Saudi Arabia, Friday, listed the Muslim Brotherhood and two Syrian jihadist groups as terrorist organisations and ordered citizens fighting abroad to return home within 15 days or face imprisonment.
The move represents a major escalation against the Brotherhood of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and indicates rising concern in Riyadh over the potential risks to domestic security of Saudi extremists fighting in Syria.
Although Riyadh had over time shown unwavering support for Sunni-led rebels battling to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the kingdom has long feared blowback from radical jihadist groups, particularly after a spate of attacks by a local Al-Qaeda franchise from 2003 to 2006.
Friday’s move comes two days after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recalled their ambassadors from Qatar, which supports Islamists groups in the region and was a backer of the Brotherhood.
A list published by the interior ministry designates as terrorist organisations the Brotherhood, Al-Nusra Front, which is Al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a rogue group fighting in both Syria and Iraq.
Also blacklisted are Shiite Muslim rebels known as Huthis in northern Yemen and “Hezbollah inside the kingdom,” a reference to a little-known Shiite group in` overwhelmingly Sunni Saudi Arabia.
The interior ministry, in a statement carried by state media, said it will prosecute anyone backing these groups “financially or morally”, or who express sympathies for them or seek to promote them through media and social networks.
It also forbids “participation in, calling for, or incitement to fighting in conflict zones in other countries.”
Prison also awaits anyone calling for demonstrations or taking part in them, the ministry said.