RIYADH -- Saudi Arabia's crown prince has vowed to "pursue terrorists until they are wiped from the face of the earth" as officials from 40 other Muslim countries gathered Sunday (November 26) in the first meeting of an Islamic counter-terrorism alliance.
The summit is the first meeting of defence ministers and other senior officials from the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, an alliance announced in 2015 by Saudi Arabia. The coalition officially includes 41 countries and has been described as a "pan-Islamic unified front" against violent extremism.
"In past years, terrorism has been functioning in all of our countries... with no co-ordination" among national authorities, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also Saudi Arabia's defence minister, said in his keynote address to the gathering in Riyadh.
"This ends today, with this alliance."
Fighting a common enemy: terrorism
The alliance brings together Muslim or Muslim-majority nations, including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Pakistan, Somalia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
It excludes Iran, as well as Syria and Iraq, whose leaders have close ties to Tehran. Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of supporting armed groups across the Middle East.
"The pillar of this coalition is inclusion," said Saudi Gen. Abdulelah al-Saleh, the alliance's acting secretary general, playing down the exclusion of the three countries.
"Our common enemy is terrorism, not any religion, sect or race."
Raheel Sharif, the retired Pakistani general who once headed his country's army and who serves as the alliance's commander-in-chief, also insisted that the coalition was not against any religion or state.
The alliance aims to "mobilise and co-ordinate the use of resources, facilitate the exchange of information and help member countries build their own counter-terrorism capacity," Sharif said.
Terrorism, extremism distort religion
Sunday's meeting comes as several military coalitions, including one assembled by the United States, battle to push the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) from its last remaining bastions in Iraq and Syria.
Egypt, which sent a military official but not its defence minister to the meeting, is reeling from a Friday (November 24) attack on a Sufi mosque that killed more than 300 Egyptians during prayer time.
While no group has claimed responsibility, Egyptian authorities said ISIS was the main suspect.
Prince Mohammed said Friday's "painful event" was a reminder of the "danger of terrorism and extremism".
"Beyond the killing of innocent people and the spread of hatred, terrorism and extremism distort the image of our religion," he said.