Saudis offer militants amnesty

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – The royal family announced a one-month amnesty Wednesday for Islamic insurgents, framing its offer in the language of religious redemption and hinting at harsh punishment for those who refuse.

In a speech that reflected the delicate politics of confronting an Islamic uprising in a land that has in the past tried to co-opt or reform militants, Crown Prince Abdullah promised fair treatment under Islamic law for those who turn themselves in. Surrendering insurgents would be spared the death penalty, said Abdullah, the kingdom’s defacto ruler, who spoke on behalf of ailing King Fahd.

“If they are wise and they accept it, then they are saved,” Abdullah said on state TV. “And if they snub it, God isn’t going to stop us from hitting them with our force – which we get from our dependence on God.”

The amnesty appears to be a peace offering for young fringe members of the outlawed militant groups that have bombed buildings, shot foreigners and beheaded an American hostage last week.

But it is also a threat from a government trying to maintain momentum after gunning down extremist leader Abdelaziz al-Moqrin, who claimed responsibility for killing the American. Abdullah didn’t specify what the government would do after the one-month period passed, but suggested that the militants would be treated harshly. Fighters with blood on their hands will not be pardoned, Abdullah said.

Abdullah’s speech was also a stark reminder of the struggle in Saudi Arabia between a ruling family that bills this nation as the world’s purest Islamic state, and bands of extremists who say it isn’t Islamic enough.

Saudi forces strike back violently after attacks by militants. But extremism is often handled more carefully by authorities here than by secular regimes such as Egypt, Syria and Algeria. Saudi radicals who espouse violence are treated not as criminals, but as lost boys who can be brought back into the fold with a dose of proper religion.

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