Saudi clerics declare jihad on Russia, and accuse America

(Photo: REUTERS / Khaled Abdullah)Pro-army tribesmen climb a military vehicle to join members of Yemen's elite Republican Guard for a group photo as they secure a road leading to Lawdar town in the southern province of Abyan June 19, 2012. A U.S.-backed military onslaught may have driven Islamist militants from towns in Yemen they seized last year, but many have regrouped into "sleeper cells" threatening anew the areas they vacated, security officials and analysts say. The resilience of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), despite increased U.S. drone strikes to eliminate militants, is worrying for top oil exporter Saudi Arabia next door and the security of major shipping lanes in the seas off Yemen. Picture taken June 19, 2012.

It was a statement harkening back to the war against the Soviet Union 36 years ago in Afghanistan, when 55 Saudi Wahhabi clerics signed a call for jihad against Russia for its military intervention in Syria, says the Brookings Institute.

The United States and the West are accused of colluding with Moscow by only pretending to support the Syrian opposition since 2011.

The statement is not an official document of the Saudi Kingdom, but it probably has much support in the House of Saud and it illustrates just what flux the regions power relationships are in. Islamic State, or ISIS which claims to support pure Sunni Islam, does not figure in the statement.

"There is no doubt that in the mind of the 55 signatories of the petition, both the United States and Russia are equally infidel nations and governments," wrote Madawi Al-Rasheed, a visiting professor at the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics in Al Monitor.

"The United States, in the scholars' opinion, has denied Syrian rebels free no-fly zones and refused to bomb the Syrian regime. Yet, when NATO bombed Libya to depose Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, the majority of the Saudi ulama were cheerful," said al Monitor.

"Their objective was to see an Islamist government replace Gadhafi, even if it involved inviting NATO to bomb a Muslim nation. Their logic centers on a simple formula.

"Both Gadhafi and NATO were infidel powers, and if NATO could depose the Libyan dictator, thus paving the way for the righteous Muslim government, there was no problem from their theological perspective."

In the other statement quoted by Bruce Riedel of Brookings calls on all Sunni Muslims to unite to defeat "tsars and Caesars" who have backed the "Christian regime" and its Alawi partners in Damascus.

Russians, the "fanatical people of the cross," are warned to remember how the Afghan mujahidin destroyed the Soviet Union in 1989 in Afghanistan. The Russian state will suffer the same fate notes Brookings who says Iran is also targeted for the jihad.

"The Persians and their Iraqi Shiite allies - as well as Hezbollah - have aligned themselves with the Russian Orthodox Christians against Islam," notes Riedel.


Al Monitor says the official Saudi position is to financially help others in Syria to depose [President Bashar al-] Assad, but to restrain its own young people from joining the jihad.

"Yet this official position seems shaky, given how many Saudis have actually made the journey from their own country to Syria under their government's nose. Without speculating about their motivation or backers, it is enough to mention that they have gone because they can," said Al Monitor.

All of the Safavids (the Persian dynasty that adopted Shiism as the State religion) are legitimate targets for the holy war, the statement says according to Brookings.

"So too are America and the West for promising to help the Syrian people but never delivering anti-aircraft missiles or other sophisticated weapons.

"Washington feigns opposition to Moscow, the statement alleges, but is really part of the plot against Sunnis," says Brookings. "The signatories remind their readers that President George Bush waged a "crusade" in Iraq that installed a Shiite government and accuse Washington and Moscow of being engaged in "evil scheming."

The Sunni-Shiite war has been escalating for the last few decades but it is now boiling at a fever pitch.

Rieder noted that the signatories include some clerics with a past history of supporting al-Qaida.

But none appear to be members of the Al Sheikh family, the descendants of Muhammad Ibn Abd Al Wahhab (the founder of Wahhabism and the most prominent clerical family in Saudi Arabia with the closest ties to the royals).

Nonetheless, the statement reflects the views of many Saudis about Russia's intervention to back up Bashar Assad and U.S. failure to depose him.

"It shows a growing intensification of sectarian extremism in the region. The Sunni-Shiite war has been escalating for the last few decades but it is now boiling at a fever pitch."

Al-Rasheed wrote, "What is most troubling, however, in this recent Saudi petition, is its overtly sectarian tone. The conflict in Syria is described as Sunni Muslims' eternal war against Nusayris (Alawites), Rafidah (Shiites) and Safavids (Iranians), thus reiterating pejorative labels so common among the clerics and their supporters.

"The petition clearly states that Sunnis must stand united against an alliance between crusaders and Shiites. Syria is supposed to be the site of an eternal sectarian war, with the jihadis there defending not only the Syrian people but also the global Sunni community."

She said that by viewing the Syrian conflict through "the sole lens of sectarianism, Saudi clerics indirectly aspire toward one outcome: the total elimination, or rather annihilation, of those eternal enemies of Islam with whom there is no compromise, negotiation or truce, at least not in the foreseeable future."

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