Saudi religious police to hunt out extremists

Chairman orders members to focus on Islamic extremists rather than ensuring women are dressed modestly

The chief of Saudi Arabia’s religious police has called on members to focus their attention on Islamic extremists amid rising concern of a terrorist attack.

The voluntary members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia) are renown for arresting residents who disobey the kingdom’s strict conservative Islamic laws, such as when unmarried men and women are seen in public together, as well as arresting women who drive.

But with increased violence in the region, including the Sunni rebel attacks in Iraq, Haia chairman Sheikh Abdullatif Al Asheikh told staff members at a meeting in Madinah to refocus their attention on Muslims spreading extremist ideas in the kingdom, Arab News reported.

"Your mission is no longer confined to monitoring shops that remain open during prayer times or instructing women to adhere to modest dress codes," Al Asheikh was quoted as saying.

"The mission has now become much more significant as we attempt to eradicate extremist ideas and confront, including using force, those who promote the principles championed by terrorist groups.”

Al Asheikh said the work of the Haia would play a crucial role in ensuring the security of the country.

Saudi authorities also are working to beef-up security at airports amid the rising violence in the region.

Airport security officers will now carry weapons and passenger security measures have been stepped up, according to local media.

The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) also is discussing new search and inspection methods for passengers.

Four Saudi security officers and five men accused of being terrorists were killed recently during a raid near the Yemeni border.

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