.

A special security court said in its ruling that the unnamed Saudi woman had been in touch with al Qaeda members in Yemen and Afghanistan, serving as an intermediary between group members and aiding the militant network.

(The woman) was accused of claiming the state was heretical, harbouring people wanted by security, and promoting terrorist activities in the kingdom, said the daily al-Hayat, reporting on a trial open only to some local media.

The court in Riyadh also banned the woman from travelling abroad for 15 years after her release.

The woman's lawyer rejected the ruling and said he planned to lodge an appeal in the next thirty days, the paper said.

The woman had also been using one of her properties as a warehouse for printing fake identity cards for young men who wanted to go join militants fighting in Iraq.

After discovering security forces were on her trail, she fled south towards the Yemeni border before being captured, the newspaper said.

Yemen has been the scene of nine months of protests demanding the end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule. Saleh's refusal to step down has brought the country to the brink of civil war.

Saudi Arabia is worried that al Qaeda is taking advantage of the security vacuum in its impoverished southern neighbour to expands its activities. The militant group has previously launched failed attacks from Yemen on Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Among the convicted woman's contacts was a Yemen-based al Qaeda member who was among dozens of militants wanted by the Saudi Interior Ministry on terrorism charges, the paper said.

(Reporting by Nour Merza)