A coalition of Muslim nations will form a joint operations room in Riyadh to combat terrorism in Islamic countries, in the first coordinated Muslim military effort against extremists.
The military coalition includes 34 nations and is backed by 10 others, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the kingdom’s defense minister, said in a televised press conference Tuesday. The coalition includes Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Morocco, Bangladesh and Turkey, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.
The grouping of Muslim nations will confront any terrorist threat, including Islamic State, and coordinate with “globally important countries and international organizations,” he said. Countries in the coalition will decide how much they want to contribute, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at a news conference in Paris.
The decision to form the coalition is part of a broader effort by Saudi Arabia to establish itself as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world’s battle against terrorism. It’s unclear how such a coalition would function across the Islamic world and if countries would allow it to conduct military operations within their own borders.
“The coalition announced by Mohammed bin Salman is an effort to show Sunni-Muslim resolve against terrorism,” Theodore Karasik, a Dubai-based senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics. “They also want to show that they and their allies can defeat extremists across multiple fronts.”
Saudis are widely accused of creating a breeding ground for extremists by financing the spread of their fundamentalist version of Sunni Islam.
The U.S. has urged Muslim nations to do more to help battle Islamic extremists waging deadly campaigns against governments and civilians across the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the initiative is in line with Washington’s call for a greater Sunni-Muslim role in fighting Islamic State, Al Arabiya reported.
Carter told reporters during a visit to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey on Tuesday that he would like to hear more specifics about the plan from the Saudis, the Associated Press reported. The U.S. didn’t know in advance about the formation of an Islamic military alliance to fight terrorism, the news service reported, citing an unidentified senior defense official.
Radicalized Muslims have been blamed for the deaths of more than 220 people since June in attacks in four countries, including assaults in Paris, San Bernardino, California, and a Tunisian beach.
Saudi Arabia is cracking down on terrorists at home, who have staged multiple attacks since the kingdom joined the U.S. coalition against Islamic State in 2014. Saudi security forces recently arrested 377 people for joining Islamic State, Al-Jazirah newspaper reported on Sunday.
Since King Salman ascended to the throne in January, Saudi Arabia has implemented a more assertive regional policy. In March, it started an air war in Yemen against Shiite Muslim rebels they accuse of being tools of Iran. The rebels deny the charge.
The coalition will fight “this disease” with military force and “ideological and media” tools, Prince Mohammed said in his first televised press conference since becoming deputy crown prince in April. ‘’Today, every Islamic country is fighting terrorism individually. The coordination of efforts is very important.’’