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Published: Tuesday August 26, 2014 MYT 3:01:47 AM
Updated: Tuesday August 26, 2014 MYT 3:03:04 AM

Saudi Arabia jails 17 people for militant Islamist offences

DUBAI (Reuters) - A Saudi court has jailed 17 men for up to 33 years on a range of militant Islamist charges, including fighting in foreign conflicts and joining terrorist cells inside the kingdom, state news agency SPA reported on Monday.

Riyadh's concerns about Islamist militants have grown more acute over the past two years as the conflicts in Syria and Iraq have attracted more of its own citizens to travel to those countries to join groups fighting in the name of jihad.

King Abdullah decreed in February long prison terms for those who travel overseas to fight or who give material or moral support to groups officially labelled as extremist, including al Qaeda, Syria's Nusra Front and Islamic State.

The charges brought against the 17 men also included embracing a militant ideology and sharing the "conviction that what the terrorist organisation carries out, in terms of bombing, destroying and killing, is jihad in the name of Allah".

The men, part of a group of 67, were also convicted of financing terrorism, possessing weapons and ammunition without permits and helping members of a "terrorist organisation".

The conservative Islamic kingdom, a key regional ally of the United States, has detained thousands of its own citizens and sentenced hundreds of them to jail after a campaign of bombings and attacks in the last decade by militants.

Last week, a Saudi court sentenced 18 men to prison terms of up to 25 years for their part in a series of attacks against government and foreign targets between 2003 and 2006.

The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in the kingdom, has described al Qaeda and Islamic State and the ideology they represent as the foremost enemy of Islam.

(Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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