Saudi Cleric Hits Qaeda On Violence
(The New York Sun) A prominent Saudi cleric once praised by Osama bin Laden has published an open letter condemning Al Qaeda’s violence.
In the long letter, first published on an Arabic Web site, Salman al-Awdah calls on Mr. bin Laden to end the killing of innocent people in terrorist acts in Iraq and elsewhere around the world.
“How much blood has been spilt? How many innocent people, children, elderly, and women have been killed, dispersed, or evicted in the name of Al-Qa’ida?” a translated version of the letter says. “My brother Usama Bin Ladin, the image of Islam today is not at its best.”
The police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, received a copy of the letter yesterday during his morning intelligence briefing, and police officials are calling the letter a “positive indicator” that Mr. bin Laden could be losing support from former allies.
Mr. Awdah is an Islamist cleric who was jailed for several years for criticizing the Saudi government’s links to America. He toned down his criticism of the government after his release from prison in 1999 but later encouraged Iraqi insurgents to attack American troops in the days before the battle of Fallujah in 2004.
“Fighting the occupiers is a duty of all those who are able,” Mr. Awdah and 25 other Saudi scholars wrote in an open letter that condoned suicide attacks.
Also in 2004, one of the suspects arrested after the March 11 train bombings in Madrid, Rabei Osman Ahmed, pointed to Mr. Awdah’s teachings as his inspiration, saying the cleric was “everything” to him. The suspect said Mr. Awdah had been sending him money before the bombings.
Police officials said they believe yesterday’s letter is significant because it is a stark reversal from the cleric’s Islamist background. The U.S. State Department did not have an immediate comment.
In the letter, Mr. Awdah quotes verses of the Koran and repeats Mr. bin Laden’s name frequently, asking him: “Have we reduced Islam to a bullet or a rifle? Has the means become an end?”
“This religion that protects the sanctity of blood – even that of the birds and animals – can never approve the killing of the innocent whatever the reasons or motives may be,” he writes.
The editor of the Arabic daily Asharq Alawsat, Tariq Alhomayed, suggested the letter had come too late.
“Sheikh Salman al Ouda’s distancing himself from bin Laden at a time when those absolving themselves of Al Qaeda’s leader have nothing to lose and no price to pay,” Mr. Alhomayed wrote in an editorial. “This comes at a time when no one is shedding any tears for the leader of Al Qaeda organization.”
The letter was received a week after Mr. bin Laden renewed his threats against the West on the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He is believed to be in hiding near the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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