(GPA) Riyadh – Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry has released a report of the number of their citizens fighting in jihadist groups in multiple conflict zones although a majority are in Syria.
The report detailed a breakdown of 2,093 Saudi nationals believed to be fighting abroad with terrorist organizations. Of that total number there are 297 not accounted for but the locations of the rest included five in Iraq, 31 in Afghanistan/Pakistan, and 147 in Yemen. By far the majority of Saudis believed to be fighting abroad are the 1,540 in Syria (around 70%) although the interior ministry believes many have left the Islamic State (IS) and joined other factions.
The ministry spokesman, Mansoor Al Turki tried to play up the the apparent ‘good news’ that “the number of Saudis joining Daesh [IS] is much less than most of us have thought.” Saying there was decreased sympathy for the group and that “the number of Daesh terrorists from other countries is higher,” as if that was some credit to Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi nationals fighting in Yemen and Afghanistan are most likely members of the respective branches of al Qaeda in those countries. Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula (AQAP) is currently fighting in Yemen against forces of the government Saudi Arabia played a key role in overthrowing and is still at war with.
Turki also admitted that 73 Saudi nationals have also been arrested in multiple countries “on charges related to acts of terrorism.” Regardless of what group any of these Saudis belong to or sympathize with, they are all at least loosely connected in some way and almost all Sunni jihadists draw from the well of Saudi exported Wahhabi interpretations of Islam.
Even if less Saudis than expected are members of the Islamic State, that doesn’t change the fact that the group spawned from the Saudi funded al Qaeda leadership. There have also been Saudi religious textbooks found in schools run by IS in territory they’ve been expelled from. We should also not forget Saudi Arabian citizens’ and possibly government’s role in bankrolling the 9/11 hijackers – as well as several of the hijackers being from Saudi Arabia. More recently; the San Bernardino shooter was also said to have been radicalized after a trip to Saudi Arabia to bring his wife back from the country.
Regardless of whether the Saudis are funding these attackers directly, their strict interpretation of Sunni Islam is still an ideological source that a majority of the world’s jihadists have drawn from. Saudi Arabia continually starts the fires that the United States later enlists them to put out so it is no surprise so many of their own citizens also leave the kingdom to join these jihadist groups.