Saudis fighting with IS a ‘ticking time bomb’

Saudis fighting with IS a ‘ticking time bomb’
3 min read
20 March, 2015
Over 2,000 Saudis are fighting in Iraq and Syria with IS, raising fears that they are a potential security threat to the Saudi state.
Hundreds of Saudis have already returned to their country after fighting for the IS [AFP]

The Saudi Interior Ministry has revealed the number of Saudis fighting with the Islamic State group (IS) in Iraq and Syria is in the vicinity of 2,284, of whom 645 have returned to their country. The official spokesman for the ministry, Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, said the ministry does not have enough evidence to confirm the death of Saudis in the conflict zones, and added, "The Ministry of Interior is following up reports about Saudi casualties in countries witnessing fighting."

Turki was commenting on reports about the death of Saudi national Mohammad al-Nawfal in Syria. Nawfal was supposed to be studying electric engineering in the US as part of a scholarship program. Turki said there was no sufficient proof to confirm the reports.

A brother of Nawfal had said he received an international phone call confirming the death of his brother Mohammad aka Abu Hamza. Mohammad was 28 years old and had a 10 month old child. The caller did not provide any details about how Mohammad came to join an extremist group in Syria.

An IS preacher called on Saudis to kill their relatives if they happen to be serving in the Saudi army or police.

Unofficial reports put the number of Saudis fighting in Iraq and Syria at more than 10,000. But the Interior Ministry statement stressed the number was much lower, estimated it as 2,284.

Abdul-Moneim al-Mushawwah, head of al-Sakina [Serenity], a campaign combating extremism and violence, echoes this assessment. He says IS and similar groups have deliberately inflated the number of Saudi fighters for propaganda purposes, and stressed the number of Saudis fighting with radical groups is much lower than thought.

An IS fighter who had returned from Syria appeared recently on Saudi state television. He said the Saudis in the IS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria did not take part in fighting, but are being groomed to become "ticking time bombs", to carry out suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia upon their return.

On Tuesday, the IS posted a video of a sermon delivered by one of its leaders, calling on IS supporters in Saudi Arabia to renounce their infidel families and even kill them before joining the group. The unknown preacher in the video, as quoted by Saudi newspapers, called on Saudis to disown their fathers, brothers, and other relatives, and kill them if they happen to be serving in the Saudi army or police.

Saudi Arabia punishes anyone caught fighting with jihadist groups by jailing them anywhere from three to 20 years. According to a royal decree issued last year, taking part in combat outside Saudi Arabia is a major offense punishable by law.

Affiliation in any form to religious or other ideological extremist groups or groups designated as terror organizations is also now an offence. The royal decree criminalizes expressions of sympathy with radical groups as well as offering any form of material or moral support, incitement, or promotion of their activities, both verbally and in writing, and in any medium.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.