Saudi jihadi fighters to face 3-20 years in jail
An estimated 600 Saudis have joined al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria
King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia ordered on Monday the punishment of citizens found guilty of fighting in conflicts outside the kingdom with imprisonment ranging between three to 20 years.
Members of extremist religious groups and anyone found guilty of providing “financial or morale support” for terrorist groups will also be subject to heavy punishm, according to a Royal Court statement carried by the State News Agency (SPA)
The kingdom’s ministries of interior, foreign affairs and justice have set up a joint committee to prepare a list of extremist groups that will be carefully monitored, according to SPA.
The decree comes after a new counterterrorism law went into effect in the kingdom Sunday.
Encouraged by influential preachers, many young Saudis have joined Syrian rebels and Islamist groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
A Saudi expert on Islamist movements told Al Arabiya News Channel last November that an estimated 600 Saudis have joined al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria.
Faris Bin Hizam said many Saudis are fighting on the ranks of the al-Qaeda affiliates: the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the al-Nusra Front.
But the Saudi fighters are only a small number if compared to other foreign nationalities fighting in Syria, Bin Hizam said.
He added that unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda has a strong presence, there is increased awareness amongst Saudis regarding the dangers of belonging to al-Qaeda, and a widely held belief that the Syrian revolution does not need more fighters.
Recently, there has been a growing campaign in Saudi Arabia against young Saudis joining the civil war in Syria. The Saudi government supports the moderate rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) with weapons and aid but has largely opposed radical and extremist rebel groups.
The new royal order will be effective after one month.
Saudi writer Khaled Mushaweh told Al Arabiya News Channel that this one month period is meant to give a chance for fighters abroad to return home.
Mushaweh said the fighters will have to return home through official channels and be in touch with the authorities, which will determine if they pose any threat to public order.