When Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh described Islamic State and al Qaeda as "kharijites" last month, he was casting them as the ultimate heretics of Muslim history, a sect that caused the faith's first and most traumatic schism.
That sort of rhetoric aimed at expelling militants from the Muslim mainstream has grown increasingly common among top Saudi clerics in recent weeks as they work to counter an ideology that threatens their political allies in the Al Saud dynasty.
But while Saudi Arabia's official Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam attacks Islamists as heretical and "deviant," many of its most senior and popular clergy preach a doctrine that encourages intolerance against the very groups targeted by IS in Iraq.
The arch conservatives Abdulrahman al-Barrak and Nasser al-Omar, who has more than a million followers on Twitter, have accused Shi'ites of sowing "strife, corruption and destruction among Muslims."
Sheikh Saleh al-Luhaidan was sacked as judiciary head in 2008 for saying owners of media that broadcast depravity have forsaken their faith, a crime punishable in Sharia law by death, but he remains a member of the kingdom's top Muslim council.
Abdulaziz al-Fawzan, a professor of Islamic law and frequent guest on the popular al-Majd religious television channel, has accused the West of being behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, saying "these criminals want to take control over the world.”
Such opinions, which echo the views of militants in Iraq, are not unusual in Saudi Arabia, which applies Sharia Muslim law, has beheaded 20 people in the past month, and where clerics oversee a lavish state-funded religious infrastructure.