Saudi Arabia unveils 34-country coalition against terrorism
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA
SAUDI Arabia announced yesterday the formation of a military coalition of 34 countries including the Gulf states, Egypt, Turkey and Malaysia to fight "terrorism" in the Islamic world, with the command centre based in Riyadh.
More than 10 other Islamic countries, including Indonesia, have expressed their support for the alliance, reported the Saudi Press Agency.
All the 34 countries belong to the Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has 57 members.
Shi'ite Muslim Iran, Sunni Saudi Arabia's arch-rival for influence in the Arab world, was absent from the list, as proxy conflicts between the two regional powers rage on from Syria to Yemen, Reuters pointed out.
Syria and Iraq, which are OIC members, are also not on the list.
The alliance will tackle "the Islamic world's problem with terrorism and will be a partner in the worldwide fight against this scourge", said Saudi Defence Minister Mohammed Salman Al Saud at a press conference in Riyadh yesterday.
The coalition will fight "any terrorist organisation that appears", said the deputy crown prince when asked if the alliance would concentrate on fighting the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) only.
The minister offered few concrete indications of how military efforts might proceed, said Reuters.
The United States has called for broader international participation in the fight against ISIS, saying Turkey needed to do more to control its borders with Syria, and that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states had been distracted by the conflict in Yemen.
The announcement is the latest in a more assertive Saudi foreign policy since King Salman ascended the throne in January and named Prince Mohammed, who is his son, as defence minister, reported Agence France-Presse.
Saudi Arabia supports some rebels in Syria, and last year joined a US-led coalition bombing ISIS in Syria.
Other Gulf states are also in that coalition, but their strikes in Syria have diminished since they began action in Yemen.
They and Saudi Arabia have been locked in nine months of warfare with Iran-allied rebels in Yemen.
As a ceasefire was to take hold in Yemen yesterday, Riyadh's announcement may signal a desire to shift its attention back towards the conflicts in Iraq and Syria.
ISIS has pledged to overthrow the monarchies of the Gulf and has mounted a series of attacks on Shi'ite Muslim mosques and security forces in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi initiative would not involve the Malaysian military, The Star daily reported Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein as saying at an event yesterday in Kuala Lumpur.
"There is no military commitment but it is more of an understanding that we are together against (ISIS) militancy," said Mr Hishammuddin.