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ISIS, al-Qaeda Fuming at Saudi Concert Once Headlined by Nicki Minaj

A July 18 music festival in Saudi Arabia that was until today headlined by Nicki Minaj has stoked online threats from terrorists who see the kingdom as becoming too Westernized.

The Jeddah World Fest at King Abdullah Sport City Stadium, billed as “one of the biggest music events in the Middle East,” includes on the “first wave” lineup Liam Payne from One Direction, dance DJ Steve Aoki, and Club MTV DJs R3WIRE & Varski, with a second announcement of artists promised soon. The Saudis are restricting attendance to ages 16 and up.

The security specifications for the event ban any possible weapons or “any items deemed illegal in Saudi Arabia,” and restrict cigarettes to only the amount needed for personal consumption. Bars around the festival will be serving non-alcoholic drinks, and “an outdoor prayer space will be available.”

The inclusion of provocative Minaj prompted some on Twitter to accuse the Saudi government of inviting indecency, while others pointed out the hypocrisy of officials requiring abayas for Saudi women. “She’s going to go and shake her ass and all her songs are indecent and about sex and shaking ass and then you tell me to wear the abaya,” one Saudi woman said in a viral Twitter video. “What the hell?”

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula recently warned in a bulletin that “the new era of bin Salman replaced mosques with movie theatres,” referring to the first cineplex in Riyadh that opened in April 2018 after a 35-year ban on movie theaters.

In April, Jeddah also hosted a WWE Royal Rumble event, prompting AQAP to slam how
“disbelieving wrestlers exposed their privates” in front of a mixed-gender audience. “The corruptors did not stop at that, for every night musical concerts are being announced, as well as movies and circus shows,” al-Qaeda added.

Non-official ISIS media channel Maqdisi, which recently included the image of a plane in a vow to “soon” attack “the doors of Europe,” included the image of a guitarist with President Trump’s face in the background in an online poster declaring that Westernization must be battled.

An ISIS-supporting media group also circulated an image of an ad for the concert, with Minaj front and center, slamming Saudi Arabia for an un-Islamic event.

Al-Qaeda and ISIS have also spread footage of the inclusion of a Statue of Liberty replica used as a country-specific prop — along with a Hollywood sign and a statue of Elvis Presley — for Jeddah’s summer outdoor events series.

In January, ISIS supporters online encouraged attacks on Mariah Carey’s concert in Jeddah. Those threats came as ISIS groups had been promoting general attacks on concert venues in a spate of online propaganda and recruitment materials.

The first week of October, with timing possibly meant to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Las Vegas massacre, a poster from Remah Media Production depicted a man blending into a concert crowd while wielding a large knife, warning, “Wait for our surprises.” This was preceded by a threat from prolific Al-Abd Al-Faqir Media depicting a grenade-wielding jihadist in a concert crowd, and followed by an online poster from Muharir al-Ansar depicting a cleaver-wielding jihadist at a concert and calling on Muslims in “Europe, America, Russia, Australia and elsewhere” to wage attacks.

The Human Rights Foundation asked Minaj in a letter to call off the concert because “if you move forward with this performance for a festival sponsored by the Crown Prince, you will be in league with the people who respond to freedom of expression and thought with murder.”

“You recently celebrated Pride Week to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community. Yet, if you move forward with this performance, you will be condoning, and serving the public relations needs, of a government that executes homosexuals for the “crime” of being who they are,” HRF CEO and president Thor Halvorssen wrote. “It would be disastrous for a public figure of your standing who has articulated a commitment to education, women’s rights, and social justice.”

Minaj responded today in a statement to the Associated Press: “After careful reflection I have decided to no longer move forward with my scheduled concert at Jeddah World Fest. While I want nothing more than to bring my show to fans in Saudi Arabia, after better educating myself on the issues, I believe it is important for me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression.”

This story was updated at 1:15 p.m. EST to reflect Minaj canceling

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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