Saudi Arabia deploys National Guard's notorious 'counter-insurgency force' to help impose Riyadh coronavirus lockdown

Saudi Arabia deploys National Guard's notorious 'counter-insurgency force' to help impose Riyadh coronavirus lockdown
The Rapid Response Force of the National Guard usually tasked with counter-insurgency has deployed armoured vehicles in the capital Riyadh to impose a coronavirus lockdown.
2 min read
03 April, 2020
It maintains over 100,000 highly-trained soldiers under various brigades [Twitter]

Saudi Arabia's National Guard Ministry has deployed the Rapid Response force complete with armoured vehicles and checkpoints in Riyadh to ensure compliance with the emergency coronavirus lockdown as the kingdom grapples with the outbreak.

The Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG), a security force not integrated into the regular Saudi army with its own ministry headed by a prince, is mainly responsible for protecting the Kingdom’s royal family and combating insurgency.

In a tweet Wednesday, the Ministry of National Guard, which manages SANG, said its first Rapid Deployment Special Brigade started imposing the lockdown in Riyadh. The tweet included photos of heavy-armoured vehicles, one with an ambulance logo, in addition to soldiers in uniform. 

The SANG’s involvement, according to a statement released by the ministry in March, was requested by the Health Ministry. 

The tweet came a day after SANG’s first Special Security Brigade based in Riyadh deployed also to enforce the lockdown. 

Read also: Coronavirus pandemic fails to deter latest Saudi arrest campaign

The Saudi Arabian National Guard – separate from the other military branches under the defence ministry –  has been involved in controversial counter-insurgency operations, including the 2013 intervention in Bahrain and is accused of systematically targeting Shia muslims in the Eastern Region, most recently during the siege of Qatif.

Saudi Arabia has also deployed SANG’s Third Special Security Brigade, based in Dammam in the eastern region, according to the ministerial statement.

The National Guard first gained regional prominence as an counter-insurgency force in 1979, when it reclaimed the Holy Mosque in Mecca – with the help of Pakistani and French forces – after a group of extremists seized Islam’s holiest site, and called for the overthrow of the house of Saud. 

SANG has since been involved in controversial operations internally against activists and protesters, and it is not clear whether its deployment means it has been given authorisation to use force against those who violate the lockdown measures.

The news comes amid increasing concerns for civil rights in Saudi Arabia and the region as authoritarian states in the region use emergency powers to restrict the freedom of movements of their citizens.

In addition to deploying forces and checkpoints to impose the lockdown, Saudi has launched numeous PR campaigns to convince people to stay at home.  

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