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The New Arab

Inside the world of Saudi Islamic State members

Employed, educated and unmarried, Saudi jihadists are fighting for their 'utopian caliphate' [TNA]

Date of publication: 5 May, 2016

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The New Arab has analysed a cache of leaked 'membership forms' belonging to IS to reveal intriguing information on Saudi Arabian members of the radical jihadist group.
It was via Twitter that a Saudi extremist who went by the nom de guerre, Abu al-Dahdah al-Sharqi, was recruited to join the Islamic State group.

He had been "nominated" for the job by another fellow Saudi jihadist, Sulaiman al-Subaie.

Subaie became famous after defecting from IS and returning to Saudi Arabia, where his "confessions" were aired on television. He had been popular in his homeland for his posts on video-sharing app Keek.

Sharqi went to Syria via the Turkish border, using his brother's passport. He left behind a wife and an infant.

While Subaie returned home in January 2014, and subsequently denouncing IS's "deviant ideology," nothing is known about the fate of Sharqi and 361 other known Saudi members of the ultra-radical group who signed up between mid-2013 and late 2014.

The figure comes from the so-called Mujahid Files, a cache of leaked documents on IS members obtained by The New Arab from Syrian website Zaman al-Wasl.

The documents show 282 of the Saudis are combatants, 48 suicide bombers and 32 inghimassis (suicide commandos).
Read more: Islamic State's 'suicide squad': Zealots, footballers and French chefs

The documents, which comprise membership forms, contain detailed information on IS's rank and file, distributed into 23 categories.

In addition to name, code name, date of birth, nationality, blood type, marital status and other personal information, the categories include "religious education", progession, countries visited and "history of jihad" as well as "specialty".
The leaked documents contain detailed information on IS's rank and file, distributed into 23 categories.
The jihadists' hometowns

The data on the Saudi members shows interesting diversity in terms of their places of origin. A large number of them hailed from central Saudi Arabia, from areas like Riyadh and Hail; and the Western Province, where Mecca and Medina are located.

Most members - 313 or 86 percent to be precise - came from major cities like Dammam, Riyadh, Mecca, Jeddah and Buraydah.

One hundred fifteen said on their forms they were from Riyadh, and 75 from al-Qassim, including 60 from Buraydah alone.

To Abdulaziz al-Khodr, a Saudi expert, the high number from al-Qassim could be related to the influence wielded by al-Qaeda commanders who hail from the region, such as deceased Yusuf al-Ayeri.

However, Khodr stresses that there is no general pattern for the geography of jihadism in Saudi Arabia, saying personal and tribal relations sometimes are the biggest factor in promoting radical ideologies.
Personal and tribal relations sometimes are the biggest factor in promoting radical ideologies.
Shallow religious knowledge

As in previous revelations, it again emerges that the religious education of Saudi IS members is shallow. Eighty percent of them said on the forms that their religious knowledge is simple to moderate.

Saudis study general religious education at schools. However, most of the Saudi IS members in the leaked documents are under the age of 30, which means they studied under the new post-9/11 curriculum.

Sultan al-Amer, a political scientist, says this proves the link between the Saudi curriculum and jihadism is tenuous. 

Abdullah al-Maliki, another expert on Islamic movements, adds that IS deliberately targets those with limited religious knowledge and takes advantage of their enthusiasm to sacrifice themselves for a bigger cause.
IS deliberately targets those with limited religious knowledge and takes advantage of their enthusiasm to sacrifice themselves for a bigger cause.
Social background

The documents show most of the Saudi IS members have high-school or university education.

Saudi political analyst Jamal Khashoggi told The New Arab that this disproves the myth that jihadists are uneducated, which again is in line with previous revelations.

Around 78 percent are between 20 and 30 years of age. 


Interestingly, 11 Saudi members of IS studied in the US and Europe, but most of them did not complete their studies and dropped out to join the fight in Syria and Iraq.

Around 76 percent are unmarried.

Meanwhile, 46 percent of the 362 Saudi IS members were employed, 24 percent were unemployed and 26 percent were students. The rest did not disclose their statuses.
46 percent of the 362 Saudi IS members were employed, 24 percent were unemployed and 26 percent were students
Why do they join?

Jihadist ideology and political grievances are the leading reason young Saudi radicals join IS, rather than poverty or unemployment, says Khashoggi in response to the revelations.

"They are searching for their Islamic utopia rather than for work," the chairman of Al-Arab TV told The New Arab.

Sultan al-Amer agrees. "Because politics are monopolised and desolate in the Arab countries, militant groups can find a huge reservoir of recruits among youths," he said.

Interestingly as well, 99 percent of the Saudi members named in the documents have no prior "jihadist experience". Some were defectors from al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.
99 percent of the Saudi members named in the documents have no prior 'jihadist experience'
Who is Abu Muhammad al-Shimali?

One thing in common between the Saudi IS members is a man called Abu Muhammad al-Shimali, the intermediary who facilitated their entry to Syria through Azaz and Jarablus.

According to Rewards for Justice of the US State Department, Tirad al-Jarba aka Abu Muhammad al-Shimali is the senior Islamic State "Border Chief" and is a key leader in the group's Immigration and Logistics Committee.

He is responsible for facilitating the travel of foreign terrorist fighters primarily through Gaziantep, Turkey, and onward to the IS-controlled border town of Jarabulus, Syria.

The US offers a reward of $5 million in return for information leading to his arrest. He is an Iraqi-born Saudi national, who has facilitated the travel from Turkey to Syria of prospective IS fighters from Australia, Europe, and the Middle East, and managed the group's processing centre for new recruits in Azaz, Syria.


Original Arabic by Mohammad Azzam and Badr al-Rashed

Translation and additional writing by Karim Traboulsi

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