Saudi Arabia has sent death-row inmates from several nations to fight against the Syrian government in exchange for commuting their sentences, according to a report in USA Today.
Citing what it calls a “top secret memo” in April from the Ministry of Interior, the report quoted an Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) article which said that the Saudi government offered 1,239 inmates a pardon and a monthly stipend for their families, who were allowed to stay in the Sunni Arab kingdom.
According to an English translation of the memo, besides Saudis, the prisoners included Afghans, Egyptians, Iraqis, Jordanians, Kuwaitis, Pakistanis, Palestinians, Somalis, Sudanese, Syrians and Yemenis. All faced “execution by sword” for murder, rape or drug smuggling.
Russia, which has backed Assad, objected to the bargain and allegedly threatened to bring the issue to the United Nations, said an unidentified former Iraqi member of Parliament who confirmed the memo’s authenticity, says AINA, an independent outlet.
“Initially Saudi Arabia denied the existence of this program. But the testimony of the released prisoners forced the Saudi government to admit, in private circles, its existence,” AINA writes. “The Saudis agreed to stop their clandestine activities and work towards finding a political solution on condition that knowledge of this program would not be made public.”
The report mentions that most of the 23 Iraqi prisoners returned home, as did an unspecified number of Yemenis. But AINA does not indicate the fates of the remaining inmates or how many may have been killed, wounded or captured.
Assyrians, the builders of Mesopotamian civilizations, are a people indigenous to northern Iraq. They are ethnically distinct from Arabs and Jews, and are generally Christians. Assyria dominated the Middle East in the first millennium BCE.