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Numbers are relative which is why the recently released figure of 300 Saudi terrorists said to be active in Iraq was greeted with relief. After all, it was less that the previously mooted number of 2000 fighters part of a 16,000 strong terrorist network from a number of Arab countries who congregated in Iraq to attacks those they believe are infidels.

On a political level, however, one hundred fighters are enough to wreck havoc in any society as al Qaeda members and supporters are willing to die and wage a covert guerilla war and not one that can be located and neutralized. They seek refuge in civilian areas, surrounded by women and children, and hide their weapons in mosques; they dress the same as others and are indistinguishable from the rest of the population.

Three hundred is a significant number is we are to include those who were thwarted en route to Iraq and those killed in the ever-escalating number of terrorist attacks around the country. In order to understand the implication of this figure, we need to first consider how these Saudi youths were recruited, as well others from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan and other Arab countries sucked into a cycle of violence.

Terrorist recruiters who encourage young men to join the insurgency despite society’s best efforts continue to do so. While fighters might represent a threat in the present and the future, the bigger danger is embodied in those who continue to brainwash young Arab men and send them to their death in Iraq. When society holds terrorists accountable for their actions, it issues verdicts against the perpetrators who carry arms and kill innocent men and women. But what of their spiritual guides and leaders who encouraged them to engage in terrorism yet lead peaceful lives undisturbed by the media?

Preachers of hate and supporters of extremist political views, mixed with religious elements, are usually accompanied by younger men seeking jihad (holy struggle) and wanting to obey God by bombing mosques, religious establishments, and military installations. How are we to penalize the actors but allow the instigators to walk of free and continue molding other extremists? How can we blame our youth for the crimes they commit after hearing of occupiers and infidels and promised a place in paradise?

If justice were to prevail, fighters will be recognized as mere foot soldiers and the ideologues, preachers, financiers and lawyers held responsible fort heir actions. The danger from the terrorist leadership is evident in the escalating number of attacks in Iraq and the continued brainwashing of young Arab men. If our young men are successfully mobilized to fight, as they were in Afghanistan, two decades, ago, and in Kashmir and Chechnya, these fighters will return to their home countries and apply the only skills they know.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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