DUBAI- Al-Qaida's Yemen branch has mocked tough new counterterrorism measures adopted by neighboring Saudi Arabia, saying they would not deter the Islamist group's fighters and that they proved the kingdom was in the pay of the United States.
In an online statement, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) also said Riyadh's designation of the Muslim Brotherhood - a group whose political wings have contested elections in several countries - as a terrorist organization proved that secular authorities would never tolerate Islamist groups.
AQAP, seen as one of the most dangerous al-Qaida branches after it plotted attacks on international airliners, is thought to have several hundred Saudi militants fighting alongside Yemeni counterparts against the government in Sanaa.
On Feb 3, Saudi Arabia announced tougher punishments for Saudis seeking to join Islamist militant groups abroad and on March 7 the interior ministry designated a number of groups, including the Brotherhood, as terrorist organizations.
In the group's first public response to the measures, senior AQAP official Ibrahim al-Rubaysh said of the Saudi authorities in an audio tape posted online: "Their employers are the White House." He added that Riyadh appeared to consider the U.S. authorities as "gods."
Addressing pro-government Muslim preachers in Saudi Arabia, Rubaysh said: "You are more American than the Americans themselves."
Under the new measures, Saudi Arabia will jail for up to 20 years any citizen who fights in conflicts abroad - an apparent move to deter Saudis from joining rebels in Syria and then posing a security risk once they return home.
Saudi Arabia's Islamic religious authorities have spoken out against Saudi fighters going to Syria, but the Interior Ministry estimates that around 1,200 Saudis have gone nonetheless.
Riyadh fears returning fighters will target the ruling Al Saud royal family - as happened after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
An appeal contained in the counterterrorism measures for fighters to turn themselves in had not been answered, Rubaysh said, adding that this showed "there is no weight on the hearts of the mujahideen (holy warriors)."
Saudi authorities also fear the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Sunni Islamist doctrines challenge the Saudi principle of dynastic rule, has tried to build support inside the kingdom since the Arab Spring revolutions.
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