Saudi arrests targeted 'people pushing extremist agenda'

Detainees include people with foreign backing who were trying to destabilise the kingdom, foreign minister says

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir speaks at a briefing with reporters at the Saudi Embassy in London, Britain September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
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A Saudi crackdown on prominent citizens targeted people who "were pushing an extremist agenda" and took funding from foreign countries, foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir said.

Saudi Arabia this month arrested a number of clerics, academics and businessmen who had been critical of the government. Some of those detained had ties to the brand of political Islam that Saudi rulers have long opposed.

"When we expect others to have zero tolerance for extremism and terrorism and incitement, we ourselves will live by this," Mr Al Jubeir said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in New York. "The individuals who were detained were pushing an extremist agenda. They were inciting people, and this was not going to stand."


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Saudi authorities have not named the people detained, but they are believed include to the clerics Salman Al Oudah and Awad Al Qarni — both independent of the official religious establishment — as well as the poet Ziad bin Nahit, academic Mustafa Al Hassan and businessman Essam Al Zamil, based on Twitter posts and interviews with relatives and friends.

"We found that a number of them were working with foreign countries and receiving funding from foreign countries in order to destabilise Saudi Arabia," Mr Al Jubeir said. "When the investigations are concluded we will release the information."

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt accuse Qatar of supporting extremism and terrorism and interfering in its neighbours' internal affairs. The four countries imposed a boycott of Qatar in June to pressure Doha to change its policies

"Qatar has to stop supporting terrorists, stop financing terrorists, stop providing safe harbour to people implicated and wanted for terror financing," Mr Al Jubeir said.

Qatar denies the accusations and refuses to accept the conditions imposed by the four countries for lifting their boycott.