ABHA, Asharq Al-Awsat—Recent press reports of criminal gangs at large in the Saudi Arabian province of Asir are overstated, according to police.
Lieutenant Colonel Abdullah Shathan, official spokesman for the Asir Province Police Department, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the reports, which alleged that gangs of African immigrants were committing burglaries and violent assaults, were seriously exaggerated.
Shathan acknowledged the presence of some armed groups or gangs in Asir but stated that reports of their activities in the media overstated the threat they represent to the public.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat that a significant amount of information that has been reported on this topic is incorrect, asserting that any crimes that have been committed are isolated incidents whose perpetrators will be dealt with by the full force of the law.
The Asir police spokesman also warned against Saudi citizens taking the law into their own hands or resorting to vigilantism, saying that the Saudi authorities will deal firmly with any and all criminals.
Shathan cited a video posted on YouTube which showed a group of armed citizens illegally detaining a group of African nationals—including a woman—and said that those responsible for such criminal acts will be prosecuted with the full force of the law. He added that the citizens depicted in the video are facing criminal charges.
Lieutenant Colonel Shathan revealed that since November 14, 2012, more than 3,000 Africans have been arrested in the region on criminal charges. He added that the Asir Police Department is pursuing all criminal acts and violations, and said the police were committed to dealing with the issue.
Zayouba Kibada, Consul General at the Ethiopian Embassy in Saudi Arabia, acknowledged hearing reports of Ethiopian nationals causing problems in the region but denied their veracity.
He denied the involvement of Ethiopian nationals in any crimes in Saudi Arabia, and stressed that Ethiopian expatriates are always careful to observe the customs and regulations of their host country.
He said: “Over the past two weeks the Ethiopian embassy has not received any information about Ethiopian nationals committing crimes [in Saudi Arabia].”
Commenting on reports of Ethiopian nationals illegally entering Saudi Arabia via the Yemen border, Kibada stressed that the majority of Ethiopian nationals enter the country legally.
He added, “We live in the era of globalization, where people can move easily from one area to another. We confirm that the Ethiopians present in Saudi Arabia have work or pilgrimage visas. They are visitors to this country and are well aware of the importance of abiding by the customs and traditions of Saudi Arabia and not committing any crimes.”
However, the issue remains a serious one in the minds of many local residents. One Asir Province resident, Mohamed Al-Ahmari, said that the crimes committed by African nationals have increased over previous years, and alleged that they were a major source of violence.
Saudi authorities denied reports of a security threat from African or Ethiopian gangs. Spokesman for Asir province, Awad Al-Saeed, said: “The security services are carrying out their duties efficiently and effectively.”
He added: “Thanks to Allah, the security in the region is stable under the leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, and Crown Prince Salman.”