By Courtney Trenwith
Kingdom’s special criminal court has sentenced the men to up to 2yrs, 10mths for joining or trying to join fighting in Syria
Saudi Arabia has jailed four nationals convicted of joining or trying to join the conflict in Syria, according to local media.
The kingdom’s Special Criminal Court sentenced each of the men to between four months and two years and 10 months in jail and banned them from leaving the kingdom for various periods, Saudi Gazette said.
Two of the men, whose names have not been released, had travelled to Yemen and then Turkey using falsified passports with the intention of joining rebel groups, news website Sabq.org reported.
They also were found guilty of disobeying the ruler, coordinating the smuggling of other Saudis to Syria to participate in the conflict and providing shelter to those intending to travel to conflict areas.
AFP said the sentences were lenient compared to previous cases and could signify that the men had surrendered to authorities.
King Abdullah in February 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.
The other two men made it to Syria but later gave themselves up to Saudi authorities after they were shocked by the extremist ideologies of the groups they had joined, Sabq said.
One was jailed for 18 months, and the second for two-and-a-half years, the website said.
The report did not mention which groups fighting in the Syria conflict, that has attracted foreign militants to fight mainly against the Syrian regime, had recruited the four Saudis.
The kingdom has been a key backer of the more than three-year revolt against President Bashar Al Assad’s regime, which is dominated by the Alawite offshoot of Shia Islam.
There are no official figures on the numbers of Saudis who have joined militant ranks in Syria, but they are estimated at several hundred.
The Special Criminal Court was established in 2011 to try 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.
It has since also tried people accused of speaking out against the ruling family, attracting criticism from human rights groups that claim it is used to stifle freedom of speech.