European Eye on Radicalization
In the 9th century A.D., 3rd A.H., Baghdad witnessed an extraordinary incident, with Harith al-Muhasibi, one of the eminent Sufi Sunnis in the history of Islam, as a central character.
At the time, doctrinal divisions between the Ahl al-Hadith, or “people of traditions”, who emphasized strict interpretation of hadiths, and Ahl ar-Ra’y, or “people of opinion”, who emphasized scholarly judgment and reason, were reaching new heights, setting apart Al Mutazila on the side of reason and their opponents.
The dispute centered on the “createdness” of the Quran. Harith’s father had a cautious opinion. Harith disagreed and seized his father’s mantle.
The accounts say that Harith declared publicly, in the market, that his father was no longer a Muslim and that he should divorce his mother because he had become an infidel. After the death of his father, who left a fortune, Harith refused to take anything.
Whatever the attitude of Harith’s friends and peers, Ahl al-Kalam, the scholars of hadith and jurists, on the doctrine of his father, historians have always regarded this hardline position as one of the reasons for the slander and defamation of al-Muhasibi, because parents in Islam have a high status of holiness and reverence.
This study attempts to explain the cases of parricide that suddenly emerged between 2015 and 2016 in Saudi Arabia, focusing on the analysis of six plots by those who may be called “lone wolves” for religious reasons. The researcher used the case study approach, which offers in-depth investigation of an individual case or phenomenon. According to the researcher, this approach is the most appropriate for this study, especially since it focuses on a limited number of cases in different regions of Saudi Arabia.
The importance of this topic stems from the fact that this issue has not received the attention it deserves from social researchers. In addition, trying to understand the motives behind parricide contributes to revealing how terrorist groups succeed in influencing young people, especially through the dissemination of extremist ideas via social media platforms.
Moreover, cases of parricide occurred in Saudi society suddenly and independently of any historical development. It is a phenomenon that has been associated mainly with ISIS’s relatively new ideology rather than al-Qaeda.
The gravity of this phenomenon arises from the fact that the perpetrators of these acts use religious reasons to justify committing parricide. They even try to portray their acts as jihad against the infidels and those who oppose Allah and his Prophet, which is linked to ISIS’s attempt to stigmatize parents and relatives with charges of infidelity, with the purpose of justifying killing them.
The study defines the concept of committing parricide for religious reasons as: “A family member, who appears to be zealous for the religion, kills a relative, for a religious reason”, and thus the dependent variable is the parricide only, while the independent variable is the misunderstanding of religion.
Since the majority of those who committed parricide are commonly called, in the Western literature, “lone wolves”, who support ISIS’s ideology, the study defines them as “sympathizers with a terrorist organization, who believe in its ideas, but they have no direct relationship with it. They carry out attacks, declare allegiance to the organization, if they can, or leave a fingerprint indicating that they are enlisted in its favour. Attacks are carried out individually using a light, or bladed weapon, or poison, in a way that seeks to shake the society and embarrass the state”.
ISIS has relied primarily on this method, seeking to encourage its loyal extremist elements through social media and the organization’s publications, in particular Dabiq magazine, to carry out terrorist attacks, explaining-in many instances-how to carry out such criminal acts.
Also, the study introduces a new concept, “surprise terrorism”, to explain parricide crimes; which means “a sudden terrorist act carried out in an unexpected manner, characterized by two elements: the first is the surprise, that is, an unusual and unpredictable act. The second is its social impact which aims at creating a shock to society and leading to distrust among its members”.
In an attempt by the researcher to understand the sources of misunderstanding of religion which pushes such individuals to commit parricide, the researcher provides four potential sources of this ideology.
The first is the Islamic Salafi heritage, as many writers blame the extremist Salafist ideology for the emergence of parricide crimes.
The researcher found that this hypothesis does not hold up in the cases studied, especially since the characteristics of the killers and their social and economic attributes, as well as the environment in which they lived, were not associated with the Salafi ideology. In addition, most takfiri fatwas issued by extremist and terrorist groups, apart from ISIS, were against the political regimes and the US military bases in the Arab region, but they stopped short of incitement to commit parricide crimes.
The second source is that their acts are the result of ISIS being influenced by the ideology of Azariqa, one of the branches of the Khawarij, which permits killing people with different opinions, their children and relatives. Thus, the researcher believes that committing parricide for religious reasons indicates that ISIS is replicating the Azariqa ideology, especially with regard to proclaiming people to be apostates and killing them.
The third source of parricide is what the researcher calls basic religiosity, i.e. individuals who suddenly become religious without having deep religious knowledge, which makes them vulnerable to exploitation in the name of religion by ISIS. The researcher finds this is a valid point in understanding the six cases in the study, especially with ISIS’s success in influencing individuals with little religious knowledge, pushing them to kill under the guise of religion, mostly as lone wolves.
Finally, the fourth source is what the researcher calls “Instrumental Rationality”. This source has to do with understanding how ISIS influences such individuals, as ISIS leaders seek to recruit individuals attracted to ISIS due to their extremist ideas and encourage them to carry out indiscriminate murders, in a manner appropriate to the targeted country, and in a way that exacerbates social tensions. According to the researcher, most of the six cases were examples of the instrumental rationality represented by ISIS, where they were directed to kill parents and relatives, as if they were mere “things” that have no sanctity.
In conclusion, the researcher makes four recommendations that could contribute to eliminating this type of societal terrorism: protection of personal data, promotion of the core values in society, upholding the values of justice by law, and protecting values related to the sanctity of the family.
Although this is considered a leading and a founding study, it is worth mentioning that in other cases in Saudi Arabia, some of the perpetrators and plotters are jihadists who embrace the ideology of al-Qaeda. However, they do not adopt ISIS’s ideology, because these cases occurred before the emergence of ISIS, or when they were affected by the tense atmosphere amid the rise of ISIS without being clearly affiliated with the organization.
Over the last 16 years, Saudi Arabia witnessed other cases of murder, plots or attempts to kill parents and relatives for religious motives. The first in 2003 targeted a Saudi policeman, who barely survived the bombing of his car. Investigations proved the involvement of his nephew in the planning for the crime.
The second of these crimes occurred in 2007 in Buraydah, west of the capital Riyadh, when two brothers, one of them an assistant judge, plotted and participated in handcuffing and killing their uncle Nasser Al-Othman, a brigadier general in the Saudi police. With a third party, the two brothers beheaded their uncle and mutilated his body. Two of them were executed in January of 2016.
The third case targeted a senior Saudi official and former judge in the investigation and prosecution office (currently the Public Prosecution Office). His brother was one of the plotters monitoring him in a plan to kill him. However, he was arrested before committing his crime and is still in prison.
These and other cases, which the Saudi authorities have not revealed, indicate the need to thoroughly and painstakingly examine and investigate such developments, so that the researcher may draw more objective conclusions based on facts, despite the difficulties expected in tackling cases like these and analyzing them in such a conservative research environment. Cases such as those covered by this study require in-depth analysis of each family’s status, influence, and the cohesion of its members.
The reasons for not revealing similar cases and their parties, whether the victims or the plotters, are social ones. They relate to the status of the family in question and its influence, the authorities’ concern about the serious consequences for the social fabric due to the spread of such horrific crimes, the destructive impact of their circulation in the news, or expected crimes. Because all this would have a negative impact on trust and peace within the family, the mainstay of society’s health and safety.
Read the full Arabic text here