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[casi] Saudi Crackdown Encourages Iraq Jihad, Clerics Say

Saudi Crackdown Encourages Iraq Jihad, Clerics Say

Sun August 31, 2003 12:58 PM ET
By Andrew Hammond
RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi militants, facing a clampdown at home long demanded
by Washington, are heading to Iraq for a holy war against the American
"Satan," clerics and analysts say.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said last week that some of
those attacking U.S. forces in Iraq are coming into the country from
neighboring Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria.

Some clerics in the kingdom said a security crackdown by Saudi authorities
on Muslim militants after deadly suicide bombings in Riyadh in May --
leading to bloody clashes and arrests -- was pushing militants to head to

"Most youth think the only safe road is to go to Iraq. They are trapped
between the international campaign against terrorism and this campaign at
home. The only safe haven for them is to go to Iraq," said leading cleric
Mohsen al-Awajy.

"We are hearing stories of families who get mobile phone messages from their
sons saying they're going to Iraq."

Awajy said thousands of Saudi veterans of the war against the Soviet
occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, who at that time were supported by
the government, were now being targeted.

Riyadh woke up to the problem of homegrown militancy after the September 11,
2001 attacks on U.S. cities, blamed on Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda
group and carried out by mostly Saudi hijackers.

The crackdown intensified after the May bombings, which killed 35 people,
including nine Americans. Authorities have arrested more than 200 militants
believed linked to al Qaeda.

"In the Saudi street, people are not happy with the mass operation against
former mujahideen, who were encouraged by the Saudi government. Without U.S.
pressure, our own government would not be as harsh against their own
people," Awajy said.

A Western diplomat said unlike with Afghanistan the Saudi authorities would
do everything to stop wide-eyed young radicals from heading to Iraq.

"One thing is for sure, they won't encourage or export problems that they
wouldn't want at home. Never again," he said, noting that prominent clerics
have either discouraged jihad (holy war) in Iraq or kept silent on the

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef has denied Saudi nationals have been
pouring over the long porous border into Iraq, saying in remarks published
Saturday that any Saudis in Iraq must have entered through a third country.


Relations between long-time allies Riyadh and Washington hit their lowest
point after September 11. But after the oil-rich kingdom began its crackdown
on militants, Washington said the Saudis were serious in the "war on

Political analyst Dawoud al-Shiryan said it was clear from the age profile
of dozens of Saudis wanted, arrested or shot in a series of skirmishes
between militants and police in recent months that this was a new generation
of mujahideen.

"The problem is the new generation. People in their 20s, most of them born
after the Iranian revolution," he said.

"The security solution is not enough. These people are willing to die, and
we have a lot of jobless and economic problems. When Saudis go to Iraq it's
partly because of these pressures," he added.

"You cannot take away 30 years of something with a few sermons. It needs a
major plan in culture, media and education."

London-based dissident Mohamed al-Masari said Saudi police, long sidelined
by the powerful morality police in this strict Islamic state, were
ill-equipped to confront an insurgency.

"The training is miserable and the psychological preparation is very bad. A
big percentage of the police will be pro-bin Laden," Masari said.

"The militants are not willing to be taken into custody without a fight.
Most of the fights have been bloody and the government does not announce
every fight," he added.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry has made it mandatory to have security guards at
schools, Western food franchises and foreign airline offices and travel
agencies in the kingdom.

Bin Laden has repeatedly called for jihad against "infidel" countries,
urging his followers to target Western interests.

"The main reason there was no militant action in Saudi (against the
government) in the last 10 years was ideological -- it would have involved
Muslims getting killed," Masari said.

"Now people are getting over this, but those hesitating can go to Iraq, it's
a paradise."

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