Saudi clerics accuse Shias of destabilising Muslim countries


The attacks on Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah — though contrary to official policy — highlight the sharp, growing distrust between Islam’s two arms, and its potential to cause more unrest.



In a strongly worded statement, the 22 clerics savaged the Iranian-backed Shia Hezbollah in Lebanon, saying it has tricked Muslims into believing it is against Jews and Americans.



The statement appeared on several websites on Sunday, including Al Moslim, which is run by Sheikh Nasser Al Omar, one of the signatories. The 22 clerics are known for their radical views and have previously released virulent ant-Shia statements.



A Saudi official said the clerics who issued the statement do not represent the official Saudi religious establishment, and their views do not reflect those adopted by the government. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.



But the clerics’ anti-Shia diatribe reflect growing Sunni distrust of Shias and Iran. A trend that surfaced with the sectarian unrest in Iraq over the past years and then escalated dramatically after Hezbollah, in a show of force, overran predominantly Sunni areas of Beirut last month.



Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader Ayman Al Zawahiri has accused Iran in recent messages of seeking to extend its power in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and through its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon.



In their statement the clerics accused Shias of abusing Sunnis under their control.



"If they (Shias) have a country, they humiliate and exert control in their rule over Sunnis, such as the case in Iran and Iraq," said the clerics. "They sow strife, corruption and destruction among Muslims and destabilize security in Muslim countries … such as Yemen."



The Yemeni government is engaged in a fight against rebels from the Al Zaydi sect of Shia Islam and officials in Yemen and Saudi Arabia suspect Iran of supporting the insurgency.



"Despite all of that, many Muslim intellectuals as well as the masses have been deceived by (Shia) claims … of enmity toward Jews and Americans, which is what happened with the claims of the so-called Hezbollah in Lebanon," the statement added.



Najib Al Khonaizi, a Saudi Shia writer, called the statement "dangerous" and damaging to national unity.



"This statement in its essence is a cheap call for incitement against the different other," he said.


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