Prince Turki al-Faisal, a member of the Saudi royal family who headed Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate for more than two decades until 2001, spoke to reporters in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 21 about the need for Muslim nations to take the lead in fighting terrorism in the Middle East.
His comments came as Saudi Arabia hosted an 18-day military exercise with 20 members of its anti-terrorism coalition, according to The Associated Press. The alliance, which brings together 34 Muslim-majority countries including Pakistan, Sudan, Jordan and the kingdom’s neighboring Gulf states, will hold its first meeting in March.
Although the coalition was created in December to respond to the growing threat of terrorism in the Middle East, Prince Turki stressed that the changes should have been put into motion earlier.
“I consider this a leading and commendable step that should have happened sooner and thank God it has taken place,” he said, reports AP.
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Counterterrorism efforts have so far been dominated by Western powers such as the United States, which has led a bombing campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The prince stressed that fighting terrorism is primarily the duty of Muslim nations.
“It’s no secret, unfortunately, that in our world today the majority of terrorism-related acts, its victims are Muslim,” he said. “Therefore, it is our responsibility as Muslim countries to play the primary role in fighting this disease that has impacted us all.”
Several majority-Muslim countries were absent from the coalition, including Saudi Arabia’s rival Iran, as well as Saudi allies, Syria and Iraq. Iran, which is majority Shiite, has clashed with the Sunni-dominated kingdom over many issues in the past, and most recently over the Saudi execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.
The two countries severed diplomatic and trade ties in January, but Prince Turki said that improving relations is dependent upon Iran’s willingness to step back from trying to influence events in the Middle East.
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“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has expressed publicly that Iran’s interference in the affairs of Arab states is a situation that is unacceptable,” he said.