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Friday, 1 November, 2002, 14:53 GMT
Saudi militants 'ready for jihad'
Mecca
Mecca: Saudi Arabia is home for Islam's holiest shrine

Islamic militants in Saudi Arabia say Saudis are ready to take up arms to defend Iraq if the US attacks the country.

A religious scholar told the BBC that there are whole regions in Saudi ready for jihad.


Their religious sentiment has become so strong I fear it's too late to do anything about it

Saudi religious scholar
The religious leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said thousands of people in tribal areas in the north and the south of the country knew how to use arms and would not stand idly by if America invaded Iraq.

And many weapons were available on the black market at an affordable price to most Saudis.

The Saudi government categorically rejects any suggestion that there are many Islamic militants in the country.

Aggressive act

But the Muslim scholar said the Saudi Government could not control young Saudi fighters, or jihadis, who were determined to cross the border into Iraq in the event of an American attack.

He said the Americans might have been justified in the past to strike Iraq in order to liberate Kuwait, but a war this time would be an act of aggression without justification.

The sheikh is well-known figure in some parts of Saudi Arabia and is banned from preaching because of his criticism of the government.

The BBC has not been able to ascertain whether he has a large following in Saudi Arabia.

Jihad threat

He said many young Saudis had been seeking his advice on jihad in case America attacks Iraq.

"I fear they won't even listen to me," he said.

"Their religious sentiment has become so strong I fear it's too late to do anything about it.

"But if someone comes to me wanting to go to Jihad and has military training, I cannot advise him against it because, in Islamic law, if a Muslim country is attacked, all neighbouring countries should support it in the battle."

Tricky position

During the 1980s many Saudi jihadis volunteered to fight the Russian army in Afghanistan.

Many more, I was told, would be prepared to embark on jihad in Iraq if America attacks the country.

But the chairman of the foreign affairs committee at the Saudi Consultative Council, Abdulmuhsen al-Akkas, told me any suggestion that there is widespread support for Islamic militancy in Saudi Arabia, was not based on hard facts.

But Saudi Arabia is in a tricky position.

While it depends on the US for military security, it also does not want to alienate its own public, many of whom are strongly anti-American.

A US-led war on Iraq could well exacerbate those tensions.


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31 Oct 02 | Middle East
16 Oct 01 | Middle East
01 Nov 02 | Americas
28 Aug 02 | World at One
16 Sep 02 | Middle East
16 May 02 | Country profiles
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