Saudi crown prince's military alliance targets 'Palestinian terrorism'

Saudi crown prince's Islamic military alliance targets 'Palestinian terrorism' in opening summit
3 min read
27 November, 2017
A video at the opening meeting of an Islamic counter-terrorism alliance in Saudi Arabia caused a stir after using footage of Palestinian fighters to depict terrorists.

A video launching the first meeting of an Islamic counter-terrorism alliance in Saudi Arabia has caused a stir after using footage of Palestinian fighters during the Second Intifada to depict the threat of 'terrorism'.

Sunday's summit was the first meeting of defence ministers and other senior officials from the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, which officially counts 41 countries and identifies as a "pan-Islamic unified front" against violent extremism.

The alliance was announced in 2015 under the auspices of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose rapid ascent since his appointment as heir to the throne in June has shaken the political scene across the region.

An opening video played at the meeting quickly triggered an online backlash after footage of Palestinian fighters clashing with the Israeli army in the Bethlehem-area in 2001 was used to illustrate the threat of terrorism.

The hashtag #المقاومة_مش_إرهاب (Resistance is not terrorism) was created by social media users to voice their discontent at images of Palestinian fighters being branded as terrorists.

Some social media users said the images shown in Riyadh "normalised" Israel's occupation, while others said it showed Saudi Arabia's "moral decline".

Saudi Arabia denies any official relations with Israel, despite a deluge of recent reports claiming rapprochement between the two states against common foe Iran.

'Common enemy is terrorism'

The alliance meeting in Riyadh brought together Muslim or Muslim-majority nations including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Uganda, Somalia, Mauritania, Libya, Yemen and Turkey.

"In past years, terrorism has been functioning in all of our countries... with no coordination" among national authorities, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also Saudi defence minister, said in his keynote address to the gathering in Riyadh.

"This ends today, with this alliance."

The alliance excludes Saudi Arabia's arch rival Iran, as well as Syria and Iraq. Lebanon declined to send representatives despite an invitation from Riyadh.

"The pillar of this coalition is inclusion," said Saudi General Abdulelah al-Saleh, the alliance's acting secretary general, playing down the exclusion of the three countries.

"Our common enemy is terrorism, not any religion, sect or race."

Retired Pakistani general Raheel Sharif, who has been appointed commander-in-chief, also insisted that the coalition was not against any religion or state.

The alliance aims to "mobilise and coordinate the use of resources, facilitate the exchange of information and help member countries build their own counter-terrorism capacity," Sharif said.

While the alliance officially includes Qatar, which is the target of a six-month boycott led by Saudi Arabia, organisers in Riyadh said no Qatari officials were present at the meeting.

Qatar's flag was also absent.

Egypt, which sent a military official and not its defence minister to Sunday's meeting, is still reeling from a Friday attack on a mosque that killed more than 300 people.

While IS has not claimed responsibility, Egyptian authorities say the organisation is the main suspect as the mosque is associated with followers of the Sufi branch of Sunni Islam, whom IS has branded heretics.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Friday's "painful event" was a reminder of the "danger of terrorism and extremism".

"Beyond the killing of innocent people and the spread of hatred, terrorism and extremism distort the image of our religion," he said.

Since his sudden appointment as crown prince, Prince Mohammed bin Salman has moved to consolidate power, announcing crackdowns on both terrorism and corruption in  series of mass arrests.

Agencies contributed to this report.