Did Saudi Arabia Send Death Row Prisoners to Join Jihadi Forces in Syria?

Syrian opposition forces (photo by AFP/Getty Images)

A shocking report from the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) suggests that Saudi Arabia offered death row inmates a get-out-of-jail free card, if they agreed to join alongside jihadi forces trying to bring down the Syrian government.

Citing a classified document, AINA reports:

A top secret memo sent by the Ministry of Interior in Saudi Arabia reveals the Saudi Kingdom sent death-row inmates, sentenced to execution by decapitation, to Syria to fight Jihad against the Syrian government in exchange for commuting their sentences.

According to the memo, dated April 17, 2012, the Saudi Kingdom negotiated with a total of 1239 inmates, offering them a full pardon and a monthly salary for their families, who were to remain in the Kingdom, in exchange for “…their training in order to send them to Jihad in Syria.”

AINA reports that the prisoners were from a variety of countries and included Yemenis, Palestinians, Sudanese, Syrians, Egyptians, Iraqis, as well as Saudis.

A former member of Iraq’s parliament confirmed the document’s authenticity to AINA and said some prisoners were concerned that their families were being held against their will in Saudi Arabia as part of the deal.

AINA provided a translation of the secret memo, which detailed that only those sentenced to decapitation were invited to take part in the arrangement. Their crimes included drug smuggling, murder and rape. From the text of the memo:

In reference to the Royal Court telegram No. 112, dated on 04/19/1433 H [March 3, 2012], referring to those held in the Kingdom jails accused with crimes to which Islamic Sharia law of execution by sword [decapitation] applies, we inform you that we are in dialogue with the accused criminals who have been convicted with smuggling drugs, murder, rape, from the following nationalities: 110 Yemenis, 21 Palestinians, 212 Saudis, 96 Sudanese, 254 Syrians, 82 Jordanians, 68 Somalis, 32 Afghanis, 94 Egyptians, 203 Pakistanis, 23 Iraqis, and 44 Kuwaitis.

We have reached an agreement with them that they will be exempted from the death sentence and given a monthly salary to their families and loved ones, who will be prevented from traveling outside Saudi Arabia in return for rehabilitation of the accused and their training in order to send them to Jihad in Syria.

With its regional Shiite rival Iran supporting President Bashar Assad’s regime, Saudi Arabia views itself as the protector of Sunnis and is backing opposition forces in the two year civil war.

Reports over the summer suggested that both Saudi Arabia and Qatar were paying salaries to the Islamist rebels fighting Assad’s forces. The New York Times reported in October that in addition to the transfer of cash, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were also providing the fighters small arms, but stopped short of providing heavier weapons including shoulder-fired missiles. This, because the U.S. has been warning against large weapons transfers that could land in the hands of terrorists.

Even while it supports opposition fighters in Syria, the Saudi regime is concerned Arab Spring-type fervor that struck neighboring countries could one day arrive on its doorstep.