Saudi Arabia says stops three women, seven children from joining Syria war

August 12, 2016 5:13 AM EDT

An Islamic State flag is seen in this picture illustration taken February 18, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

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DOHA (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia said on Friday it had prevented three Saudi women and seven children from traveling through Lebanon to join the conflict in neighboring Syria, the Saudi state news agency SPA reported.

The three sisters and their children were detained by Lebanese authorities in Beirut and flown back to Saudi Arabia on Thursday after the husband of one of the women told police they planned to join the war, SPA quoted an interior ministry spokesman as saying.

Police said the husband, who was the father of three of the children, had tipped them off on Monday that his wife had left and was a "takfiri", a term Saudi authorities use for Islamist militants. The children were aged between one and 10 years old, the statement added.

The Saudi public has grown increasingly angry at bloody images broadcast of Syria's violence and the government has sought to stop its citizens from joining what some of them see as a holy war against the Syrian government.

Islamists in Saudi, who follow a puritanical version of Sunni Islam, denounce President Bashar al-Assad and his regime as infidels because of their roots in the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Riyadh has backed the rebels battling Assad while being mindful of the blowback it previously suffered after radicalized Saudi nationals returned home from foreign conflicts ready to wage war on their own government.

Many of the foreign fighters flocking to Syria to join groups like the Islamic State are Arabs from the Middle East and Africa, although militants have attracted fighters from across different countries ranging from Norway to Uzbekistan.

A former British spy chief said in December that Syria had become the pre-eminent global incubator for a new generation of militants after Islamist groups there more than doubled their recruitment of foreign fighters to as many as 31,000 over the past 18 months.

(Reporting by Tom Finn; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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