NEWS

Saudi Arabia Anti-Terror Coalition Of 34 Nations Won't Include Iran, Iraq, Syria

12/15/2015 10:09 EST | Updated 12/15/2015 11:59 EST

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia— Saudi Arabia said Tuesday that 34 nations have agreed to form a new "Islamic military alliance'' to fight terrorism with a joint operations centre based in the kingdom, but the coalition does not include Shiite-majority Iran or Iraq, and it's not clear how exactly it would function.

The announcement, published by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, said the Saudi-led alliance is being established because terrorism "should be fought by all means and collaboration should be made to eliminate it.''

However, the absence of Iran, Iraq and Syria, three countries battling the Islamic State group, raised questions about whether the alliance was intended to present a unified front against the extremists or Saudi Arabia's main regional rival, Iran.

Riyadh backs rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, a key Iranian ally, and has been leading a coalition of Arab states against Iran-supported Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen since March. It is also part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the IS group in Syria and Iraq.

"We believe that this effort by Muslim countries is a step in the right direction,.'

The Saudi statement said Islam forbids "corruption and destruction in the world'' and that terrorism constitutes "a serious violation of human dignity and rights, especially the right to life and the right to security.''

The new counterterrorism coalition includes nations with large and established armies such as Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt as well as war-torn countries with embattled militaries such as Libya and Yemen. African nations that have suffered militant attacks such as Mali, Chad, Somalia and Nigeria are also members.

Turkey, the only country in the alliance that is also a NATO member, welcomed the new coalition. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called it the "best response to those who are trying to associate terror and Islam.''

"We believe that this effort by Muslim countries is a step in the right direction,'' Davutoglu said.

ahmet davutoglu Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks during a press conference at Esenboga International Airport ahead of his Bulgaria visit on December 15, 2015 in Ankara, Turkey. (Photo: Getty Images)

At a rare news conference, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman said the new Islamic military coalition will develop mechanisms for working with other countries and international bodies to support counterterrorism efforts. He said their efforts would not be limited to only countering the Islamic State group.

"Currently, every Muslim country is fighting terrorism individually ... so co-ordinating efforts is very important,'' he said.

He said the joint operations centre will be established in Riyadh to "co-ordinate and support military operations to fight terrorism'' across the Muslim world.

Smaller member-states included in the coalition are the archipelago of the Maldives and the Gulf Arab island-nation of Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Other Gulf Arab countries such as Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are also in the coalition, though notably absent from the list is Oman, a neighbour of Saudi Arabia. In recent years, Oman has maintained a neutral role and has emerged as a mediator in regional conflicts, serving as a conduit from the Gulf Arabs to Iran.

"Currently, every Muslim country is fighting terrorism individually ... so co-ordinating efforts is very important."

A Jordanian government spokesman confirmed that the Hashemite kingdom is part of the coalition. Spokesman Mohammed Momani would not comment specifically on the alliance but said that "Jordan is always ready and actively participates in any effort to fight terrorism.''

A Lebanese official confirmed to The Associated Press that his nation was also part of the 34-nation coalition. Tiny Lebanon has seen frequent spillovers from Syria's civil war next door, as well as sectarian clashes and militant attacks.

"Lebanon is fighting a daily war against terrorism ... Lebanon cannot but be part of the alliance that is combating terrorism,'' said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements. Asked how Lebanon plans to contribute to the alliance, he said that ``these are details that we haven't gotten into yet.''

Benin, while it does not have a majority Muslim population, is a member of the new coalition. All the group's members are also part of the larger Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which is headquartered in Saudi Arabia.

The full roster of the new coalition is: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Jordan, Tunisia, Yemen, the Palestinians, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Benin, Chad, Togo, Djibouti, Senegal, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Gabon, Guinea, Comoros, Cote d'Ivoire, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Nigeria.

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Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan; Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

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