Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The head of the Riyadh Criminal Court, Judge Sheikh Saleh Bin Ibrahim Al-Sheikh, has confirmed that preachers and Islamic studies students shown to be sympathetic to extremist groups or discourse will not be exempted from new anti-terror legislation announced by King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud last week.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Sheikh Saleh Al-Sheikh stressed that religious preachers and students implicated in the latest crackdown on terrorism and extremist ideology will be viewed as “criminals” and will be punished under the law, regardless of their position.
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, last week issued a royal decree providing that “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.”
Al-Sheikh said: “Whoever is suspected to have committed a crime such as this will be transferred to court.”
Sheikh Al-Sheikh praised King Abdullah’s decree, saying that it “cut the road in front of anybody who claims ignorance and says that they did not know their actions were illegal.”
“The decree also preempts suspicion and puts everything on the right track. Everybody is now aware of the state’s position and what legal penalties they could face,” he added.
The president of the Riyadh Criminal Court, which has overseen a number of the most high-profile terrorist trials in Saudi Arabia, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Everybody must know what is permissible and what is prohibited, after different opinions have been promoted and exchanged about this issue. The decree warns against joining terrorist groups or promoting this ideology.”
King Abdullah’s decree confirmed that any Saudi national who “participates in hostilities outside of the Kingdom in any way” would face between three and 20 years in prison. In addition to this, those who “belong to a radical religious or ideological current or group, or those classified as terrorist organizations domestically, regionally or internationally, or support or adopt its ideology or approach in any way, or express sympathy with it by any means, or provide any financial or moral support for it, or promote it verbally or in writing” would also face a similar sentence.
Sheikh added that any Saudi national fighting in Syria would be prosecuted according to the same decree.
He said: “The Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are tied to Al-Qaeda, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia, membership of which is considered a criminal offense.”
“Al-Qaeda has harmed the nation and national security, breaching the peace and killing innocent civilians. It has harmed the reputation of Islam and Muslims through its irresponsible actions. Anybody who joins this terrorist group or even sympathizes with it will be prosecuted,” he added.