Islamic State militants have been in the headlines for months, but groups like IS don’t appear out of nowhere, they arise in a political and historic context. IS has emerged out of the opposition to the Assad regime in Syria at a moment when Iran and Saudi Arabia are vying for political influence in the region.
It’s well known that Saudi Arabia has supported jihadist movements in Afghanistan, North Africa and Syria, and that most of the terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks were Saudi nationals.
‘The trend one notices in Saudi Arabia is that they are much more against jihadi organisations if they threaten the security of the House of Saud, or if jihadis begin to act within Saudi Arabia,’ says Patrick Cockburn, journalist and author of The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. ‘But they are quite prepared to use jihadis as an instrument of Saudi foreign policy and Saudi influence abroad.’
‘You had Saudi preachers, immensely influential, often speaking on satellite television stations financed by Saudi royals, preaching hate to Shia, preaching Jihad in Syria and elsewhere. So there has always been ambivalence in Saudi policy between what they want to see at home and what they want to see abroad’…