15 Dec 2015

Saudis form Islamic alliance to combat terrorism

Saudi Arabia is leading an alliance of Muslim countries to combat Islamic State and other terrorist organisations.

The 34-nation alliance will share information and train, equip and provide forces if necessary for the fight against IS militants, according to Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

The formation of the alliance was welcomed by the US, which has been calling for more regional involvement in the military campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq.

Asked if troops on the ground were envisaged, Mr al-Jubeir said: “Nothing is off the table. It depends on the requests that come, it depends on the need and it depends on the willingness of countries to provide the support necessary.”

The coalition’s operations centre will be in the Saudi capital Riyadh. Countries participating include Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan and several African nations.

Shia Muslim Iran, which is locked in a power struggle with Sunni Saudi Arabia in Syria and Yemen, is not involved.

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A statement from the alliance said it had “a duty to protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organisations, whatever their sect and name, which wreak death and corruption on earth and aim to terrorise the innocent”.

US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said what was proposed was “very much in line with something we’ve been urging for quite some time, which is greater involvement in the campaign to combat Isil (Islamic State) by Sunni Arab countries”.

IS wants to overthrow the monarchies of the Gulf states and has mounted a series of attacks on security forces in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia and terrorism

Terrorism is a sensitive issue in Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaeda's late leader Osama bin Laden, thought to have been responsible for the 9/11 attacks in the US, was a Saudi, as were most of the others involved in the plot.

Saudi Arabia has also been criticised for the spread of Wahhabism, a literal interpretation of Islam followed by IS and other extremists.

But Riyadh rejects the argument that it has encouraged IS, and last month threatened to sue a Twitter user who compared the system of punishments carried out by Saudi Arabia to that meted out by IS in Syria and Iraq.

In a rare news conference, Saudi Defence Minister and deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (pictured above), said the new coalition aimed to “co-ordinate” efforts to fight terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.

Asked if the new alliance would only focus on IS, he said it would confront “any terrorist organisation that appears in front of us”.

These are the 34 countries in the anti-terrorism alliance: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Palestinians, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.