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More than 2,000 Saudis fighting for militant groups abroad: Interior ministry

Saudi spokesman says 2,093 Saudi militants are fighting with 'terrorist organisations' outside kingdom, including 1,540 in Syria
Saudi interior ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki (AFP)

More than 2,000 Saudis are fighting for militant organisations abroad, the Saudi ministry of interior said on Monday.

In an interview with pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, interior ministry spokesman General Mansour al-Turki said 2,093 Saudi militants are fighting with “terrorist organisations” in different conflict zones.

Syria is the top destination for Saudi militants, according to al-Turki, with 1,540 Saudis fighting there. Other militants have joined groups in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, al-Turki said.

The ministry spokesman added that 73 Saudis have been arrested abroad for “terror-related activities”.

Saudi Arabia has been battling militancy on its own soil. Militants have carried out several attacks in the kingdom over the past two years, including suicide bombings against security forces and Shia mosques.

In July, three suicide attacks targeted the Saudi cities of Jeddah, Qatif and Medina. In Jeddah, a Pakistani expatriate wounded two security officers in an attack on the US consulate. A Shia mosque was targeted in Qatif. In Medina, a bombing targeted a security office next to the Prophet's Mosque.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but suspicion has fallen on the Islamic State (IS) group.

However, al-Turki played down the appeal of the Islamic State in Saudi Arabia.

"According to our statistics, Saudis in the Islamic State are fewer than what most of us would imagine," he said.

He added that Moroccan and Tunisian IS militants are greater in numbers than Saudis.

Countries across the world, including in the West, have been struggling with the increasing threat of militants returning from battlefields in the Middle East.

More than 5,000 Tunisians are fighting for militant groups abroad, mainly in Iraq, Syria or Libya, according to a UN working group on mercenaries.

On Friday evening, Tunisia’s Interior Minister Hedi Majdoub told parliament 800 Tunisian nationals who had fought for such organisations abroad have returned to the country.

Since its 2011 uprising, Tunisia has faced repeated militant attacks, killing more than 100 soldiers and policemen, as well as about 20 civilians and 59 foreign tourists, according to official figures.

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