DUBAI, Aug 12 (Reuters) - A Saudi father gave his ex-wife the shock of her life when he informed her he was taking their 10 and 11 year-old-sons to join Islamist militants in Syria, telling her to count them as "birds in heaven", Saudi-owned media reported.
The pan-Arab al-Hayat newspaper said on Tuesday that the unsuspecting mother had been told that her sons, Abdullah and Ahmed, were going on holiday with their father, identified as Nasser al-Shayeq, in a neighbouring Gulf Arab country when she saw an Instagram photo of them in Turkey.
Al-Hayat said she telephoned her son to ask about the photo, only to receive a message from her ex-husband, a former Saudi civil servant, to say that he was taking the boys to Syria to join Islamic State, one of the most militant groups fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
"Count your children as birds in heaven," Shayeq said in his message, according to al-Hayat, suggesting that they may be killed and become young "martyrs".
Fellow Islamic State militants later posted a photo of the father and his two sons crouching in front of Islamic State's black flag, with each boy brandishing an AK-47 rifle in one hand. The father was smiling as one of the boys also held a grenade in his other hand.
Many Saudis have joined foreign Islamist militant groups but another Saudi newspaper, al-Riyadh, said the involvement of children in this case had jolted the Saudi government into action, setting up a hotline with the Turkish government to try to bring the two boys home.
Saudis are among the hundreds of foreign fighters who have joined Islamist militant groups such as Islamic State and al-Nusrah Front in Syria.
Islamic State renamed itself last month after it captured swathes of territory in western Iraq and unified them with territories it holds in eastern Syria. (Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Susan Fenton)