Turkey joins Saudi-led Islamic military alliance against terrorism

Turkey joins Saudi-led Islamic military alliance against terrorism

Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman speaks during a news conference in Riyadh on Dec. 15. (Photo: Saudi Press Agency handout via Reuters)

December 15, 2015, Tuesday/ 09:52:05/ TODAY'S ZAMAN WITH WIRES / ISTANBUL

Turkey says it welcomes the formation of a 34-state Islamic military coalition to combat terrorism and agrees to join the coalition announced and led by Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday 34 nations have agreed to form a new "Islamic military alliance" to fight terrorism with a joint operations center based in the kingdom's capital, Riyadh.

The announcement published by the state-run Saudi Press Agency said the alliance will be Saudi-led and is being established because terrorism "should be fought by all means and collaboration should be made to eliminate it."

"The countries here mentioned have decided on the formation of a military alliance led by Saudi Arabia to fight terrorism, with a joint operations centre based in Riyadh to coordinate and support military operations," the statement said.

Turkey, the only country in the alliance that is also a NATO member, welcomed the new coalition. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu called it the "best response to those who are trying to associate terror and Islam."

"We believe this effort by Muslim countries is a step in the right direction," Davutoğlu said.

The statement said Islam forbids "corruption and destruction in the world" and that terrorism constitutes "a serious violation of human dignity and rights, especially the right to life and the right to security." It cited "a duty to protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organizations whatever their sect and name which wreak death and corruption on earth and aim to terrorize the innocent."

The new counterterrorism coalition includes nations with large and established armies such as Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt as well as war-torn countries with embattled militaries such as Libya and Yemen. African nations that have suffered militant attacks such as Mali, Chad, Somalia and Nigeria are also members.

Saudi Arabia's regional rival, Shiite Iran, is not part of the coalition. Saudi Arabia and Iran support opposite sides of in the wars raging in Syria and Yemen. Saudi Arabia is currently leading a military intervention in Yemen against Shiite Houthi rebels and is part of the US-led coalition bombing the Sunni extremist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in Iraq and Syria.

The United States has been increasingly outspoken about its view that Gulf Arab states should do more to aid the military campaign against the ISIL militant group based in Iraq and Syria.

In a rare press conference, 30-year-old Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman told reporters on Tuesday the new Islamic military coalition will develop mechanisms for working with other countries and international bodies to "coordinate" efforts to fight terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan but offered few concrete indications of how military efforts might proceed. He said their efforts would not be limited to only countering the ISIL group.

"There will be international coordination with major powers and international organizations ... in terms of operations in Syria and Iraq. We can't undertake these operations without coordinating with legitimacy in this place and the international community," bin Salman said without elaborating.

"Currently, every Muslim country is fighting terrorism individually ... so coordinating efforts is very important," he said.

He said the joint operations center will be established in Riyadh to "coordinate and support military operations to fight terrorism" across the Muslim world.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab neighbors have been locked in nine months of warfare with Iran-allied rebels in neighboring Yemen, launching hundreds of air strikes there.

Especially after a rash of attacks on Western targets claimed by ISIL in recent months, the United States has increasingly said it thinks that firepower would better be used against ISIL.

As a cease-fire is set to take hold in Yemen on Tuesday alongside United Nations-backed peace talks, Riyadh's announcement may signal a desire to shift its attention back toward the conflicts north of its borders.

ISIL has pledged to overthrow the monarchies of the Gulf and have mounted a series of attacks on Shiite Muslim mosques and security forces in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Smaller member-states included in the coalition are the archipelago of the Maldives and the Gulf Arab island-nation of Bahrain, which is home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet.

Other Gulf Arab countries such as Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are also in the coalition, though notably absent from the list is Oman, a neighbor of Saudi Arabia. In recent years, Oman has maintained a neutral role and has emerged as a mediator in regional conflicts, serving as a conduit from the Gulf Arabs to Iran.

However, Iraq and Syria, whose forces are battling to regain territory taken by the ISIL group and whose governments are allied with Iran, are not in the coalition.

A Jordanian government spokesman confirmed the Hashemite Kingdom is part of the coalition. Spokesman Mohammed Momani would not comment specifically on the alliance but said "Jordan is always ready and actively participates in any effort to fight terrorism."

Benin, while it does not have a majority Muslim population, is another member of this new counterterrorism coalition. All the group's members are also part of the larger Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which is headquartered in Saudi Arabia.

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