Saudi Arabia airs 'confessions' of jihadist on return from Syria

RIYADH (AFP) - Saudi state television has for the first time broadcast the "confessions" of a jihadist who returned from Syria, as the Muslim kingdom distances itself from Islamist radicals in that country's conflict.

Sulaiman al-Subaie, 25, who grew popular in his homeland for his posts on video-sharing app Keek, reportedly joined the most radical group fighting in Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), last August.

"The situation in Syria is not as portrayed in the media," Subaie said in a rare interview aired on Saudi television late Wednesday.

"What is amazing is that Saudis are killing fellow Saudis in the fighting between ISIL and Al-Nusra Front," the Al-Qaeda franchise in Syria.

ISIL, disavowed by Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, has been accused by rebels battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's troops of seeking to consolidate power rather than fight the regime, and even of serving the regime's interests.

Fierce clashes between ISIL and opposition fighters broke out in early January, after accusations that the radical group was abusing both civilians and rival rebel forces.

The fighting has left hundreds dead and created openings for regime advances in some areas.

Subaie said in his "confessions" that the death of his brother, a jihadist, as well as "pictures of dead Syrian children" had prompted him to join the war.

"I went to Qatar, from where I travelled to Turkey" before being led into Syria with the help of a smuggler.

He wanted to join Al-Nusra Front but "upon my arrival, I was told that I have now become a member of ISIL," he said.

Subaie decided to quit the group after realising that his Twitter account, followed by thousands in Saudi Arabia, was being used to broadcast "messages inciting" violence against rulers and clerics in Saudi Arabia.

He fled back to Turkey and returned to the kingdom, where he is being held.

There are no official figures on the numbers of Saudis who have joined jihadist ranks in Syria, but they are estimated at several hundred.

The Sunni-majority conservative kingdom has been a key backer of the three-year revolt against Mr Assad's regime, which is dominated by the Alawite offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

But King Abdullah last month decreed jail terms of up to 20 years for citizens who travel to fight abroad, as the country struggles to deter young Saudis from becoming jihadists.

In 2011, Riyadh set up specialised terrorism courts to try dozens of Saudis and foreigners accused of belonging to Al-Qaeda or of being involved in a wave of bloody attacks that swept the country from 2003.

The interior ministry urged those wanting to "repent" to turn themselves in at Saudi embassies, saying they would be repatriated and reunited with their families.

But Subaie's fate was not announced.

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