Saudi to jail citizens fighting abroad

February 04, 2014 - 5:03:29 am

Yemeni soldiers are positioned outside a lower court in Sanaa during the hearing of Saudi nationals who were accused of joining an Al-Qaeda plot to attack Yemen’s security earlier this month on September 12, 2013. AFP PHOTO

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia will jail for 3-20 years any citizen who fights in conflicts abroad, according to a royal decree released yesterday, in an apparent move to deter Saudis from joining rebels in Syria and then posing a security risk once they return home.

Saudi Arabia’s religious authorities have previously spoken out against Saudis joining militants involved in Syria’s civil war, but the Interior Ministry estimates that around 1,200 Saudis have gone there nonetheless. 

The decree underscored concern about young Saudis hardened by battle against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad coming home to target the ruling Al Saud royal family — as happened after earlier wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“(Saudi leaders) have to be concerned about Syria. They’re probably mindful about what happened in Afghanistan and the people who went there and later came back to cause problems,” said Robert Jordan, US ambassador to Riyadh from 2001-03.    

Major General Mansour Turki, Saudi Arabia’s security spokesman, said yesterday that 200-300 citizens had returned from Syria and would be put through the kingdom’s rehabilitation programme for militants. 

The decree also said Saudis who join, endorse or give moral or material aid to groups it classifies as terrorist or extremist organisations, whether inside or outside the country, would face prison sentences of between five and 30 years.      

The announcement came quickly on the heels of the publication on Friday of a new anti-terrorism law that has been condemned by rights activists as a tool to stifle dissent.