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Saudi Scholars condemn IS, Saudis jailed for IS involvement

Saudi has cracked down on fighters attempting to travel abroad to fight with the Islamic State
Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh is head of the Council of Senior Ulema (AFP)

Saudi Arabia’s top Muslim scholars have said that joining the Islamic State fighters is prohibited under Sharia law.

"Terrorism... has nothing to do with jihad in the name of Allah. Islam has nothing to do with this deviant doctrine," the Council of Senior Ulema said in a statement.

It called for recruiters for IS in the Kingdom to be prosecuted.

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, who is head of the council last month branded Al-Qaeda and IS the joint "enemy number one" of Islam.

A court in Saudi Arabia on Monday jailed 13 defendants for up to 10 years on charges that included joining an Islamist group and fighting overseas.

The 13 were part of a larger group of 32 defendants and were convicted of "following the Takfiri doctrine", a term usually referring to groups like Al-Qaeda and IS, the official SPA news agency said.

They were also convicted of charges including fighting abroad, supporting fighters financially, and helping "mislead" people travelling to conflict zones, SPA said.

Scores of Saudis are believed to be in the ranks of militant Islamist groups in areas of unrest across the Middle East, including Syria.

The involvement of Saudi citizens in radical ‘Takfiri’ groups has been a source of contention for many years.

The announcement by the Council could be a sign of political pressure being applied on the body says Chris Davidson, author of After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies.

“I think its coming from America,” he told Middle East Eye. “I think it’s connected to the [US Secretary of State John] Kerry visit, I think it’s to do with the Saudi media not doing its part in helping to marginalise the kind of Islam the Islamic State is advertising.”

He pointed out that Saudi Arabia’s allies were being “boxed by the day into out-and-out conflict with the Islamic State” and that the pressure was mounting on the Kingdom to more directly intervene.

“As to why Saudi Arabia is being pitted against this entity - which is basically like the other side of the coin to it - is something we’ll have to keep revisiting in the future,” he told MEE.

“It’s clearly something Saudi Arabia didn’t want to have to do, to outwardly generate this conflict, but it seems to have been left with no choice now – it’s the price of American protection.”

The similarities between Saudi ‘Wahhabism’ – the ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam practiced in the country – and the Takfiri doctrine of IS has been frequently highlighted and some Saudis are likely to be angry with the Council’s declaration.

“There are huge chunks of the Kingdom where the population are extremely sympathetic to the Islamic State,” he told MEE. “We’ve already got the cases of preachers being sacked for not condemning IS and for harbouring sympathies as well.”

Saudi Arabia's role as a regional opponent of IS stands in contrast to a country known at one point to be the world's largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups and the effect of the pervasiveness of militant Islamist ideologies within the Kingdom has already been felt.

The majority of the attackers involved in the September 11 2011 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York were originally from Saudi Arabia, leading many to question the link between private and public citizens of the country.

A lawsuit against Saudi Arabia launched by relatives of 9/11 victims is currently travelling through the US courts, alleging that the Kingdom could be held responsible for the attacks.

David Weinberg, a senior fellow at Washington-based think tank the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, pointed out that the “blurring of public and private lines in a country like Saudi Arabia certainly makes assessing responsibility more challenging for a law suit such as this one.

“The plaintiffs have provided an enormous amount of material to source their accusations against leading members of the Saudi royal family – including Crown Prince Salman and former intelligence chief Prince Turki Al Faisal,” he told MEE.