Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi national who fight abroad or who join terrorist groups could face up to 20 years in prison, according to a royal decree issued on Monday by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
According to the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the text of the decree read: “Whoever participates or is involved in hostilities outside the Kingdom or joins radical religious and intellectual groups or currents shall be sentenced to not less than three and not more than twenty years in prison. However, the punishment shall be increased to no less than five years and no more than thirty years in prison for armed forces servicemen.”
King Abdullah also called for the formation of a cross-ministerial committee to establish a list, which will be periodically updated, designating terrorist groups and movements.
The King announced that the decree aimed to safeguard the Saudi state from criminals who are working against its stable and constitutional system in a bid to undermine national security and stability.
“We also want to protect our people from imported ideologies that target the Kingdom’s security, stability and peace and damage its regional and international reputation and its relations with other countries,” he said.
Dr. Abdullah Al-Askar, chairman of the Saudi Shura Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the royal decree will help the country respond to the growing phenomenon of Saudi nationals fighting abroad.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The royal decree will limit the movement of Saudi nationals joining extremist groups, whether out of their own personal choices or recruitment at home by sleeper cells,” making particular reference to the presence of certain literature and discourse that promotes and supports terrorist acts abroad.
Also speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Saudi Shura Council member Dr. Sadaqa Fadel also acknowledged the terrorist threat, praising the decision to impose stronger penalties to confront this dangerous trend.
He said: “Saudi Arabia has suffered from the extremism of some of its sons who resorted to violence and extremism, and who tried to impose their vision and view on the country by force.” Fadel added that no country has sought to combat terrorism as much as Saudi Arabia.
Hamoud Al-Najem, an expert in Saudi law, said: “There can be no doubt that this royal decree serves the nation’s interests, based on legitimate Islamic doctrine and administration.”
“It is not secret that such violent and deviant ideologies and trends represent a major threat to the country and its people, particularly as legitimate jihad—according to Islamic doctrine—can only be called by the order of the wali amr [leader] of the Muslims. It is only he who can assess benefits and risks and issue a decision in this regard,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The text of the royal order is reproduced in translation below:
Emanating from the purpose of Islamic Shari’a in maintaining the nation’s religion, security, unity and cohesion, and avoiding sedition, conflict and struggle . . . We have ordered the following:
First: Whoever commits any of the following acts will be sentenced to no less than three and no more than years twenty years in prison:
1) Participating in hostilities outside of the Kingdom, in any way, as per the text of the preamble of this order.
2) Belong to a radical religious or ideological current or group, or those classified as terrorist organizations domestically, regionally or internationally, or supporting or adopting its ideology or approach in any way, or expressing sympathy with it by any means, or providing any financial or moral support for it, or promoting this verbally or in writing.
If the perpetrator of any of the above-mentioned acts belongs to the military, he will receive a prison sentence of no less than five and no more than thirty years.
Second: What has been introduced in the first provision of this order will not supersede any penalty prescribed in this Kingdom’s legislation or law.
Third: All rulings mentioned in laws controlling terrorist crimes and funding will be applied on all acts mentioned in the first provision of this order, including rulings regarding the apprehension, arrest, inquiry, investigation, prosecution and trial.
Fourth: A committee is to be formed from representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Grievances Board and the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution to establish a list of currents and groups as provided in Paragraph 2 of the first provision. The list will be updated on a yearly basis.
Fifth: The Minister of the Interior is to submit, without delay, a report detailing the arrests, apprehensions, investigations and prosecutions of the crimes mentioned in the first provision of this decree.
Sixth: The above provisions of this order will go into effect 30 days after this decree is published in the official gazette.