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In Saudi Arabia, Britain arms a regime following 'same thought' as Islamic State

January 31, 2016 at 12:17 pm

A Parliamentary debate on the war in Yemen Thursday resulted in ridiculous scenes. A Tory minister with the Foreign Office claimed of a vital UN report that he “hadn’t received it officially” even as he waved a copy in his hand. This resulted in mocking laughter from the opposition benches.

But of course the report is no laughing matter. A UN panel of experts, in a report leaked Wednesday, has found that the Saudi-led bombing campaign against Yemen has involved “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilian targets.

Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest buyers of British-made weapons, and successive Labour and Conservative governments have considered it as a top ally. So it’s no surprise to find a government minister defending alleged Saudi war crimes in this way.

According to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, UK arms sales to the Saudis have totalled some £5.6 billion during David Cameron’s time in office. Some £2.8 billion of this has been since the Saudis began bombing Yemen.

According to The Guardian, the leaked UN report says that the Saudis and their allies “conducted airstrikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law, including camps for internally displaced persons and refugees; civilian gatherings, including weddings; civilian vehicles, including buses; civilian residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques; markets, factories and food storage warehouses; and other essential civilian infrastructure, such as the airport in Sana’a, the port in Hudaydah and domestic transit routes.”

British “advisers” have been stationed in the Saudi command and control centre, but the government has denied they have an operational role.

Also on Wednesday, a London think tank published a translated clip from Emirati TV of a recent interview with a top Saudi cleric talking frankly about the similarities between the Saudi regime and the “Islamic State” regime in Syria and Iraq.

Sheikh Adel al-Kalbani told the presenter that “we follow the same thought [as Islamic State] but apply it in a refined way.” He said “they draw their ideas from what is written in our own books, from our own principles”

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He said that the one who criticises Islamic State “the most does not criticise their thought, but their actions … the way people are executed … is brutal … it ruins our image in front of the world; if we execute them in a way that does not show us in a bad light, then that’s fine.”

“When some journalists were killed, it was as a result of specific religious rulings,” he explained.

Islamic State has executed many journalists, often releasing hideous and graphic videos of the event taking place on camera in public. These have included Iraqi cameraman Raad Mohamed al-Azaoui, in October 2014. Al-Azaoui had allegedly refused the group’s demand that he send all his reports to their media department for pre-approval. More widely publicised killings of western journalists such as Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff have often been announced in grimly slick video productions.

Between 2007-2014, #Saudi Arabia was the leading customer for #US’s arms trade, with agreements worth $86 billion!Infographic by The White Canvas

Posted by Middle East Monitor on Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s biggest perpetrators of the death penalty, carrying out more than 90 executions in 2014, according to Amnesty International (behind only Iran, with 289 and China, which carries out more than the rest of the world put together). Figures released in August suggest the rate had increased to an average of one person every two days.

Saudi executions are often carried out for alleged crimes such as drug smuggling or “sorcery”. Much like in areas occupied by Islamic State, Saudi executions are is administered with beheading.

The frank admission by the Saudi cleric confirms something I mentioned in a column back in November 2014. The dissident Saudi researcher and activist Faud al-Ibrahim showed in an important essay, that “Islamic State” and Saudi Arabia share much the same ideology, and that books widely promoted by the Saudis are similarly pushed in Islamic State controlled areas.

The writings of co-founder of the Saudi state “Mohammed bin Abdel Wahhab such as The Book of the Unity of God, Clarification of the Doubts, Nullifiers of Islam and others are distributed in the areas under ISIS’ control and are taught and explained in private religious classes that the organization’s educational department holds.”

How can it be that even at the same time the British government says it is fighting the extremist group in Syria and Iraq (with a counter-productive bombing campaign), that it is selling billions in arms to a more “refined” version of exactly the same hideous ideology?

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London and an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.