Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia's most senior cleric issued a fatwa condemning those Saudi youth traveling to Iraq for the jihadi cause, reports Michael Jacobson of Counterterrorismblog.com.
Sheikh Abdel-Aziz Al-Asheikh—the most senior Wahhabi cleric in Saudi Arabia—released a rather surprising religious edict. In this fatwa, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia instructed Saudis not to leave the Kingdom to participate in jihad – a statement directed primarily at those considering going to Iraq. Al-Asheikh said that he decided to speak up, “after it was clear that over several years Saudis have been leaving for jihad” and that “our youth…became tools carrying out heinous acts.” Perhaps even most significantly, Al-Asheikh also addressed potential donors, urging them to “be careful about where [their money is] spent so it does not damage young Muslims.”
This is a big development on several levels.
It's been known for years that Saudi Arabia's young males have answered the call to wage jihad in Iraq at a higher rate than any other nationality, much like they did in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. As terrorism expert Peter Bergen and co-author Alec Reynolds noted in a 2005 article for Foreign Affairs, Saudi Arabia is an epicenter for jihad in Iraq.
Several studies attest to the significant role Saudi nationals have played in the conflict. Of the 154 Arab fighters killed in Iraq between September 2004 and March 2005, 61 percent were from Saudi Arabia. Another report concluded that of the 235 suicide bombers named on Web sites since mid-2004 as having perpetrated attacks in Iraq, more than 50 percent were Saudi nationals.
And, of course, 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9-11 were Saudi nationals.
In addition to providing bodies, Saudi Arabia is still a large financier of terrorism worldwide, although the Kingdom denies this, officially stating that the problem has more to do with terrorists traveling from Iraq into Saudi Arabia than vice versa. Many sources, such as the State Department and the Council on Foreign Relations, credit the Kingdom with cracking down on terrorist financing, but Jacobson believes more can be done. One problem is that Saudi Arabia does not keep track of its money laundering prosecutions making it difficult to see empirical evidence of the Kingdom's claims to the contrary.
It is heartening to hear a cleric of such stature discredit the notion that Saudi jihadists in Iraq and those who finance them are doing God's work. It is a good first step toward reducing this support for terrorism.