The Islamic State’s (IS) influence has penetrated Saudi Arabia so successfully via social media that some Saudi youth are being persuaded to kill soldiers and police, even when they are family members.
In a recent demonstration of how IS has infiltrated the minds of Saudi youth, six IS members were killed in a shootout with police in the country’s northwest. Those killed were suspected of being involved in the killing of their cousin Sgt. Badr Hamdi al-Rashidi after they allegedly lured him to a deserted area.
This murder is not the first against the backdrop of the spread of IS supporters among Saudi families. Several incidents had already taken place, including last year’s murder of Madus al-Anzi — who had only recently joined the Saudi army troops — at the hands of his IS-affiliated cousins, ages 18 and 21. They filmed a video of him bound and begging for mercy in the sand as they pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and shot him dead. Two days after the incident, the Saudi security authorities announced one killer had been arrested and one killed by police.
Another IS sympathizers, Abdullah al-Rasheed, 19, allegedly killed his uncle Rashed al-Sufiyan, a colonel in the Saudi security forces, then took Sufiyan’s car to carry out a suicide attack against a checkpoint in Riyadh. After the murder, the colonel’s sister received a recorded voice message in which the killer, her son, revealed that he killed his uncle for being an apostate and a soldier for taghouts (idolaters). In an audio message released by IS after his death, he addressed his own mother. “Your apostate brother (my uncle) was a loyalist to the tyrants. Were it not for him, the tyrants would not exist.”
This violence attests to how deeply IS ideology has penetrated the tribal and family fabric in Saudi Arabia. IS is recruiting Saudis less than 30 years of age on Twitter. This age category represents a group that is enthusiastic and easily influenced by IS productions such as impassioned anthems and scenes promoting jihad against polytheist foreigners and Arab “idolaters.”
Saudi security authorities are supervising social media sites, tracking those promoting jihad and those who sympathize with terrorists. Moreover, many religious institutions have prohibited any activity promoting the ideas of IS and have banned Muslims from joining the group. The Council of Senior Scholars, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, had already declared in September 2014 that joining IS or al-Qaeda is a heinous crime under Sharia law.
Yet former Saudi Shura Council member Khalil Abdullah al-Khalil told al-Arabiya news channel last July that 60% of young Saudis are ready to join IS. This would indicate that Saudi Arabia has failed to convince its own prominent scholars and Salafists that IS ideology is a dangerous departure from Islam. Many Saudi youths see IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as a model of the Muslim imam who memorizes the Quran, compared with the Arab rulers who are not proficient in reading Quranic verses. Baghdadi appears as a combatant commander who defies the West, as a ruler who cares about the rights of Muslims and defends the oppressed — a stark contrast to the rulers of the Gulf whom Baghdadi describes as dependent on Western powers.