MANAMA, Bahrain: Estimates suggest up to 5,500 Gulf nationals are fighting with the Islamic State (IS), according to an expert based in the United Arab Emirates.
IS recently changed it name from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS, which is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS.
Around 4,000 of them are thought to be from Saudi Arabia, while the rest are believed to be from other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
However, Dubai-based Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) research and development director Dr. Theodore Karasik said he expected those figures to grow in the coming months.
“Of the GCC states, Saudi Arabia has the highest amount of nationals in ISIS – perhaps up to 4,000 fighters,” she told the GDN yesterday.
“The rest of the GCC states have much lower numbers, between 1,000 and 1,500,” she said.
“Those numbers are likely to grow in the coming months given the announcement [by ISIS]of the Caliphate and successes on the ground,” Karasik said.
“Young people, who are being termed ‘third generation Jihadis’, are willing to join this gang of religious fighters,” she added.
IS is a radical Sunni movement that has taken control of large parts of northern and western Iraq since launching an offensive against Iraqi government forces last month.
The group, which wants to create a Muslim Caliphate spanning international borders, was formerly known as ISIS and later announced it had changed its name to the Islamic State.
Its emergence threatens to tear apart Iraq, with Shiite militias rallying to support Baghdad’s efforts to counter the offensive by Sunni militants.
On Friday, the Kurdish region’s government claimed disputed northern oilfields having earlier taken control of other contested areas abandoned by Iraqi forces as they fled the sweeping jihadist offensive.
Meanwhile, Sunni militants launched a renewed push and seized two towns northeast of Baghdad, as parliament on Sunday failed to make progress toward forming a new government.
Spillover to other states
However, Karasik warned of the potential danger to Gulf countries from a spillover of sectarian war between Sunni and Shiite fighters in Iraq.
“This [sectarian]divide, and the figures which are being attracted to the increasingly turbulent split, indicates the division lines that are being drawn,” she said.
The GDN reported on Monday that Bahraini cleric Shaikh Turki Al Ban’ali had allegedly been photographed giving a sermon for IS supporters in Mosul, Iraq.
Karasik claimed Al Ban’ali was actually serving in the IS “government” as a religious leader and mufti—a Muslim legal expert empowered to give rulings on religious matters—along with Saudi nationals Omar Al Qahtani (aka Abu Bakr) and Osman Al Nazeh Al Asiri.
She said the three clerics had previously been in Syria, where Sunni rebels are waging a bloody civil war against the Shiite government of President Bashar Al Assad.
“As Shariat leaders, these three are responsible for religious discourse as well as aspects of recruiting,” claimed Karasik.
Meanwhile, Bahraini Shi’ite cleric Shaikh Maitham Al Jamri—who is also believed to be in Iraq—has declared opposition to IS on social media.
“Within Bahrain, the fact that two sides of the sectarian divide on the archipelago is now playing out in a public manner is likely to force the choosing of sides as Iraq tears apart,” Karasik said.
“Clearly, the Shiites of the Gulf littoral are threatened by the Sunni extremists of the Levant,” she added.
Bahrain’s Interior Ministry has previously warned its citizens against taking part in fighting abroad and warned that anyone who did could face up to five years in jail on their return.
“The challenge will be for GCC states, notably Bahrain but also Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, to stifle this type of dissent because of the dangers they represent and that ISIS can capitalize on,” Karasik said.
“In fact, that is the ISIS’s plan—to draw in other countries but rely on their disenfranchised youth to expand the Caliphate’s territory over the coming years through 2020,” she added.
Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry and Interior Ministry did not comment, but Shura Council foreign affairs, defense and national security committee member Jameela Salman said it was vital to ensure Bahrainis are not dragged into the Iraq conflict.
“Bahrain has never interfered in any other nation’s affairs and we should be following the same [strategy]in the case of ISIS,” she said.
She also urged parents to be aware of young people’s travel plans over the summer.
“They could trick parents and go out of Bahrain and get involved in such extremist activities,” she warned.