Saudi Arabia's top Muslim cleric reportedly claimed that Islamic State militants are actually Israeli soldiers, dismissing threats leveled against Israel by the militants' leader just last week.
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On Saturday, a voice recording of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was released, in which he threatened that Islamic State militants would attack Israel. "With the help of Allah, We are getting closer to you every day," al-Baghdadi told his Israeli listeners. "The Israelis will soon see us in Palestine. This is no longer a war of the crusaders against us. The entire world is fighting us right now."
But Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz had none of it. "This threat against Israel is simply a lie. Actually, Daesh is part of the Israeli soldiers,” Abdul Aziz told the Saudi Gazette on Monday, using an Arab acronym for the group.
According to news website Al Bawaba, the grand mufti's claims are nothing new, and conspiracy theories about Israel supposedly masterminding the formation of ISIS have been kicking around online for some time. A typical claim is that the acronym ISIS really stands for "Israeli Special Intelligence Service," and not for "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria," Al Bawaba reported.
Abdul Aziz's latest claim joins a string of controversial statements and religious rulings, among them a declaration that "all churches in the Arabian Peninsula must be destroyed" and a fatwa allowing ten-year-old girls to marry. He also really doesn't like Twitter. However, he has condemned ISIS in the past, saying in August 2014 that the group's actions and ideas "are not in any way part of Islam, but are enemy number one of Islam, and Muslims are their first victims."
Saudi Arabia follows the ultra-conservative Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam but sees Islamist militants, who staged attacks in the kingdom last decade, as posing a threat to its own stability.
Although senior Wahhabi clerics endorse execution by beheading for offences that include apostasy, adultery and sorcery, oppose women driving or working and describe Shi’ites as heretics, they differ from Al-Qaida and Islamic State militants in opposing violent revolt.
Riyadh has been a main supporter of rebels battling Syrian President Bashar Assad, but has funneled arms and money away from Islamic State and Al-Qaida towards other opposition groups.
Wahhabi clerics, who hold senior government positions and lend the ruling al-Saud Islamic legitimacy, oversee a massive religious infrastructure paid for by the state and are sometimes dismissed by militants as being in the government’s pocket.
Thousands of young Saudis are believed to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join rebel and militant groups, spurring concern within the authorities that they may eventually launch attacks on their own government.
Saudi Arabia labelled Islamic State, Al-Qaida, Nusra Front and other groups as “terrorist” in March 2014 and imposed long prison terms for offering them public support or giving them moral or material aid.