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Saudis who fight abroad face jail

RIYADH, Feb 3, (RTRS): Saudi Arabia will jail for 3- 20 years any citizen who fights in conflicts abroad, according to a royal decree released on Monday, 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 Islamic religious authorities have previously spoken out against Saudis joining Islamist 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 Arabia is the world’s No. 1 oil exporter and a mainstay ally of the United States in the Middle East. “(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, told Reuters on Sunday 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. The new decree said a committee would be set up to determine which groups would be outlawed, but it could help Riyadh target two movements it sees as particularly dangerous — Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah.

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