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Saudi religious police turn focus on extremism

Fighting extremism has become more important than monitoring violations at local markets, the head of the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the religious police, has said.

โ€œYour mission is no longer confined to monitoring shops that remain open during prayer times or to instructing women to adhere to modest dress codes,โ€ Abdul Lateef Al Shaikh told the Commissionโ€™s employees. โ€œThe mission has now become much more significant as we attempt to eradicate extremist ideas and confront, including the use of force, those who promote the principles championed by terrorist groups,โ€ Al Shaikh said as he addressed the employees in the eastern city of Madinah, Saudi daily Al Yawm reported on Thursday.

The Commission head warned of the emergence of new negative trends, especially among the younger generations.

โ€œThere is an intellectual pollution that has turned several young people into monsters. They believe that they get closer to God by killing security men, and they purposefully select sacred times to implement their schemes,โ€ Al Shaikh said.

โ€œIn the recent assault on Saudi security men, the terrorist attack was carried out on a Friday in the holy month of Ramadan,โ€ he said.

Four Saudi security men were killed by terrorists who attacked a Saudi border point with Yemen last week. Five gunmen were killed, including two who blew themselves up, and a sixth was arrested.

The interior ministry named the assailants, saying that they were all wanted Saudi nationals who were identified through DNA tests.

Al Shaikh who has been the president of the Commission since January 2012, has made several reforms related to the tasks and structure of the agency whose employees patrol malls, markets and the streets to enforce dress codes, strict separation of men and women, and prayers by Muslims during prayer times. They also monitor behaviour they believe to be commanded by Islamic values.

However, its field operations have been at times criticized as excessive, prompting calls to curb the power of its members.

A report earlier this month that the Commission was putting an end to its field operations in the Saudi capital Riyadh was welcome as a positive development on social media.

However, the Commission promptly denied as a misinterpretation of a decision to disband one unit supervising field operations in order to shift its members to the other units.

The Commission is believed to have 44 centres in Riyadh.

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