Calling Islamic extremism a disease, Saudi Arabia has announced the formation of a coalition of 34 largely Muslim nations to fight terrorism.
“This announcement comes from the Islamic world’s vigilance in fighting this disease so it can be a partner, as a group of countries, in the fight against this disease,” Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman said.
Asked whether the new coalition could include ground forces, Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat told reporters in Paris on Tuesday that “nothing is off the table.”
“It depends on the requests that come, it depends on the need and it depends on the willingness of countries to provide the support necessary,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said. “The decisions will be made by individual countries in terms of what to contribute, and when to contribute it, and in what form and shape they would like to make that contribution.”
The coalition’s formation comes amid criticism that Arab states have not done enough to fight ISIS. The West has stepped up its war against the group, which is also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh.
“Today there are a number of countries that suffer from terrorism, for example Daesh in Syria and Iraq; terrorism in Sinai, terrorism in Yemen, terrorism in Libya, terrorism in Mali, terrorism in Nigeria, terrorism in Pakistan, terrorism in Afghanistan, and this requires a very strong effort to fight,” Salman said. “Without a doubt, there will be coordination in these efforts.”
In addition to Saudi Arabia, the coalition will include Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Turkey, Chad, Togo, Tunisia, Djibouti, Senegal, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Gabon, Guinea, the Palestinians, Comoros, Qatar, Cote d’Ivoire, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Maldives, Mali, Malaysia, Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Yemen.
Many of those countries have sizable groups who practice other religions — for example, 40% of Nigerians are Christian and 10% more have indigenous beliefs, according to the CIA World Factbook — though they all have large numbers of Muslims.
The Saudi foreign minister didn’t provide specifics about operations that could be in the offing, but he said the initiative will have two distinct tracks:
— Security and military, involving the exchange of information, training, providing equipment and providing forces where necessary.
— Combating ideology, involving the use of religious scholars, educators, political leaders and other experts to “drown out the message of the extremists,” Jubeir said. This approach, he said, will focus on how to deliver effective messages, counter extremist messages and protect youth.