Alliance to tighten noose on terror – Need to prevent sectarian strife
Kuwait’s eagerness to join the ranks of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) stems from its unyielding disapproval of the scourge of terrorism, the country’s defense minister said on Sunday.
In a speech during the first meeting of defense ministers of the Saudi-led IMCTC member nations, Sheikh Mohammad Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, who is also Kuwait’s Deputy Prime Minister, underlined efforts to “tighten the noose on terrorists all over the world.” He said that it would behoove the Islamic military alliance to align their efforts to keep the menace of terrorism at bay, which in turn, would prevent sectarian strife that threatens the region’s stability.
The Kuwaiti minister stressed that collective efforts are needed to “prevent terrorist groups and militias from spreading their twisted ideological zealotry.” “Today, we send a vociferous message that no part of our society has been spared this plague of terrorism,” he added, citing the recent attack on a mosque in Egypt’s restive Sinai peninsula as tragic affirmation.
Sheikh Mohammad Al- Khaled went on to thank Saudi Arabia for the country’s resoluteness and dedication to fight all forms of terrorism. Officials from 41 nations have assembled for the IMCTC meeting, including a bevy of diplomats. Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sheikh Mohammad Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah met Saudi Crown Prince, Deputy Premier and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud in Riyadh on Sunday.
During the meeting, they discussed Kuwaiti-Saudi cooperation in the fight against terrorism and extremism. Both officials met on the sidelines of the first meeting of defense ministers of the Saudiled Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC). Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince vowed to “pursue terrorists until they are wiped from the face of the earth” as officials from 40 Muslim countries gathered Sunday in the first meeting of an Islamic counter-terrorism alliance.
“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 the Saudi defence minister, said in his keynote speech at the gathering in Riyadh. “This ends today, with this alliance.”
The summit is the first meeting of defence ministers and other senior officials from the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, which offi- cially 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, whose rapid ascent since his appointment as heir to the throne in June has shaken the political scene across the region. The alliance groups largely, although not exclusively, Sunni-majority or Sunni-ruled countries.
It excludes Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival, Shiite-dominated Iran, as well as Syria and Iraq, whose leaders have close ties to Tehran. Sunday’s meeting coincides with an escalation in tensions between Riyadh and Tehran, particularly over wars in Syria and Yemen and the political structure of multi-confessional Lebanon. Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of supporting armed groups across the Middle East, including Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
The meeting also comes as several military coalitions, with backers including both Iran and key Saudi ally the United States, battle to push the Islamic State group from its last remaining bastions in Iraq and Syria. The alliance meeting in Riyadh brings together Muslim or Muslimmajority nations including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Uganda, Somalia, Mauritania, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen and Turkey.
Retired Pakistani general Raheel Sharif has been appointed commanderin- chief. 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.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain abruptly cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in June, accusing the emirate of being too close to Iran and supporting Islamist extremism. Qatar denies the allegations.
Egypt, which sent a military official and not its defence minister to the Sunday meeting, is reeling from a Friday attack on a mosque that killed more than 300 people during prayer time. While IS has not claimed responsibility, Egyptian authorities say the organisation is the main suspect as the mosque is associated with followers of the mystical Sufibranch of Sunni Islam, whom IS has branded heretics. Prince Mohammed 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 has moved to consolidate power, announcing crackdowns on both terrorism and corruption.
A corruption purge saw around 200 Saudi elites including princes, ministers and business tycoons arrested or sacked earlier this month.
Powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman condemned the attack on an Egyptian mosque that killed more than 300 worshippers and said it would galvanize an Islamic military coalition he convened in Riyadh on Sunday.
Top defence officials from some 40 Muslim-majority countries met for a summit aimed at countering “terrorism”. The alliance was announced two years ago by Prince Mohammed, who also serves as defence minister of the country which claims the mantle of leadership in the Islamic world. This year he has pledged to restore the ultra-conservative kingdom to a more moderate and tolerant version of Islam.
“(The attack) was a very painful occurrence and must make us contemplate in an international and powerful way the role of this terrorism and extremism,” Prince Mohammed said. Gunmen attacked a mosque on Friday in Egypt’s North Sinai killing more than 300 worshippers, including two dozen children.
The coalition has yet to take decisive actions but officials have described it as a grouping that would allow member states to request or offer assistance among themselves in fighting groups they designate as terrorists. Such assistance could include military force, financial aid, materiel or security expertise, and will have a permanent base in the Saudi capital.
The coalition will focus not only on a military, security and intelligence track but also efforts to combat terrorist financing and ideology. “The biggest threat from terrorism and extremism is not only killing innocent people and spreading hate, but tarnishing the reputation of our religion and distorting our belief,” Prince Mohammed said in opening remarks.
Iraq and Syria, which have been fighting Islamic State for the past three years, are not part of the coalition. Neither is Saudi arch-rival Iran, which Riyadh accuses of supporting terrorism. Qatar, which has been isolated by Saudi Arabia and Arab allies for the past six months over alleged support of terrorism, was originally part of the coalition but did not appear to be in attendance at Sunday’s meeting.