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Wednesday, Sep 24, 2014

World

Death threats for Saudi pilots after raids on jihadists

AFP | Wednesday, Sep 24, 2014

Saudi Arabian air force pilots pose for a photo at an undisclosed location after taking part in a mission to strike Islamic State (IS) group targets in Syria on September 23.

RIYADH - Saudi pilots who conducted air strikes on jihadists in Syria received online death threats Wednesday after photos were published of those involved, among them a son of the crown prince.

The official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) released photographs of eight airmen it said were involved in Tuesday's US-led operation, carried out with Gulf allies.

In one picture they stood, some smiling, in green flight suits with arms around each other in front of one of their fighter jets.

One of the pilots involved in the raids is a son of Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz himself, according to Saudi newspapers.

Dozens of Islamic State group (IS) and Al-Qaeda militants were reported killed in the coalition air raids, sparking jihadist threats online where the Saudi pilots' photos reappeared.

One Twitter user said the air force men were "wanted by IS" while another said their throats "will sooner or later be slit".

A broader threat came from a Twitter post which called for the killing of police as well as military men.

Some Internet users, however, defended the Saudi airmen.

"The Saudi pilots returned safe and sound Tuesday morning after having accomplished their duty in carrying out successful and effective strikes against the Islamic State extremist organisation in Syria," SPA said overnight.

The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Jordan also confirmed their participation. Washington said Qatar was also involved.

"My sons, the pilots, fulfilled their obligation toward their religion, their homeland and their king," SPA quoted Crown Prince Salman as saying.

He was "proud of the professionalism and bravery" of the Saudi air force men, SPA said.

Their combat mission happened to coincide with the kingdom's 84th national day. Saudi Arabia is dominated by the ultra-conservative Sunni doctrine of Wahabism.

The kingdom's Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh last month said Al-Qaeda and the IS group "have nothing to do with Islam and (their proponents) are the enemy number one of Islam".

The country is seeking to deter youths from becoming jihadists but fighters from Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Morocco make up the majority of about 12,000 foreign extremists who have travelled to Syria and Iraq, according to the London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

The IS group has declared a "caliphate" straddling Iraq and Syria. Its fighters control swathes of territory where they have committed widespread atrocities including beheadings and crucifixions.

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