RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's Interior Minister has warned the conservative Islamic state's clergy that they should discourage Saudis, including their own children, from going to fight in Iraq.
"Do you know that your sons who go to Iraq are used only for blowing themselves up? Iraqi officials told me that themselves," the leading member of the royal family said in comments carried by state media.
"They are brought to put on explosive belts or blow themselves up in cars ... Innocents die. Are you happy for your children to become instruments of murder?" he added.
There have been reports in Saudi Arabia about sons of some prominent Saudi clerics trying to get into Iraq to join al Qaeda insurgents fighting U.S. forces and the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.
Authorities often cite the danger of Saudi militants returning to the kingdom to join militants who have led a campaign of suicide bombings and attacks against government installations, energy sites and foreigners since 2003.
Around 264 people have died in the violence, which has tailed off since a failed attempt in February 2006 to storm a major oil facility in Abqaiq.
In April the government announced the arrest of 172 men who were described as being part of a major plot to revive the militant campaign, involving men and money from Islamists fighting in Iraq.
"You have a big responsibility and you must shoulder it. We must feel your work and effort on the ground. You will be rewarded by God and everyone in this country will thank you, not least its rulers," Prince Nayef said.
The minister, who maintains close links with the religious establishment, reminded the preachers of the historic alliance between the royal family and Saudi Arabia's austere Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam.
Saudi Arabia imposes strict Islamic law, overseen by clerics with wide influence in society. Clerics back the royal family as absolute rulers. The government allows no political parties and thanks to high oil revenues does not impose taxes.
"Preventive measures have foiled over 90 percent of the actions of these errant people," he said.
"Let's imagine that they had succeeded with 30 percent of their acts ... We would be in a very bad situation, one we wouldn't even wish for our enemies," he added, citing violent civil conflicts in Muslim countries.