Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry has acknowledged that more than 2,000 of its citizens have traveled to other countries, including Syria, to join Takfiri militant groups.
“The number of Saudis proven to be in conflict areas is 2,093,” the ministry spokesman General Mansour al-Turki told daily newspaper Al-Hayat on Monday, adding that over 70 percent of them, or 1,540, were fighting alongside anti-Damascus militant groups in Syria.
Syria has blamed Saudi Arabia, along with certain other countries in the Middle East, for the devastating spread of militancy across the country, saying if it was not for the support of governments like the one in Riyadh, the militants could never capture large areas of land in the Arab country.
Most of the militant and terrorist groups, including Daesh and those linked to al-Qaeda, have enjoyed support from Saudi Arabia, reports say. Even groups designated by the West as moderate opposition, have received funding and weaponry from Saudi Arabia and its allies.
The remarks by the Saudi official come as over the past few months the Takfiri militants active in Syria have suffered major setbacks as the Syrian army continues to gain major victories in the fight against militants.
On December 22, the Syrian military announced that it had fully liberated the northwestern city of Aleppo. The militants had been controlling the city’s eastern part since 2012, a year after foreign-backed militancy swept over the country.
The Saudi official also said that 147 Saudi nationals had joined militant groups in Yemen. The impoverished country, which lies to the south of Saudi Arabia, is the base of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Turki said 31 Saudis were also believed to have joined militants in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan while only five have traveled to neighboring Iraq to join Daesh.