Saudi Arabia tries suspected extremists in absentia

Saudi Arabia tries suspected extremists in absentia
3 min read
02 April, 2015
Analysis: After thousands of young Saudis volunteered to fight for militant groups in Syria and Iraq, Riyadh has pushed through tough new anti-terror laws.
Thousands of young Saudis have reportedly volunteered to fight in Syria [AFP]

Saudi Arabia is set to try suspected members of the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as Isis) in absentia.

Riyadh's latest counter-terrorism laws allows the specialised criminal court (SCC) to try Saudi citizens who are affiliated with, sympathise, or promote armed groups such as IS and al-Qaeda.

Anti-terror laws

A Saudi man was recently handed a seven-year prison sentence and travel ban by the SCC for his involvement with IS, in the first trial of its kind in the Gulf state.

The court alleged the man was given $4,000 by a relative to travel to Syria, and after military training with the militants was stationed as guard on the Turkish border.

The man, who was not named by the courts, was charged with belonging to IS.

He was also accused of fighting for an illegal armed group, handing over his Saudi passport, financing terror, receiving unauthorised military training, and disobeying his father.

The SCC is a non-Sharia court and was created in 2008 to look into crimes related to terrorism.

IS leader Abubakr al-Baghdadi has made repeated threats against Saudi Arabia's rulers in a series of video and audio recordings.

Tough counter-terrorism laws, including allowing courts to hold trials without the accused present, were rushed through Saudi Arabia's legislature late last year.

     The Saudi government gives him a month to recant his decision and return back home.
- Abdullah al-Rasheed, legal adviser


"According to the anti-terrorism act, anyone belonging to terrorist groups at home or abroad will be handed a three to ten-year sentence," said Abdullah al-Rasheed, a legal adviser.

IS threat

"Once a Saudi leaves his country to participate in fighting abroad, the Saudi government gives him a month to recant his decision and return back home," he added.

Major General Mansour al-Turki, an interior ministry spokesperson, said that 2,284 Saudis had joined terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria and only 645 have so far returned home.

A source at the justice ministry expects many more Saudis to be tried in absentia following the end of a "grace period" for citizens fighting abroad.

"The prosecutor-general is entitled to try them in absentia as long as he has enough proof and evidence to support his case," said Rasheed.

"The accused is entitled to appeal whenever he returns back home, but the court's ruling is unlikely to be overturned as long as the accused fought in Syria."

Saudi Arabia has suffered from a spate of terrorist attacks over the past 20 years.

Riyadh has also been accused of being an "exporter of terror", and many armed groups in Syria and Iraq share Saudi Arabia's austere brand of Islam, Wahhabism.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.