Fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria.© AP Photo/ Militant Website, File
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The Saudi kingdom’s top cleric has condemned ISIS extremists for violating the rules of Islam, but private donors from oil-rich Saudi Arabia are likely to continue sponsoring the radical Sunni movement in Syria and Iraq, experts stress.
"The ideas of extremism, radicalism and terrorism ... have nothing to do with Islam and (their proponents) are the enemy number one of Islam," claimed Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh on Tuesday, August, 19, as cited by Al Arabiya.
The Saudi-owned media outlet reports that the kingdom has donated $100 million to the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT) in order to empower the UN in its war on terrorism.
"The [UNCCT] is the only center in the world that has the legitimacy to combat terrorism," emphasized Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Ambassador to the United States, during an official meeting at the United Nations, adding that "terrorism is an evil that must be eradicated from the world through international efforts."
Although Saudi top officials openly condemn the radical ISIS movement, experts point to the sheer hypocrisy of the Saudi elite, which is in many cases providing Islamists in Syria and Iraq with weapons and financial aid.
"The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) now threatening Baghdad was funded for years by wealthy donors in Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, three US allies that have dual agendas in the war on terror… Sometimes the support came with the tacit nod of approval from those regimes," emphasized Josh Rogin, a foreign policy correspondent for The Daily Beast, in his article "America's Allies Are Funding ISIS" published in June, 2014.
Josh Rogin underscores that the money that has been sent to ISIS by donors in the Gulf are going through Kuwait, which serves as a hub for its financing and organization. According to a report The Brookings Institution released in December, 2013, "these donors have taken advantage of Kuwait's unique freedom of association and its relatively weak financial rules to channel money to some of the estimated 1,000 rebel brigades… fighting against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad."
Saudi donors provide financial assistance to ISIS, al-Nusrah (an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria), and other jihadi groups, Josh Rogin notes. Referring to the long-lasting sectarian war between Sunni and Shia Muslims, the journalist explains that the Gulf elites "feel an obligation" to support Sunni militants fighting against al-Assad, Shia forces and their allies.
"ISIS is part of the Sunni forces that are fighting Shia forces in this regional sectarian conflict. They are in an existential battle with both the (Iranian aligned) Maliki government and the Assad regime," said Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as cited by Josh Rogin.
Remarkably, US top officials have always been aware of the activities which were being carried out by Washington's allies in the Middle East, the journalist points out. However, it looks like the US leadership has no influence on the Gulf elites: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the head of Saudi Intelligence, openly criticized US President Obama for his "inability" to invade Syria after chemical attacks had been conducted against its civilians. Experts claim that the notorious Saudi prince was behind the sarin gas attacks in East Ghouta and Aleppo, which were aimed to provoke the US to strike Syria. Moreover, according to Wayne Madsen, an American investigative journalist, Prince Bandar had allegedly bribed key US Senators to approve a "shock and awe" military attack on Damascus.
Patrick Cockburn, an Irish journalist who has been a correspondent in the Middle East since 1979, also insists that Saudi Arabia is "playing an important role in… supporting the anti-Shia jihad in Iraq and Syria." Citing Richard Dearlove, who was the head of MI6 (the British Secret Intelligence Service) from 1999 to 2004, the journalist emphasizes that there is no doubt that substantial financial aid had been provided by wealthy Saudi donors to radical Sunni militants and has played a major role in the ISIS invasion of Iraq. In his article "Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country," which was published by the Independent in July, 2014, Patrick Cockburn quotes Bandar bin Sultan, as saying some time before 9/11: "The time is not far off in the Middle East… when it will be literally 'God help the Shia'. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them."
Despite the loud statements that have been made by Riyadh, the Saudi elite is unlikely to suspend its financial and military assistance to ISIS militants. Saudi Arabia's plea to fight terrorism sounds hypocritical, experts stress. By imposing restraints on private funding to jihadi insurgents, the Saudi regime will inevitably face a challenge from powerful Sunnis who praise the Shiite-Sunni regional war.
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