ISIS militants trying to incite sectarian conflict, says Saudi

ISIS militants trying to incite sectarian conflict, says Saudi

Improved government security, such as guards at possible targets, increased border defences and surveillance, have made it much harder for militants.

By (Agencies)

Published: Thu 20 Nov 2014, 1:35 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:35 AM

Tighter security in Saudi Arabia has made it hard for the ISIS to target the government so the militants are instead trying to incite a sectarian conflict, the Saudi Interior Ministry said.

Saudi envoy back in Qatar

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Qatar has resumed his duties in Doha eight months after being withdrawn in an unprecedented diplomatic spat between Gulf states, media reports said on Tuesday. Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Manama all withdrew their envoys to Doha in March, sparking one of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council’s worst diplomatic rows since its creation in 1981.

GCC leaders agreed on Sunday in Riyadh that the ambassadors would return, in talks held ahead of the group’s annual summit set for Qatar on December 9 and 10.

Saudi ambassador Abdullah Al Aifan told the daily Asharq Al Awsat he was “back in Doha, in the presence of all the Saudi diplomatic staff”, adding that relations between the neighbours are “back to normal”. After several rounds of high-level talks and months of pressure, Qatar recently forced top Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood figures to leave and seek refuge elsewhere.

The GCC leadership said the meeting was called to “consolidate the spirit of sincere cooperation, to confirm the mutual destiny and aspirations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the unity of its people and close rapprochement”.

The statement, released after midnight on Monday, heralded the “opening of a new page” in relations among Gulf states. The move paves the way for the GCC’s annual summit to be held in Doha, Qatar next month.

Last week ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi called for attacks against Saudi Arabia, which has declared the ISIS a terrorist organisation, joined international air strikes against it, and mobilised top clergy to denounce it. The ISIS has not claimed the shooting but the Saudis arrested more than 50 people, including some who fought with militants in Syria or had been previously jailed for fighting with Al Qaeda.

“The ISIS and Al Qaeda are doing their best to carry out terrorist acts or crimes inside Saudi Arabia,” said Major General Mansour Turki, security spokesman for the Interior Ministry. “They are trying to target the social fabric and trying to create a sectarian conflict inside the country.”

The attack by gunmen in the Eastern Province district of Al Ahsa on November 3 killed eight Shias who were marking Ashoura. Turki said he was not aware of any evidence that it was coordinated with ISIS operatives outside Saudi Arabia.

He said improved government security, such as guards at possible targets, increased border defences and surveillance, have made it much harder for militants elsewhere to organise violence inside Saudi Arabia such as Al Qaeda’s 2003-06 uprising which killed hundreds and led to the detention of more than 11,000 people.

Although Saudi citizens have played important leadership roles in various Al Qaeda organisations, Riyadh has not yet identified any in senior positions in the ISIS, Turki said.

However, the group tends to use Saudi members in its propaganda because of the kingdom’s role as the leading Sunni state, he said.

Riyadh is worried that the rise of militant groups, including Al Qaeda affiliate Al Nusra Front and the ISIS, as participants in the Syrian war would radicalise Saudis who might then carry out a new wave of strikes inside the kingdom.

Turki said a royal decree in February imposing long prison terms for people who went abroad to fight or helped others to do so, and for people who gave moral or material support to militant groups had reduced the number of militants from Saudi Arabia.

“One of the people we arrested (since the decree) was used by them (ISIS) to write Friday sermons. Does this mean they do not have anybody capable of doing that? Of course not, but they want our language, our personality, to be reflected in their speeches,” he said.

Since the decree was issued, the rate of Saudis travelling to Syria or Iraq for war had slowed sharply, while the rate of Saudis returning to the kingdom from those countries had accelerated, he said.

The authorities have identified between 2,000-2,100 Saudi citizens who have fought in Syria since its crisis began in 2011, of whom around 600 have returned, he said. Of those numbers, only about 200 had left Saudi Arabia since the February decree while around 170 had come back.

The difficulty of getting its fighters past security and into Saudi Arabia has pushed the ISIS to try to incite sympathisers inside the kingdom to carry out their own attacks, Turki said.

Unlike the Al Qaeda campaign last decade, the attack in Al Ahsa was not aimed at government, infrastructure or foreign targets, which are now better protected by security forces, but struck at unarmed Shia villagers.

That showed the increasingly sectarian nature of militant ideology but also that tighter security had reduced the number of straightforward targets for militant attacks, Turki said.

The authorities detained 10 more people on Sunday for the attack, taking to 54 the total number of suspects arrested in 11 different Saudi cities.

“The situation is unlike 10 years ago when we had the first Al Qaeda attacks. We were not ready at that time. Our public was not informed, our policemen were not trained or equipped for such a danger,” he said.

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