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From September 11 to Orlando: ICS and the Continuation of Western Denial

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The Islamic Caliphate State (now on: ICS) is an Islamic Salafī-Takfīrī organization that takes its ideology from Islam and acts exactly according to Muhammad and the Four Righteous Caliphs’ example (al-Khulafā’ al-Rāshidûn). It employs Jihad, Da’wah and Hijrah at the same time acts to bring back the Islamic seventh century as the ideal socio-political system. It is characterized by an un-selective Jihad terrorist strategy of killing the infidels (Takfīr – Kuffār), including killing Muslims who do not follow the strict commandments of Islam. By this, ICS has a world Islamic mission to accomplish.

However, there is the problem of terminology. From June 29th 2014, there is no longer “ISIS” or “ISIL” or “DAESH,” but the “Islamic Caliphate State” or the “Islamic State” or “the Caliphate. Period. To continue calling this phenomenon with its ancient names means to misunderstanding the situation. It was Albert Einstein from whom we may take an analogy: “if I was given one hour to solve a problem, I would have spent 55 minutes to define and understand the problem and only five minutes to solve it.” Indeed, here is the issue: if we do not define it properly, how can we contend with it let alone solve it? Those who continue to define ICS according to its past names prove inability, misunderstanding, and even unwillingness to really fight it.

Why do we stick to the ancient names? Perhaps it is our stupidity, or ignorance, or maybe lack of information. However, as an organization, ICS is the fourth stage in the development of an Islamic Jihadi terrorist group. Historically, there was Jamā’at al-Tawhīd wal-Jihād, established by Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian citizen with a Palestinian identity. His declared aims were to fight the US, in order to remove its presence from the entire Middle East; to fight the Shi’ites, as the apocalyptic eternal enemies of Sunni Islam, and at the same time to withhold the Iranian march to hegemony in the Middle East.

Al-Zarqawi promised once he achieve these goals, he would establish an “Islamic Emirate” in the region with the aim to fight all the infidels in the Muslim lands (Dār al-Islām). In October 2005 al-Zarqawi was personally nominated by Osama Bin Laden as al-Qaeda’s Emir of Iraq, but in June 2006 he was killed by an American drone. Abu Ayub al-Masri (Abu Hamzah al-Muhājir), an Egyptian citizen, took his place and established the Dawlat al-Islam fil-Iraq (the Islamic State in Iraq=ISI). This was the second stage in the development of the Islamic Jihadi terrorist group. Its military leader was Abu ‘Umar al-Baghdadi. In April 2010, both al-Masri and al-Baghdadi were killed by the US, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took the leadership of Dawlat al-Islam fil-Iraq, and began to take control of territories in Iraq.

In April 2013 al-Baghdadi decided to withdraw from al-Qaeda and to expand his territorial ambitions to Syria. He has changed his organization’s name from the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) to the Islamic State in Iraq and greater Syria (al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fil-Irāq wal-Shām=ISIS). From here comes the name Da’esh we use to describe the organization. This was the third stage in the development of the Islamic Jihadi terrorist group. However, due to his territorial and political successes, on June 29th 2014, al-Baghdadi has coroneted himself as “Khalīfah Ibrāhīm,” being a descendent of Prophet Muhammad, and at the same time Amīr al-Mu’minīn.

ICS in another stage, more lethal and vicious than al-Qaeda, but with the same line of Islamic Sunni Jihadi ideology that practices Salafīyah. It has radicalized the Islamic surroundings and brought to the core a new version of fanaticism and unhuman activity. What is perhaps more important concerning ICS is that the Free World is facing a new generation of Muslim terrorists: more educated and sophisticated; more intelligent and devoted to the Islamic cause and ideals; and more self-content about their ability to subdue the Free World.

This new kind of terrorists look in contempt at the September 11 Islamic generation, as an old ineffective and impotent. They exactly know all Western technological sophisticated means, and use them to destroy the West. Above all, now Islam has the Caliphate at the center and that embodies the future of the Islamic coming victory.

Though ICS constitutes a new and more violent stage than al-Qaeda, it represents a Jihadi evolution based on the same Islamic Sunni religious ideology with the same Islamic political infrastructure. ICS was born by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from al-Qaeda’s Abdallah Azzam, Bin Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and radicalized. al-Qaeda was born from the ideological conceptions of Sayyid Qutb and Abu A’ala al-Mawdudi, and radicalized. Qutb and al-Mawdudi were the students of Hasan al-Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood ideology, and radicalized. Hence, ICS is the only last stage of this Islamic Jihadi continuous evolutionary doctrine.

The Muslim Brotherhood is the source of the Salafi Sunni ideology that motivates ICS. Each and every radicalized stage is based on Islamic Sharī’ah. In ideological terms there are traditional fundamentalism (Salafīyah Taqlīdīyah); Jihadi fundamentalism (Salafiyah Jihādīyah); and infidelity fundamentalism (Salafiyah Takfīrīyah). But all are based on the same roots of Islamic Sunni political ideology. By that, the message is gloomy: by no means ICS is the last stage in the evolution of the Islamic Jihadi terrorism. Whatever its cruelty is, there are no less radical groups, and in future there will be much more extreme and vicious groups with the aim to bring the Islamic tidings to the entire world.

ICS’s emergence and success are due to the collapse of the Middle East order and the disappearance of authoritarian regimes to the point of failed states. This is not and never has been an “Arab Spring,” but from the first day it was the “Tribal Anarchic Islamic Winter.” To the vacuum that was created by Obama Administration by toppling the Arab military regimes (US code: “step down”), the Islamic jihadi groups have entered with full power. On the other hand, the lake of leadership and vision of Western leaders and the continuing denial of the Islamic lethal reality have forcefully pushed the Islamic Jihadi groups to lead the Islamic revolution in the region. The chaotic situation in Libya, Syria, and Yemen is 100 percent the responsibility of Obama.

ICS has become the most important and influential non-state player in the entire international relations. It serves as a model of pure success, and proves again there is no more successful like success. Its political influence is much more lethal than its operational, its educational activity among the youth is stunning, and its social media operation is so sophisticated and effective for the establishment of the Caliphate.

Western denial

The contemporary foreign policy of the Free World in the Middle East, the Islamic world and Islam in general has proven to be disastrous, because its policymakers and analysts are unable or unwilling to opt to articulate them through familiar Western paradigms. That is, instead of trying to understand Arab-Islamic political culture, they use the mirror image approach and act according to the mental blindness principle. Every time there is a terrorist Jihad attack, they respond in the same routine cowardice way, declaring: Islam is the religion of peace; Muslims that operate Jihad are extremists and not real Muslims; and a policy of concessions and appeasement will reduce Jihad and extremism among Muslims.

The best ‘advice’ was lastly given by the Attorney General of the US, Loretta Lynch. For her, “Most effective response to terror is compassion, unity, and love.” Now, this is really a new innovative strategy, so simple and apparently so effective. You see, if a Muslim terrorist rampages through one’s home or at public place, butchering and massacring while shouting “Allāhu akbar,” all one should do is to greet him with love and compassion and showing sympathy and empathy to him.

Why it is a brilliant strategy? Because there is no doubt the terrorist immediately will stop his murderous activity and becomes a peace loving person. Showing him love, which he was neglected of, he surly would answer with love. Most important, he would immediately abandon the so many verses of the Qur’an that preach for hatred and violence, to kill the infidels whenever and wherever they are, to slaughter and smite their neck, and to terrorize them. He will abandon all these and preach liove.

From September 11 2001 on, the Free World’s peoples and their public opinion are being systematically told about the fiction that Islamic most murderous groups such as al-Qaeda and ICS are not Islamic but in fact anti-Islamic, and there is no doubt about Islam being a religion of peace and compassion. During the presidency of Obama we are facing a huge monstrous disinformation campaign directed from the White House and reflected by the governmental branches that Islam and terrorism are incompatible, and to relate to Islam such atrocities contradicts human logic even the nature laws.

Therefore, if ICS and al-Qaeda cite Islamic Scriptures to justify their atrocities, they are “hijacking” and “perverting” Islam. Moreover, when an attack committed by Muslims is too obviously terrorism to deny, it is called “ISIS-inspired,” or “al-Qaeda-inspired,” yet these groups are temporal and localized problem: defeat them, and the terrorism problem vanishes. Kill Bin Laden and al-Qaeda vanishes; execute al-Baghdadi and ICS vanishes. These terrorist groups are bad and deserve to be eliminated, but they are not Muslims. The same wrong approach and ignorance applies to what is called “loners” or “wolf loners.” Therefore, all one really needs is to see the beauty of Islam and the ugliness of those who pretend to be Muslims.

Western leaders restrain and censor their governmental branches, and the media and decision-makers alike refuse to connect the dots and insist on treating Islam as it deserves. The fact is there is “al-Qaeda,” “Taliban,” “Boko Haram,” “Shabab,” “ICS,” and other hundreds of Islamic terrorist organizations, all of them are Muslim in origin and all of them are struggling to bring the Islamic tidings to the entire world. They use Muslim hymn and symbols and its vocabulary. They practice the Islamic traditions and commandments. They preach for the Islamic objectives to achieve, and they use the Islamic tactics. And still, Western denial continues.

One must be fed up with this. Each and every person who just uses common sense even basic logic knows the answer. ICS is Islamic. It is 100 percent Islamic. ICS stems from Islam, it represents Islam, and it proves the Islamic political ideology and embodies what Islam really is. It is crystal clear and obvious like day and night. To say that ICS does not represent Islam is like to say that Earth is flat. If ICS is not Islam, than the Sun surrounds Earth. This is the greatest denial ever in history. This is the scourge of our generation; the greatest big lie ever has fallen upon humanity and worst of all, it directly leads to national disasters in an apocalyptic scale.

There is more. Part of our leaders, the media and the academia denial has to do with definitions. There is the mistaken narrative whether ICS is Islamic or Islamist. This differentiation between “Islamic” being good and moderate and “Islamist” being bad and radical, is totally artificial and absolutely Western oriented without any connection or corroboration to Islam itself. It is another stepping stone of Western ignorant debate; a version of Western apologetic appeasing discourse to analyzing and defining Islam; and perhaps it is another example to prove how Western leaders are intimidated concerning the Islamic threats.

And still we continue to argue and debate this matter. Why? Are we so stupid about the Islamic phenomenon? No, we are not. We know exactly everything about Islam. Or perhaps are we so ignorant understanding Islam? No, we are not. We know what is written in the Qur’an and the Sharī’ah, and we have all the knowledge about Islamic notorious history. Or perhaps do the so many Islamic groups hide their fanatic barbaric Islamic origins and ideologies? No, they are not. They declare their means and aims loud and clear, using all the Islamic terms and ideology and exactly acting according to Islamic commandments to subdue the world.    

So what’s going on here? How that is our leaders called a spade a spade concerning Nazism and Communism and labeled them as enemies but refuse to do the same concerning Islam? Soon the day will come when we all have to admit that Islam is the uppermost lethal enemy of humanity. We will recognize with admiration that Bernard Lewis in 1990 and Samuel Huntington in 1993 were right declaring the “clash of civilizations syndrome.” We also have to admit that from that time on there is a long line of academic members and others who proved this reality and preached to cut out the vicious circle of silencing by Western politicians. Unfortunately, time runs and the price humanity will pay for this negligence perhaps conspiracy of silence will be unbearable, probably the modern embodiment of the Pyrrhic victory.

Why our leaders stubbornly refuse to utter the word “Islam” when it comes to terrorism and violence? There are perhaps many reasons, none of them is because Islam and terrorism are not deeply connected and interrelated. It is also not ignorance and not stupidity they perform. The fact is our leaders appease and pay protection money. The reason for that behavior is fear. Deep atavist fear of the ruffian murderer, the primitive vandal, the savage thug. They are intimidated as of how to deal with 1.6 billion Muslims if they declare the problem is the Islamic religion and its political ideology.

Our leaders are under deep mental and physical violence and fear of terrorism, so they have made the decision not to insult and not to hurt Muslims’ sensibilities. They believe that letting the Muslims to practice their religion and culture it will ease their aggressiveness. They are really in disarray concerning Muslims and Islam and they want to come back to normality, to their common sense and sanity. They wish wholeheartedly to run away from the madness they don’t understand – by closing their eyes and by paralysis of their actions.

This situation is observed by the euphemisms “radical Islam,” “fundamental Islam” and the like. Many complain that President Obama systematically forbids his governmental branches to put together the words “Islamic” and “terrorism,” even not to use the phrase “radical Islam.” Later on he excelled by forbidding his Administration to use the words “Sharī’ah” and “Jihad” as related to Islam. Indeed, this is a shame.

If there were any doubts whether leaders are abdicating their responsibility to stand up for the Free World’s existence, the Orlando Massacre was the last example. President Obama and Hillary Clinton deflected attention from the obvious Islamic terrorism to debate about the gun control issue. Obama and other delusional leaders have rushed to defend Islam and to assure us Islam is one of the world’s great peaceful religions: “ISIL is not Islamic… and the terrorists trying to pervert a noble religion.”

At the beginning, Obama mocked at ICS nicknamed it as a “JV team,” and at the same continue his slogans of peaceful compassionate Islam. At the UN Obama praised Islam: “The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam.” Part of his continuing detached delusional declarations are: “As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam.” “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance.” “We know Islam’s role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings.” “Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism, it is an important part of promoting peace.” And perhaps the most important: “I made clear that America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam.”

The Orlando massacre was an act of a pure Islamic terrorism representing a doctrine of hatred towards the infidels and what it stands for. Omar Mateen has given his allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Arabic, while declaring “In the name of Allah the Merciful, the beneficent” (Bismillāh), and adding “may Allah protect him [Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi] on behalf of the Islamic State.” The nonsense response of the US Administration was that the massacre was “more to hate and not just terrorism,” with the unfortunate slogan: “one cannot fight homophobia with Islamphobia.”

However, those who complain about Obama Administration’s refusal to call it “radical Islam” are no less mistaken. There is no “radical Islam” and as much as there is no “moderate Islam.” There is only “Islam.” Period. Just remember the declaration of Recep Erdogan, Turkish Prime Minister: “the term ‘Moderate Islam’ is ugly and offensive. There is no moderate Islam. Islam is Islam.” There are radical Muslims as against moderate Muslims, but this has nothing to do with the doctrine of Islam and its political ideology. “Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri’s al-Qaeda and Baghdadi’s ICS are not “radical Muslims,” but loyal (Mukhlis) Muslim believers. They strictly follow the Islamic Sharī’ah. They act according to Islamic commandments. It is as such simple and clear as it is the truth when it comes to Islam. It is just the use of language that makes the difference: what for Western pronouncing is “radical,” for Islam it is “moderate” and “faithful,” and vice versa. Only the perspective approach and the language matters.

After the Tunisia massacre, on June 26, 2015, in which many British tourists were murdered. Immediately there came the Pavlovian reaction of PM David Cameron, that Islam is a religion of peace, and that the massacre was performed by “extremists.” Interesting. However, he even broke the record, since he overtook President Obama in his fast reaction. How this malaise is so pervasive one can deduct from the situation in the British schools that have been infiltrated by Muslims.

On March 23, 2015, Home Secretary, Theresa May said that “Islam is entirely compatible with British values and our national way of life, while Islamist extremism is not.” This is not a joke. From 2011 the British government has claimed that extremism is a “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.” Now, all that one can do is to compare these with Islam.

This is also the case with the French and Belgian reaction after the Islamic massacres there. The Free World denial of Islamic situation continues even strongly when it comes to the horrific acts of the ICS. When asked about the mutual relationships and the religious background of ICS and Islam, the answer given by Western politicians is denial and refutation. However, there is an outlet: it is suggested to consult with the Qur’an and learn the Sharī’ah. If not, something is really deeply odd, let alone confusing and embarrassing relating to this issue when it comes to treating Islam.

But there is more. The Free World’s leaders are afraid because there is also the “Intimidation-Money Syndrome.” They are afraid of the brutal ruffian, but much more by the probability that the oil-states money flaw, mainly by Saudi-Arabia and Qatar, will be cut off and prevented. In times of money shortage, the industry, the stock markets, the media, and the universities are badly in need of this money. The result: our leaders have found out the “solution” by denying the connection between Islam and terrorism and violence, by appeasing and by apologizing. Yet, there is more. One of the outlets is blaming the Jews. This is exactly what is going on in Europe today against Israel. Whatever the situation is, Israel is the answer to all the problems not Islam.

That is exactly why the reasons to the victory of Islam and the collapse of Western civilization do not come from the ethnocentric Islamic political ideology, but from the Free World’s leaders, the media, the academia, and the cultural elite submissive appeasement. Let me put it straight: Islam and Muslims would not even raised their heads in so-high burst of hatred and animosity and even would not try to work so incessantly with Jihad, Da’wah and Hijrah to conquer the world, without Western weaknesses and submissiveness; without the vacuum the West has willingly created.

However, just as in the 1930’s the European leaders appeased and gave up and gave in to Hitler’s aggression, yet not paradoxically, it was the aggressor who opened the war. Exactly the same occurs today. Western civilization appeases and pays protection money, and still Islam has declared a religious war against it. This is the deep unfortunate reality that our leaders do not learn even from their own lessons, and do not act in proactive strategy to defend our civilization.

If the Free World’s leadership will not wake up and sober up, the destruction of Western civilization and the ushering in of the Islamic New World Order is sure. We have a clear historical proofs: in 732 Charles, “The Hammer” Martel defeated the Muslim invaders advancing toward Paris, at the Battle of Tours. In 1683, the Polish King Sobieski beat back the invading Muslim army at the Battle of Vienna. Christianity was twice saved in Europe solely because Europe fought back by the sword. If Europe had not possessed the will to resist, it would be Islamic, and Christianity would be exterminated. But above all, Europe would be the reflection of the Middle East: poor and miserable socially; retarded and undeveloped technologically, and savage and not advanced politically.

The history of the Middle East proves this reality crystal clear. Wherever Islam has had complete sway, Christianity ultimately disappeared and wretchedness emerged. Indeed, the civilization of Europe, America and Australia exists today only because of the victories of civilized man over the enemies of civilization. The question at stake is clear: whether the Judeo-Christian culture persists or primitiveness exists. The Free World has the ability to win over but has lost the will, the spirit to fight evil.

Our leaders have all the reasons not only to wake up and sober up, but to fight for their societies’ existence. The statistics is clear: over 95 percent of world terrorism and 70 percent of world violence are Islamic. All the intelligence agencies’ reports clearly indicate that at least 20 percent of the Muslims and 40 percent of the youngsters till 26 have clear Jihadi inclinations. A research published by the Czech Republic’s intelligence in May 2016 indicates that 44 percent of the Muslims in Europe match the European definition of fundamentalism.

The U.S. State Department’s annual, counts 11,774 terrorist attacks in 92 countries around the world. All of them were Islamic. More than 55 percent of all attacks took place in five countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Nigeria), and 74 percent of all deaths due to terrorist attacks took place in five countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Syria). The number of terrorist kidnappings and hostage-takings increased in 2015 to more than 12,100. Moreover, in the last 70 years, almost 14 million Muslims were butchered by other Muslims.  

Nevertheless, Western leaders are determined never to connect the dots. If one observes the behavior, reactions, and the activity of ICS, he needs nothing more as to clearly and absolutely be sure it is Islamic and it acts exactly according to the Islamic commandments and teachings. Indeed, when tolerance becomes a one way street, it leads to cultural suicide, and it ushers in religious genocide. It was Albert Einstein to declare: The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything. That is why this war that the Western world must employ is the pure just war. Never in history there has been more just than this war against the enemy of civilization. Sam Harris has put it succinctly:

We are now mired in a religious war in Iraq, and elsewhere… The truth that we must finally confront is that Islam contains specific doctrines about martyrdom and jihad that directly inspire Muslim terrorism… It is time we admitted that we are not at war with “terrorism.” We are at war with Islam. This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims, but we are absolutely at war with the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran. The only reason Muslim fundamentalism is a threat to us is because the fundamentals of Islam are a threat to us. Every American should read the Koran and discover the relentlessness with which non-Muslims are vilified in its pages. The idea that Islam is a “peaceful religion hijacked by extremists” is a dangerous fantasy… deluding ourselves with euphemisms is not the answer. Our press should report on the terrifying state of discourse in the Arab press, exposing the degree to which it is a tissue of lies, conspiracy theories and exhortations to recapture the glories of the 7th century. All civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology that now threatens to destabilize much of the Earth.

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Terrorism

Talking to Abu Qatada about Donald Trump’s Presidency and the Future of the Middle East

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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Abu Qatada, Photo: ICSVE

Authors: Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. & Ardian Shajkovci, Ph.D.

AMMAN, Jordan: What does Abu Qatada, the so-called “spiritual father” of al-Qaeda in Europe and man responsible for a fatwa on Algeria that some argue offered ideological justifications for killing civilian family members of Algerian military officers, resulting in the beheadings of many,[2] have to say about the Trump Presidency and the territorial defeat of ISIS? Last January, shortly after the inauguration of President Trump, ICSVE’s Anne Speckhard and Ardian Shajkovci sat down with him on the outskirts of Amman, Jordan, to ask him for his opinion on the Trump presidency and the future of the Middle East. Because his son was briefly imprisoned, by the Jordanians, Abu Qatada requested that we not publish this piece until now. Since then we have interviewed him twice again, in December 2017, during which he surprised us greatly with his views on the legitimacy of terrorist attacks against civilians (see part two of this series). This is thus a two-part series based on four total conversations over the past year with Abu Qatada.

Abu Qatada: Part One

Dressed in a long dark thobe and his grey beard reaching over his chest, Abu Qatada hosts us in a large diwan in his stone hewn home on the outskirts of Amman, Jordan, its walls filled with scholarly books about Islam. As we are served coffee on a tray that Abu Qatada accepts from uknown female hands beyond a doorway inside his home, I glance about the room. His desk is filled with books, and like mine at home there are many piled up beside his chair. It’s obvious we are in the home of a scholar.

While an angry ideologue, Abu Qatada is also an articulate man who can illuminate how those supporting al-Qaeda consider how their strategic plans might unfold. He is a barometer of sorts on a whole other type of thinking. We start our discussion on President Trump and the future of the Middle East.

“It’s a very difficult question,” Abu Qatada answers regarding our question about what he thinks will be the future of the Middle East. “There is something coming, which nothing can stop it from changing this area,” he predicts, as his large brown eyes gaze across the room trying to glimpse what the future may hold. “The region will be more fragmented. This system of nation-states that was created after World War II will disappear in our region. Saudi, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan will dissolve. Their central governments will end.”

He told us the same in November 2016, mentioning that Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and Syria had already collapsed, or were about to, and it was just a matter of time before the entire region of propped up dictators would fall and the region would be engulfed in conflicts.

“What will come in its place?” we ask.

“It will become more fragmented. I’m not sure, it could happen in America too,” he states. But here, I am sure it will happen, because the differences in society are becoming strong and the gap is deepening.” As Qatada continues.

As we consider his answer, one cannot help but reflect on the perceptions of class conflict that has also grown more prevalent in the recent years in the United States. How often, these days, the same words are said about American society in regards to tensions between the poor and the rich and to the losses in the middle class? Could inequalities in income and wealth ultimately lead to rebellion even beyond the Middle East, or even globally? Highly improbable, but points out the potential societal costs of inequality and the divisive politics it may potentially lead to both at home and more likely, abroad.

We ask him what differences in society he is speaking of in the Middle Eastern context. “Shia and Sunnis are part of the scene, but are not the whole thing. The Jewish dream of dominating from the Nile to the Euphrates according to the Torah—you cannot accomplish it because of human nature. This also is part of the issue,” he explains, harking back to his own Palestinian roots and his longstanding anger at the establishment of the Jewish state and according to him, the illegitimate Israeli overtaking of Palestinian lands.

“Israelis cannot control Gaza. It’s the human dimension they cannot control. It’s the same with the Shia. They don’t have the human depth to rule this area. They could have [ruled], before the Syrian uprising. They could have been accepted. Everyone started for their own reasons loving Hezbollah after July’s war [with Israel], he says, referring to the 2006 Israeli incursion into Lebanon.  “But after Syria, the ones that like Hezbollah cannot be mentioned in Sunni circles,” he adds.

Indeed, speaking today with Iraqis, Jordanians, and Syrians in the Middle East, we hear much more today about the Shia-Sunni divide—and anger directed at the Shia by the Sunnis—whereas only ten years ago, this anger would more likely have been directed at Israel and the Jews.

The 2003-2006 U.S.- Coalition led war into Iraq followed by al Qaeda in Iraq’s Abu Musab Zarqawi unleashing a furious jihad against the Shia and their subsequent retaliations, coupled now with the Syrian conflict and the war in Iraq restarting, have all opened a sectarian rift and left scars of murderous rage alongside desires for revenge among the victims and their sympathizers on both sides of that divide.  It is not about Palestinians and Jews anymore. It has become a much wider sectarian conflict engulfing larger regions in the Middle East.

“Sunnah is not a sect. It is the original,” Abu Qatada asserts, echoing ISIS and al-Qaeda claims that Sunnis have the correct interpretation of Islam. Indeed, these groups claim to follow the original and true form of Islam, and call Takfir—that is deemed worthy to be killed—all those who do not adhere to their strict and brutal interpretations of Islam. As a person, Abu Qatada is more gentle than they are, but his ideological teachings are of the same ilk.

The Shiites, politically, I’m no longer afraid of them,” Abu Qatada explains. “And militarily, I’m not scared of them. The issue could be more complex. What stops the Sunnis from wiping out the Shiites? Are the regimes of the Sunni states?” he asks. “Let’s take Saudi Arabia, for example. The Sunni society in Saudi can achieve a big victory against the Houthis [Shia-led insurgency] in Yemen,” he says, predicting what soon starts to occur over the last months. “What is stopping them is the regime itself. What is stopping a Sunni leader appearing there are the Sunni regimes themselves, and not the Shite.”

“Right now the regimes are stopping the Sunni leadership and putting them in prison,” Abu Qatada states referring to his Islamist and militant jihadi brothers. “There is a marginalization of the Sunni power. If the regimes fall, there is Sunni power to wipe out the Shia power. Take the Lebanese, for example, this mosaic. If the state goes, supported by all the disputed parties, the Sunni power, with the Palestinian camps, will lead to getting rid of the Shia parties and its allies.” Abu Qatada again harks to his belief in Palestinian militancy and alludes to the proxy war in Syria and parts of Iraq, in which Iranians and Gulf actors serve as sources of financial support for both state leaders and terrorist groups.

“Now Sunnis in Iraq are the majority,” Abu Qatada stresses, although factually this is not true, even if Kurds are lumped in with Sunnis. “Everything is confirming that Sunnis in Iraq are the majority. Shia leadership belonging to Arab regimes, they are ruining the Sunni project in Iraq.”

“The vision and idea of the Middle East that is upcoming and in which those states will no longer exist brings important questions,” Abu Qatada states. “Will their collapse mean that there will be an invasion from the West to our region?”

This is the important question for those of Abu Qatada’s following.  If the West is non-interventionist, perhaps his vision can come into being with the Sunni Islamists rising to take power, as ISIS tried and briefly established its so-called “Islamic State”. If the West stays out will some or many of the Middle Eastern governments collapse, as Abu Qatada predicts, making way for something else, his vision of reshaping the region?

“So what do you think of President Trump?” we ask.

“I don’t see the problem in Trump,” Abu Qatada answers. “I worry after Trump, what will come to us on the land of al Bab [we presume he refers to Syria], the destroyed land of al Bab.”

Abu Qatada is angry about the injustices and bad governance in his region. Perhaps in some ways his anger mirrors the anger and fear over similar issues in the U.S. that propelled the most unlikely of candidates into the U.S. presidency.

“Trump is not the abnormal in the American situation. He didn’t’ come with an [armed] revolution. Trump is a simple man and he is a reflection of a phenomenon. This is a big loss given that a person like this was able to convince a wide spectrum.”

“In our region we should expect a lot of developments in the West that will affect us,” Abu Qatada explains. “In reality, when it comes to our [Islamist] goals, Trump may be a benefit. What matters most to us is if he is going to continue his support to those regimes who rely on American support? If he is an isolationist, will he stop the financial support for some regimes? If so, that will be very effective for us.” Abu Qatada states.

The reordering of American engagement in the Middle East keeps preoccupying Abu Qatada’s thought. He clearly wants the West to withdraw all of its support for current Arab leaders in hopes that their governments will collapse, hastening his version of the Islamic State that he would love to usher into the region in their place. He makes no mention of whether U.S. support that emboldens dictators to use coercive measures at home to suppress extremist dissent actually undermines the credibility of democratic values. Yet that too is an important concern globally as groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS rally the downtrodden and those with real and perceived grievances against their governments to believe in a totally alternative form of governance—as in the ISIS Caliphate—supposedly governed by Islamic ideals.  This is Abu Qatada’s dream as well although in a less brutal form.

In President Trump’s first moves, he invited King Abdullah to the White House and the U.S. continues unabated in its over one-and-a-half-billion-dollar annual investment in Jordan. At that meeting, President Trump reiterated his commitment to Jordan’s stability and security while both parties pledged continuing contributions to defeat the Islamic State. The extent of their partnership could be further exemplified by the withdrawal of the U.S. Ambassador in Jordan at the request of King Abdullah. Similarly, President Trump visited Saudi Arabia in May 2017 where he similarly reinforced U.S. support for their government. Abu Qatada also might be quite disappointed at the amount of public praise President Trump gave for the Arab leaders in the region.

What about the surrounding region—will the support continue despite poor governance, corruption, and human rights violations?  Will the U.S. continue to lend military support for the governments of Iraq and Syria to be bolstered to remain strong?  These are questions Abu Qatada worries over, as U.S. involvement and support for existing governments in the Middle East could thwart his plans.

“He is only interested in money,” Abu Qatada states. “Withdrawal and money. Will Trump, the businessman, give more money to these ally states? Will he continue the financial aid?”

Indeed, these are important questions as the West must come to terms with whether dictatorships should be supported to the extent they have in light of them ignominiously suppressing not only Islamist but also democratic movements in the Middle East. How should a U.S. President deal with authoritarian rulers who vehemently object to any criticism of their wrong doing or their human rights record, as is the case with many authoritarian rulers in the Middle East? These are important questions that may or may not be answered in this administration.

One must not forget that al-Qaeda rose out of the idea that Arabs would never be able to win dignity and justice as long as the West was propping up dictators who get in the way of movements seeking freedoms, using torture and imprisonments to do it, hence the al-Qaeda idea of going for the “head of the snake”—attacking the West to someday achieve freedom for Arab Muslims from dictatorial regimes.

“What will happen to ISIS?” we ask, changing the conversation to looking at the current Islamic State.

“ISIS is on its way to disappearing,” Abu Qatada answers (in January 2017). In November 2016, he refused to criticize ISIS because they were on their knees and militarily in retreat, but it was clear even then that he was not supportive of their brutal tactics and rush to declare a Caliphate—a premature move in his opinion.

“This leadership is gone. But something new coming is very possible. ISIS will be defeated, but is it the end of ISIS? Al Qaeda and Nusra are over in Syria. It is a reality. Al Qaeda and al Nusra ended in Syria, but a new development happened. A new organization appeared, not ISIS, but Tahrir al Sham, Fateh al Sham. This development will continue,” he adds referring to Salafi organizations formed from al-Nusra and other groups that appear to be continuing in the same ideology despite claiming to be no longer affiliated with al Qaeda.

“So, an armed Sunni rebellion and wanting to take control will continue?” we ask.

“In Syria, one hundred percent, yes,” he answers. “In Iraq, I don’t know. I cannot judge on this.”

Turning back to President Trump, Abu Qatada states, “There is no strategic vision of Trump on ISIS. It’s very clear he has a cowboy mentality. His way of solving a problem is carrying a gun and shooting, but the world is more complex than that. The Americans don’t have experience in our region, like the Europeans do. You have seen how things get out of your control,” he says, referring to the 2003 U.S.-led coalition invasion of Iraq and the current Syrian war.

“Bush did a lot of killing, he was like the raging bull. Obama’s strategy was surgical operation. But with all of this, there are more losses for them. The problem is that people are running toward the problem and are not afraid of it.”

Ruminating about Trump, Abu Qatada asks, “Was he chosen for internal or external reasons? If they [the American people] chose Trump for external reasons, then the Americans are so stupid, worse than stupid, they are morons imbeciles, idiots.” We laugh as he says it.  Indeed, President Trump in his first months in office does not seem to be able to take a nuanced view of the Middle East, but perhaps Abu Qatada underestimates the U.S. military and Congress, or the President himself to catch on?

“Putin took advantage of the weakness of Obama,” Abu Qatada answers. “Obama was unable to solve this problem. I have no vision of the economic situation of Russia, but I wonder if their economic situation will allow them to intervene more? But there is obviously a romance going on with Trump.” Interestingly enough, we failed to ask if he thought of the relationship as being more than just a “romance,” as he calls it, perhaps an attempt to reinvigorate old alliances and find new allies to unlock indolent and frozen decades-old conflicts in the Middle East, as some claim?

Clearly Abu Qatada’s hope is that all Western powers will stay out of the region. He hopes that the existing governments will fall and that Sunnis will rise up to create their wider Islamic State.

“What will it look after ISIS?” we ask.

“To look as ISIS as being only the problem in the area is extremely wrong,” Abu Qatada states. Indeed, al-Qaeda in Iraq first rose in response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and gained support and momentum in response to Sunni leadership being sent home while Shias rose to dominance and Zarqawi came sowing his seeds of terrorist discord. A similar thing happened with ISIS. Lacking security, justice, and dignity, the Sunni population easily supported them in their first moves inside Iraq.  Thus, we see that the real answer to terrorism is not only to defeat terrorists but to remedy the political issues that gave rise to them—issues that require fair and effective governance that delivers security and justice for everyone.

“This is an Islamic problem,” Abu Qatada states. “To look at ISIS and to think that we are fighting ISIS in Syria, Libya, and Yemen is wrong. ISIS is not even shining the most important aspect in this area. It’s part of an explosive and flaming problem in the area for the Muslims. All Muslims need answers. What is our problem? The situation is very bad, inside and out, and people know that the only way for change is fighting, and the only way to solve our problems is to have an Islamic State. There may be differences, but they all share the vision of an Islamic State. To talk about ISIS only is to forget the fact that we have a problem.”

While Abu Qatada insists that armed conflict will come to pass in order for Middle Easterners to be ruled justly, his words find a chord.  Focus testing our Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative videos in which former ISIS cadres denounce the group, Jordanian youth told us, “You know we all want the Caliphate.  We just aren’t sure if we want the ISIS Caliphate.”  This view was reiterated multiple times.  Clearly, there is a search for a just form of governance and that makes youth and others vulnerable to groups like ISIS.

“Please, clarify the “problems?” we ask.  “Are you speaking about justice, unemployment, what problems exactly?

“We are not talking only about injustices. Forget this. To convince the people we are on the right path,” Abu Qatada states imagining his vision of the Arab region. Qadafi is gone. Assad doesn’t control two thirds of Syria. Yemen is all fragmented. They are over,” he states, perhaps mistakenly discounting the influential Putin-Assad relationship, with Syrian President Bashar al Assad still controlling the areas of Syria that are of most strategic importance to him thanks to Russian airstrikes targeting everyone who threatens his regime.

“We can no longer talk about social justice as the problem. Now the issue is to reestablish the region. Now the organizations are talking about getting rid of injustice, but now we have a problem of defining the future. Those who think that we will simply put these states back together are mistaken.”

“The situation is developing in a very dramatic way,” Abu Qatada insists. “Forget about ISIS. I believe what Wael Hallaq [an American professor at Columbia University, specializing in Islamic jurisprudence] says, that the Islamic State is impossible to achieve given the context in the international world, in the West. These internal differences in the West are creating a bigger gap, but it will not be an Islamic State,” Abu Qatada continues. “States that fall will not be replaced. But it will be all the Muslims in the region living under Islamic rule, not a state, but as an Islamic nation.”

This was the vision of ISIS that is now disintegrating, but despite their loss of territory and capacity, the vision has staying power in a region that is plagued with corruption, security violations, injustice, and unemployment.  While Abu Qatada believes that President Trump will play into his hand, hastening the fall of current Arab governance, one would hope that all Middle Eastern rulers from Syria to Iraq, to Saudi Arabia and beyond would realize the need for better decision-making and the need to provide security, justice, economic possibilities and real freedoms to ward off future iterations of terrorist groups like ISIS.

When we return to talk with Abu Qatada in January of 2017, President Trump has been one year in office and has just recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He has not been the non-interventionist in the region that Abu Qatada had hoped for, the American leader withdrawing all support from who he sees as corrupt regional leaders. And now the U.S. President has handed Jerusalem to the Israelis without any concession to the Palestinians.

“You are talking of Kushner with the deal of the century,” Abu Qatada states. “They want to get rid of us, kick us out of our country. But come to me after five years, keep on visiting me, but after five years, and all these grand [dealings] will be a mirage. It will have no reality on the ground,” Abu Qatada predicts.

“Israel is becoming a burden on the world.”

Referring to President Trump’s time Abu Qatada points out, “When did Trump carry out this decision, what day did he do it, announce it? It was Dec 6, 100 years since Dec 6 1917 when the Balfour Declaration took place [allowing for the creation of Israel]. Do you think this is a coincidence?” he asks. “Trump has been now a year, why did he chose this day, definitely there is an ideological issue with it.”

When I tell Abu Qatada that not all Americans agreed with this decision, he states, “I’ve learned with Westerners, you always try to lessen the sharpness of the pain inside of us. You always try to soften the blow.”

“Despair could come out of it,” he says referring to the loss to Palestinians, “but take it as a basis of principle. There is something that exists in history, the reality of history, and it is the blunder,” Abu Qatada warns. “This blunder becomes stronger. The stronger the mistake is, the more powerful the mistake is in its destruction. Israel is a settlement state—a garrison state—and garrison states always will always be defeated. I describe settlements as putting a foreign entity in your body. You always need serums and injections to support them.”

Turning back to the larger Arab world, Abu Qatada predicts, “There will be strategic changes in the world and America will be affected by the changing situation. I believe there will be new governments in Saudi and Egypt. They will deal with the U.S. as Iran is dealing with America. They will say the word ‘no’. And the quiet majority will be crying over what Trump did. After Trump new things will come…”

While Abu Qatada is certainly correct in regard to regional alliances shifting and Arab leaders that may continue to be toppled, and that the region is and may continue to be plagued with challenges from corruption, suppression of human rights, religiously linked terrorism and armed conflict, how the Trump administration plays its hand in the region may make for something far less violent than he is predicting. On that, only time will tell.

Reference for this Article: Speckhard, Anne & Shajkovci, Ardian (February 14, 2018) Speaking to Abu Qatada about Donald Trump’s Presidency and the Future of the Middle East. ICSVE Research Reportshttp://www.icsve.org/research-reports/talking-to-abu-qatada-about-donald-trumps-presidency-and-the-future-of-the-middle-east/

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Terrorism

Another Face of Abu Qatada: Speaking on the Principle of Terrorism

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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Abu Qatada, Photo: ICSVE

Abu Qatada, who many have called the spiritual father of al Qaeda in Europe, is a scholar of Islam and what many might deem a terrorist instigator, or an ideologue who puts out arguments in support of militant jihad, but never himself fights jihad or spills blood. Yet, in these interviews, the third and fourth ICSVE researchers have made with him over the past year, he spoke candidly about his views on terrorism—making statements that will surprise many.

Palestinian by birth, Abu Qatada grew up in refugee camps in Jordan, carrying within himself a heritage of bitterness over his lost homeland. He is angry and rebellious against what he believes to be Western hegemony. He does not hide his strong desire to see a fundamental reordering of the Arab world. In this interview, we spoke to him about the changes he longs to see in the Middle East and the guiding principles by which to influence such changes, including his predictions as to what might actually happen.

Earlier in his career, Abu Qatada resided in London, where he was editor in chief of the Usrat al -Ansar weekly magazine, a propaganda media outlet that he started on behalf of the Groupe Islamique Army’s (GIA). In the early 90s, Abu Qatada issued a fatwa, which was published in his weekly bulletin Al-Ansar, after the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was poised to win elections in Algeria but was denied an impending electoral victory by a military coup. Some hold his issued fatwa against the military responsible for justifying GIA massacres against innocent civilians, including unleashing a rampage of beheadings. [1] In 2006, the GIA who Abu Qatada was aligned with in London, announced a union with Al-Qaeda, and by 2007 the group changed its name to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

In 2000, Abu Qatada was deemed by the UK as a security risk and was arrested as a terrorism suspect, imprisoned and subjected to a secret parallel system of justice. He was held in Belmarsh Prison without a conviction, on and off for 10 years, under an emergency legislation that authorized indefinite detention of “certified” foreign nationals in the U.K. representing a national security risk.

Held with the aim of disrupting a network of extremist ideologues from promoting acts of violence in the UK, he was never officially and directly linked to any terrorist plots in Europe. A source close to the case, however, shared that intercepts of those who visited Abu Qatada revealed that they were later contacted and invited to meet others actually involved in terrorism, although nothing was ever found to directly implicate Abu Qatada.

Abu Qatada’s angry grievances and teachings against the West are believed to have inspired numerous al-Qaeda- related terrorists plots and killings, allegedly including, through second generation ties, the 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacres.

While a Jordanian court convicted Abu Qatada in 2002 in absentia on terrorism charges related to the thwarted millennium terrorist plots aimed at attacking Western and Israeli targets in Amman, such charges were overturned in 2014 on the grounds that evidence may have been acquired by torture. In 2013, after many delays, due to concerns that he might be tortured in Jordan, or again convicted on the basis of evidence taken under torture, Abu Qatada was deported back to Jordan. Already railing against the West and siding himself with al-Qaeda, Abu Qatada does not forget his time in Belmarsh. He is still angry over it, though, as we were able to witness, his anger profoundly resonates with a power of righteousness and moral superiority that must also affect his followers.

No longer in prison, Abu Qatada now resides in his stone hewn home on the outskirts of Amman, Jordan. Dressed in a long dark thobe and his grey beard reaching over his chest, he hosts us in a large diwan, with its walls filled with collections of books—translations of histories and philosophies from around the world, and books about Islam. Surrounded by towering shelves supporting hundreds of such books, mostly in Arabic, one could not help but be drawn to the “intellectual warmth” we sensed, including the room’s distinct touch and setting that offered a glimpse into Abu Qatada’s character, interests, and passions.

During our two days of conversing with him, he covers a whole range of topics and makes numerous statements. The most surprising to us, however, is that Abu Qatada, the supposed terrorist instigator, does not appear to support terrorism at all. Despite expecting armed conflict in the Middle East and hoping for the demise of regional dictatorships and the rise of an Islamic State of sorts, he strongly condemned the use of terrorism.

This is our third time talking to Abu Qatada and we already know he is a fervent advocate of the Palestinian cause. Speaking about the defensive posture he feels he was born into, Abu Qatada states, “We [Palestinians] have only one choice. [We were] forced to take one choice of adapting to a reality on the ground. If you are put in the corner, you have to scratch out to defend yourself.”

Having witnessed the Palestinian-Israeli peace process fail repeatedly, he is also cynical. “I’m very afraid of the word peace, because it’s the word most used by the oppressor,” he says. Furthermore, he adds, “You talk about peace after you take your rights…you are not given rights, through oppression. For the Palestinian, regardless of other identities, ‘peace’ is not in his interest.”

“Twenty-five years ago, when they told us the word ‘peace,’ they presented it to us as hope, but now after the experience of ‘peace,’ we found out it is a lie. Now, when I hear the word ‘peace,’ I hold my pocket, for the new theft going on, ”Abu Qatada says with a smile crossing his face.

“Beautiful things are only built with strong foundations,” he explains. “When you entered the house, you saw the book shelves and chandelier, but didn’t see the foundation that is represented under the stones. You can’t talk about dialogue without a fundamental basis.”

“Principles?” I ask, eager to discuss this very thing, as we want to hear where he stands on the principles underlying terrorism.

“No, before principles, it’s rights,” Abu Qatada answers.

We discuss Trump and his recent recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, while we wait for the opportunity to ask him about how he justifies Palestinian terrorism. Using the example of Wafa Idris, the first female suicide bomber whose surviving family members I interviewed in 2000, I tell him about my visit to her family and ask him about Wafa’s attack on civilians. A number of Palestinians I spoke to at that time told me, “We have to use our bodies to fight back against a much better armed force, to explode ourselves to equalize the battle.” But she exploded herself among civilians, in a shoe store. Do you agree with this?” I ask.

“To talk about details distracts!” Abu Qatada answers, with his face reddening in sudden fury. “To take the whole Palestinian issue and to drill down to such details!” he sputters.

“But it’s not details, it is the principle behind details. Is it correct to say that if I’m fighting a much stronger enemy I can attack children, for instance?” I ask.

“No, this is not accepted,” Abu Qatada responds, still unable to avoid the barrage of angry expressions showing on his face. “But I am not talking about people talking with their emotions,” he continues. “I am Abu Qatada talking from a scientific [i.e. religiously defended] position. This I will not allow it. I consider it a destruction to the issue that I believe in.”

He goes on to tell me that Wafa Idris was acting from emotions, and that we cannot possibly know the depth of pain for what motivated her to engage in suicide bombing and target civilians. Indeed, having interviewed her family members, I know her story intimately. I know that she served as a nurse on Fridays with the Red Crescent during the Second Intifada and witnessed countless casualties from demonstrations against the Israelis. For instance, shortly before the suicide bombing, she was helping to transport a man whose skull had been fractured by Israelis. Her job was to hold his skull together as the ambulance bounced over rough Palestinian terrain, but she ended up with his brains falling out into her hands as he died. Her brother stated she was never the same again.[i] While Abu Qatada might not necessarily know all the details of her story, he does not have any trouble imagining them.

“This attempt to enter details to discuss the moral reality of the fight from our side, it is like a denial, a journalist denial,” he practically shouts, as he stands up now. “Like being mad at a child under the boot of a solder because he doesn’t have the right appearance, ” he adds. His face is now red with anger, and I wonder if our interview will be abruptly terminated. I wonder if I have touched a raw nerve of Abu Qatada or trampled upon what he views as the Palestinian right to fight back, even using terrorism as a weapon.

“Definitely Wafa Idris was mobilized by her emotions and her anger,” he continues, calming somewhat. “The question should be why a young girl’s emotions would be moved to this extent.”

That is a powerful and meaningful statement indeed. Having traveled throughout the West Bank and Gaza during the second Intifada, I know what it is like to be mistaken for a Palestinian woman and hauled out of buses at Israeli gunpoint or nearly run off the road by Israeli Humvees. It is a constant feeling of threat with no rights, except in my case when I presented my American passport. Then everything changed—for me at least.

“I know my mother, my wife, my daughter. I know how they think. I know what mobilized her. A human emotion that should not be discussed ideologically,” he continues.

“I was in her home,” I counter. “Her nieces and nephews were playing beneath this giant-sized poster glorifying her and her act. Do you think that’s the right thing to do?” I ask, trying to draw him out on the principles of the battle for the things he wants most in life and for which he is willing to encourage others to fight.

“To consider her an icon within her society just because she represented the anger,” Abu Qatada sputters again. “It’s not whether she went into a shoe shop or a military camp,” he states. Piercing me with his eyes and standing tall in his dark thobe, he gestures with his hand warning me, “I’m angry now.”

That was already obvious, but he has put it out there, so I try to calm the situation, keep him talking, as I want to know what he really thinks.

It does matter if it was a shoe store frequented by civilians or a military camp—that is the heart of the matter. I want to hear him address it, but we will not get there if he abruptly ends our interview.

“If we brought the Muslim world, not just the Arabs, and put them on a scale and compared their deeds to the deeds of the Westerners,” Abu Qatada states. “And talk about history. How many people did you kill? How many bodies did you bury?”

The argument amounts to what I often heard all through my time in Palestine: that the Israelis killed civilians at a much higher rate than Palestinians killed Israeli citizens. The question I always countered with was whether the Israelis specifically targeted Palestinian civilians, as the Palestinian terrorists targeted the Israeli civilians? The answers were often vague: that Israelis did not aim for civilians but when they targeted their enemies they knew full well that they were killing civilians as well, and in high numbers, and still did not refrain from carrying out their acts. “So, what is the difference?” the Palestinian terror leaders would ask me and that would be our stalemate—perhaps to be repeated here as well.

For me the difference between targeting civilians vs allowing for collateral damage is important, although one could argue that the moral difference between the two can become slim indeed. When premised upon the right to live a full life, the morality of killing innocent human beings becomes unjustifiable in both scenarios, but is still much different when the intention is to kill innocents versus acts aimed at heinous criminals in which innocents also get killed. Nonetheless, these issues have troubled many even former Shabak (Israeli Security Agency) leaders who discuss these very points as documented in the 2012 Israeli film, the Gatekeepers.

“These are the guys, these are the Jews, who went into villages and massacred them—the Egyptians, slaughtered them with kitchen knives,” Abu Qatada states referring perhaps to the Rafah and Qibya events.

“Then you come to a society, you don’t know how a young girl in our society can…” Abu Qatada booms, but his voice trails off, overcome with emotion. “I am a man, I am an extremist, a terrorist, but I cannot explain Wafa. On a human level, I don’t understand what mobilized Wafa. But, the explosion of emotions and the anger I can understand,” he states, his eyes blazing, still towering above us.

“The pain, people do things that cannot be understood ideologically,” he continues, as I recall him telling us in the first interview that he feels the pain of his lost homeland every day. The gnawing bitterness inside. “I am not going to apologize for what she did.”

We talk a bit about the recent recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and as we talk politics, Abu Qatada sits down again and calms himself down.

“Those barbaric settlers have no values,” he states. Suddenly, the conversation veers into the issue of settlements and my unpleasant experience way back at a checkpoint in Nablus with settlers supported by Americans. I shared my fear and anger when Israelis pointed guns at my face, including my feeling of disappointment and temptation at the time to remind them that “my tax dollars probably paid for the rifles they pointed at me.”

“I don’t hate very many people, but I hated them,” Abu Qatada states, clearly glad to hear that I also did not think well of the settlers’ misbehavior at their checkpoint. “They take from Americans the weapons,” he continues. “Everyone knows that a solution would come if America disengages from Israel.”

I try to steer the conversation back to the discussion on principles. Which principles does Abu Qatada stand by when he advocates for fighting back to win back Palestine, to bring down corrupt and unrighteous governments in the region, or to bring his hoped-for ideal of an Islamic state in the Middle East? I tell him how the Palestinian terrorist leaders I spoke to in the West Bank and Gaza would argue that it was permissible to kill Israeli civilians, even children, because they all eventually end up serving in the military—that Israeli society is militarized with the aim of keeping Palestinians down.

“I told you from the start, religiously I oppose the idea of killing children and all civilians. But I understand the emotions. Israel is a militarized society, but it does not justify killing children.”

“I cannot understand, not just psychologically but religiously also, how could anyone justify killing a child,” he states unequivocally.

“We are talking about when we can control the battle,” he adds, and I nod.

“Throughout history, Westerners were the ones who first started using civilians to put pressure on soldiers,” Abu Qatada explains, citing various examples from history. “ Even Hitler, they used civilians to pressure soldiers to submit,” Abu Qatada argues.” If there were those [civilians] affected by us, they were more affected by the West. We never used [killing] civilians to pressure as a strategy.”

I ask again, as I’m surprised to learn that Abu Qatada’s views seem to stand in stark contrast to those of other Palestinian terrorist leaders I spoke to in the West Bank and Gaza. They justified terrorist killings of Israeli citizens by arguing that Israeli men and women are part of the military—arguing that even their children who will grow up to serve. They also argued that Israelis have modern equipment while Palestinians have only their bodies to explode in terror attacks. None of this sways Abu Qatada from his clear denunciation of terror attacks against innocent civilians, particularly against killing children.

“I am surprised that there is any Islamists who will support it,” he says. As we have spoken for hours at this point, he tells us we need to adjourn the interview until two days later.

When we return, Abu Qatada begins the interview telling us that he told his wife about our discussion on suicide terrorism aimed at civilians. The topic has clearly caught his attention, and he has been brooding on the subject.

“From that day to today, I have been thinking how can anyone with feelings issue a fatwa of killing women or children outside of the battle, I honestly ask you?” Abu Qatada asks, his big brown eyes sincerely gazing into mine as he speaks.

I have been thinking about it as well and am ready to list Palestinian leaders for him who justified killing innocents using suicide terrorism. Khaled Mashal [the leader of Hamas] and Ahmad Sa’adat [the General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP, an organization that engaged in terrorism], we mention for starters.

“Who was Hamas following?” Abu Qatada asks.

When I tell him that Sheik Yassin supported martyrdom operations against civilians during the second Intifada, Abu Qatada answers that Yassin did not have the ability to issue a fatwa of this type.

“Fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence] doesn’t deal with things like symbols,” Abu Qatada explains. “In the sharia [Islamic law derived from the Quran and Hadith], there is a big difference between targeting civilians and targeting a military man, as with collateral damage, trying to reach a military target and the consequences of reaching a target.”

“No one announces that they target civilians, like the Russians did. This is not the act of a person of resistance or of ideology. This is an act of revenge. I cannot imagine an Islamist or a Palestinian who does this,” Abu Qatada states with what appears to be full sincerity, as I wonder where he was during the Palestinian second Intifada, when Palestinians were engaged in suicide bombings in crowded Israeli restaurants, nightclubs, and grocery stores. I find his stance on the issue surprising to say the least.

“I really thought about our talk,” he continues, appearing disturbed. “The people inside [Palestine] are more aware of things than me. They look at every [Israeli] man and woman as a military person. Israeli society is a military society. They look at the Jewish guys in Palestine as military guys.”

“I cannot imagine going against children,” he repeats.

What about beheading journalists like ISIS has done in recent years?” I ask, curious to know if he is willing to condemn such acts as terrorism as well.

This gets us off on a discussion of whether journalists are who they say they are, as Abu Qatada references what he calls, “the dirty work of the CIA.”

“[What] if you catch someone who says I’m one thing and is something else?” he asks. Yet, ISIS has assassinated numerous journalists who were highly unlikely to have been spies, James Foley being one of them, I tell Abu Qatada, also mentioning that I have met and spoken to his bereaved mother in person, hoping this human element will make him feel the horror of it.

“You judge a journalist as you judge a messenger,” Abu Qatada answers. “A messenger is never to be killed. But if there is a journalist who is really a soldier, he will be dealt with as a soldier.”

I press him on the journalist James Foley and Nicholas Berg, both beheaded by terrorists (ISIS and al Qaeda) in Iraq.

“I don’t know this issue. I didn’t study this issue,” Abu Qatada answers. He appears sincere in what he is saying. Perhaps he is so buried in his religious and political studies that he just blanks out all the violence carried out by those on his side?

“I understand the grudge and bitterness that is carried against the Americans,” Abu Qatada explains, kindly excluding me from that hatred, which makes me wonder if sharing my many experiences of being mistaken as a Palestinian in dealings with the Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza, and how I, too, felt under threat and sometimes felt the urge to fight back has somehow softened his heart these days when he is talking with us, or is this how he normally feels when it comes to terrorism. We are two women talking to him after all, I wonder if he is showing a softer side on these days for us, but it is not how he really feels? But it does not seem that way, as he continues to repeat himself.

“You can never kill civilians intentionally,” Abu Qatada stands firm in his statement. “Our battle is not with civilians. This is an indisputable rule.”

“Why do people around the world think you say something else?” I ask, dumbfounded to hear him disavow terrorism.

“No one has interviewed me,” Abu Qatada answers a smile crossing his face. “I expected to sit with you once only. Most come only once,” he states. This is our fourth time visiting Abu Qatada. With each visit, we have ensured that we do not overstay his welcome, but have talked with him for hours. Although considered the spiritual father of al-Qaeda in Europe, I cannot underestimate his wide range of knowledge on the most pressing global issues, not to mention his intellectual potency and immutability in character when it comes to narrating the story of human suffering, particularly as it pertains to Palestine and the Palestinians. He is clearly well read, follows politics closely, and has a fire inside for justice: “No one has heard of me and sat with me, except [when] he was stunned by what I said,” Abu Qatada explains as his friendly smile covers his face. “It’s a big propaganda [about me], ”he adds.

“Many reports credit you as having issued a fatwa to kill civilians in Algeria,” I say, letting the harsh words come out between us like the wood table that separates us as we talk. I am afraid it will anger him again, but better to get it all out in the open.

“What I said was…if the Algerian army used our women and children to pressure our fighters, the mujahideen are allowed to use the threat of killing their women and children, if they continue in this way,” Abu Qatada explains. “It was a battle to stop the ugly way of killing civilians if this battle continued. On this message it would not have continued,” he explains. “It was the reason to stop an ugly battle going on.”

“If the only way I can stop your killing my wife and children is by threatening to kill your wife and children, then so be it,” he explains, looking exacerbated at this point. “The reality of this fatwa was not to open the door to actual killing of women and children,” he explains.

“Sometimes a surgery will take you 15 minutes to do but will give you rest for the rest of your life,” Abu Qatada says, suddenly feeling defensive. He is obviously disturbed knowing that he many have repeatedly blamed him for the carnage that resulted after his fatwa was issued. It appears it was not his intent, as our conversation today indicates.

“My picture is an atom on the head of a needle compared to bombs dropped on a city to stop a war,” he says, while remaining defensive. “Were the Japanese killing women and children for the other side to threaten them?” he asks, and continues, “There is a difference between threatening to kill innocents and actually doing it.”

I decide to ask him what I asked Ahmad Sa’adat in a prison interview with him during the second Intifada, telling him to imagine I am dedicated to the “cause.” “I want to go bomb myself in Jerusalem for al Aqsa, will you give me your blessing?” I ask.

“No I won’t give you my blessing. I won’t give my blessing to kill a clear civilian,” he answers, again unequivocally and without hesitation denouncing terrorist acts aimed at innocents.

“Do you remember when the Palestinian groups started hijacking planes?” he asks. “ Wadie Haddad, [the Palestinian leader of the militant wing of the PFLP] was the architect. He was with George Habash [the founder of the PFLP]. They asked him why he was doing this? I want the world to hear the Palestinian message,’ he answered.”

“In this thing now,” Abu Qatada asks, “What will a civilian target accomplish for me now?”

“Even when the military targets a civilian target, it’s a loss from a military perspective,” he adds.

“So, 9-11, was it wrong?” I ask.

“I went to prison for 11 years because I answered a question that wasn’t right,” Abu Qatada fires back, referring to his time in British prisons. “I don’t like my answer to look like I want sympathy from Americans,” he demurs.

“If Hamas did something against civilians, if they went to a religious kids school [to attack it], is it up to me to condemn or to be hung?” Abu Qatada asks, placing the responsibility back on the group.

“There is an area of agreement between us, and all Muslims: that it is not allowed to kill women and children,” he explains. “We all agree on this, but in any dialogue, someone will come and tell me, I did this in different circumstances. This is a sub dialogue and could create an exception,” he states. Referring to when there are disagreements on exceptional cases, he adds, “This disagreement that will come out would not make me go towards my enemy. At the same time, to be honest, I will have no sympathy for my opponent. I cry for my family, my people.”

He further explains that it is important for him to show solidarity for his own people. “The sheiks, because of their positions, from certain times, they started sympathizing with the opponents of the nation; they went against those in the ummah who fight their enemies,” he explains. “I will not go against anything an Islamist did,” he adds.

“So you will not go against ISIS?” I ask.

“My problem with ISIS is that they killed Muslims,” Abu Qatada explains. “And I never said anything against them when they killed Muslims, he adds, reflecting how he doesn’t like to break ranks even when he fundamentally disagrees with [such] tactics and principles.

“My priority is my nation,” he continues. “I always want to be in sync with their feelings. I am not willing to upset Hamas or the mujahedeen in exchange for hand clapping by the West.”

I can see his point, but ask him all the same. “Does not a person of principle have to have his principles and openly state them?”

“My principle is to be on the side of my nation. If a Palestinian is listening to me saying I condemn the killing of James Foley, then what is this in comparison to what Human Rights Watch documents?”

I tell him that I see resemblance in his response to what Shamil Baseyev, a Chechen terrorist, admitted to a journalist after over 300 schoolchildren and their parents were killed in the 2004 Beslan siege. While he grudgingly admitted to being a terrorist in that interview, he also demanded that the journalist add Putin to his terrorist list, as an even worse terrorist, as Basayev killed over 300 while Putin killed 40,000 civilians in carpet bombing the capital of Chechnya. “Yet, his terrorists shot those children in their backs as they tried to escape,” I point out as Abu Qatada reaches out to his toddler granddaughter who has entered the room. She is adorable, with curly dark hair and a red dress.

“To take them as hostages to use them,” Abu Qatada states, referring to the Beslan children, then kisses his granddaughter on the head as she passes by. “There is a difference between using and killing the children,” he concludes. “I will be guilty if I show compassion,” he adds.

“But, is there right and wrong?” I press as my heart breaks that we are discussing such things while he is kissing his grandchild so sweetly.

“With my words, I cannot simplify 99 rights and concentrate on one wrong.

It will condemn all 99 rights,” Abu Qatada explains. “They [Westerners] will use our words against us,” he warns, while admitting, “We do have an internal debate, and it’s known that I don’t handle these debates.”

I remind him of how mercilessly the terrorists shot the children while attempting to flee the school during the Beslan siege. His granddaughter is running around our table as we talk, and I cannot wipe from my memory, while gazing at her pure innocence, the images of the bereaved parents I talked with—whose children had been killed there and the traumatized siblings who survived when their brothers and sisters did not.[ii]

“I’m 58 years old and I learned how to resist my emotions, even when I see a documentary of what happened to my opponents,” Abu Qatada answers. Everyone is sympathizing with our opponents. No one is sympathizing with us. I understand. You, as an American, want to be just in distributing your sympathies, but me as a Palestinian, I visit my father every two weeks, and he cannot sit with me once without talking to me about Palestine.”

“Sympathy is not the same as principles,” I press.

“I don’t own a media podium that will be equal to what my opponents have when I talk about the pain of my nation,” Abu Qatada explains. “But when I talk about what my brother does, the whole world will listen to it and use it? Which is about something that is right but reaches a wrong. You should not [judge] as the act itself but the end itself.” While what he is saying might read as “the end justifies the means”, he does not quite mean that. He proceeds to explain that he is referring to the possibility of his standing up for principles being used to delegitimize what he holds sacred, such as the Palestinian struggle, or the Muslim/Arab struggle, for that matter.

“When my word is being used, whether in right or wrong against my people,” Abu Qatada explains, while temporarily halting his speech. “I saw how people who made this type of mistake and were coopted into the fold of the opponent, whether they meant to be or not. We have a saying: don’t hang your dirty laundry outside. Don’t do that especially now, when we are at the point of weakness. He goes on to explain that he does not want his words condemning attacks on civilians to be twisted against the Palestinian or the greater Muslim struggle, especially when he feels that instead of his call for a reordering—even if by armed struggle, if necessary—to bring justice to both, only that particular sound bite will be extracted from his many statements,

“Once I am able to reach out my word to the nation’s enemies in the same strength as my opponent is using against my brothers, then I can speak out,” he comments

“It’s not a question that just happened now,’ he continues. “The whole time I was in prison [in the UK] it was the same. I could have gone out in public and condemned 9-11… and become a hero, well known…and obtained UK nationality, among others. I didn’t accept it. It would be a betrayal.”

“When a nation is in a battle, you must balance what you should and should not say,” he metaphorically encapsulates his reticence to publicly condemn terrorism at this point in time. “When things are more relaxed, it’s the time to talk. It’s dumb to give your opponent a weapon,” Abu Qatada concludes.

Drinking coffee together, we end our chat with Abu Qatada. We drive away trying to make sense of the so-called spiritual father of al Qaeda in Europe apparently being against attacks against innocent civilians or terrorism essentially. We wait to hear if he will deny having said it or quietly accept his words in print—hopefully not used to harm the legitimate bases of his cause in any way.

Reference for this Article: Speckhard, Anne (February 14, 2018) Another face of Abu Qatada: Speaking on the Principle of Terrorism. ICSVE Research Reportshttp://www.icsve.org/research-reports/another-face-of-abu-qatada-speaking-on-the-principle-of-terrorism/

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Terrorism

Qatar and the Terrorism Blame Game

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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Authors: Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. & Ardian Shajkovci, Ph.D.

Between January 19, 2018 and January 24, 2018, a delegation of researchers and academics from the U.S. think-tanks and non-profit organizations, which also included researchers from the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE), paid a visit to Qatar to meet the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Defense, the Governor of the Central Bank of Qatar, academics, and other high-level and leading figures of Qatar to shed light on the recently imposed sanctions on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), Bahrain, and Egypt, citing the Qatari government’s alleged support for terrorism.

Doha The dispute between Qatar and the powerful Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), Egypt and Bahrain continues to attract public attention. The diplomatic and economic blockade imposed on Qatar by the aforementioned four countries stems from the allegations that Qatar is meddling in the internal affairs of its neighboring states. Tensions have arisen especially in light of charges that it supports the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, Hamas, and al-Qaeda affiliates, as well as for its relationship with Iran.

The Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt remains a polarizing factor in most of the Gulf States, notably inSaudi Arabia, Egypt, and the U.A.E.. Following the toppling of Hussni Mobarak’s regime in 2011, Qatar poured billions of dollars in support of the Brotherhood-led government in Egypt. Following the 2013 crackdown against the Brotherhood members in Egypt, leading to the group being outlawed and designated by Egypt as a terrorist organization, Qatar continues to be criticized by Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., and Egypt for providing a safe haven and citizenship to Islamist renegades, including members of the Brotherhood, from other Gulf Countries.

Qatar is also criticized of supporting Hamas, a Palestinian offshoot of the Brotherhood in Gaza.It has repeatedly been accused of pouring billions of dollars into the Gaza strip, largely investing in infrastructure, building hospitals and creating jobs, despite it being under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.The growing clashes between Shia militants and the Saudi security forces in the east of Saudi Arabia, the fight against Iranian-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen, and the 2011 uprising by the majority Shia population in Bahrain are all charged in part to Qatar and its alleged support for anti-government militias in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Bahrain.

While it is true that Qatar is a supporter of groups like Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and the fact that such support serves as prime focal point in linking Qatar’s alleged terror- support and terror-funding schemes, things may not be as simple as they seem.

Amidst other accusations directed against Qatar was the distrust over its state-funded broadcaster in Doha, al Jazeera, which is seen by the blockading countries as a purveyor of extremism. The accusations against al Jazeera are longstanding and have been made for years by many countries. For instance, it faced criticism by Saudi Arabia and other blockading countries for its coverage of the Arab Spring and unfavorable portrayal of monarchies and governments in the Middle East. In the past, prior to the age of social media, terrorist groups wanting to air their messages would turn to al Jazeera (surreptitiously providing video tapes to the channel). Chechens holding 800 hostages in the 2001 siege of the Dubrovka Moscow theater, for instance, did so, as has Al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden. Nowadays, terrorists upload their messages directly to the Internet and rely on their social media networks to distribute them, but in reality, by such measure, nearly all news media outlets could be considered guilty of providing platforms for violent extremist and terrorist groups, including ISIS, to distribute their messages, as these same uploaded messages are replayed on most major Western news channels as well.

While the English broadcasting version of al Jazeera does not serve as a platform for extremism, some non-Qatari citizens offer claim that the Arabic version gives an undue platform to extremists. In a non-scientific polling of a small sample of Iraqi, Jordanian, Moroccan, Lebanese, Syrian and Arab speaking American, French, and Belgian viewers to understand al Jazeera’s role in spreading extremism, ICSVE researchers found varying sentiments, from strongly worded responses such as “the Qatari owned network is a podium for spreading extremism” and that “it has certain shows which inflame the public opinion and influences the minds of youth” to more measured statements that it “sometimes gives an opportunity to some extremists to express their opinion, much like mainstream Western media might let a far-right or racist white supremacist speak.” One respondent stated that the channel “allowed terrorists a podium, but with a bit of toning it could also be used to expose terrorists and maybe pave way for dialogue.” Others believe that “al Jazeera is covering different sides and point of views that some people don’t want to see.” One respondent noted, “Al Jazeera is like CNN over Trump… they concentrate for or against, according to the emir’s will.” One respondent noted that during the 2003 U.S.-led Coalition invasion of Iraq al Jazeera provided counter balancing coverage to Western media’s coverage of the same. Perhaps most tellingly, one Arab respondent pointed out that al Jazeera may be considered tame in comparison to Saudi Arabia’s al Arabia, and many of the other regionally sponsored networks.

In any case, al Jazeera may be the most pressing and challenging issue for Qatari leadership. Using their state- owned television station to poke at their neighboring countries in ways that their neighbor’s leadership finds highly irritating, if not threatening, is challenging indeed. For a television station that holds as its motto, “Giving voice to the voiceless,” supported by a country that is less fearful of the changes happening throughout the Arab world, it may be too willing to voice opinions that other neighboring countries simply do not want supported. For instance, when the Arab Spring of 2011 sent shock waves throughout the region, giving millions of Arabs hopes for regime change and democratic governance, al Jazeera was giving these events full coverage.

While the blockading countries of Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Bahrain sought to erect a seawall barricading their regimes from the popular wave of change emanating from the Arab Spring, the Qatari government stood more patient; it was more content to wait for events to progress naturally, and towards more democratic forms of governance, as pointed out by Qatari government officials, while not fearing for their own regime’s downfall. Moreover, through the Arab Spring, and even before it, Qatar has supported and allowed for al Jazeera, the state-funded broadcaster in Doha, which officials claim to be quasi-independent, to criticize the records and policies of neighboring states on human rights and other issues, infuriating and causing them to fear a popular backlash.

The government of Qatar confident in its own popular support was not opposed to the groundswell of popular demand for regime change when it resulted in Egypt’s Mubarak and Tunisia’s Abidine Ben Ali being ousted, and democratic elections held to allow the people to choose their own leaders. The political win by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt caused concern among those who feared that the Brotherhood’s Islamists aspirations could lead to a dismantling of the very democratic processes that had brought them to power, but Qatar did not share that worry.

While other nations stood back watching to see what would happen, Qatar stood by the Muslim Brotherhood, allowing them access to the media via the Qatari network of al Jazeera and by giving them large tranches of financial support to help them continue to govern. Yet, in Egypt, the political elites and the military conspired against the Muslim Brotherhood, resulting in the 2013 military coup that ousted and labeled their group as terrorists, with a non-elected government coming to power, at least temporarily. Al Jazeera was kicked out of the country. Its journalists were arrested. Qatar ended up taking Muslim Brotherhood exiles into their nation, and in many cases providing them with Qatari citizenship.

In defense of his country’s policies in regard to the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatari Ambassador Mutlaq al Qahtani, the Special Envoy for Qatar’s Foreign Minister, responded that “Qatar’s position is to respect the will of the people in regard to who rules them.” The Ambassador further noted that neither the U.S. State Department nor the United Nations have designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group. Given Qatar’s stance on respecting the will of the people in choosing their political destiny, as well as their deep desire to see a stable Egypt progressing through the Arab Spring, Qatar gave the Muslim Brotherhood their full support following the fall of Mubarak and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood into power through democratic elections, despite angering its neighbors for such actions, the Ambassador noted. He also pointed out that “Washington works with the Taliban, which is recognized by the U.N. Security Council as a terrorist group” whereas Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood are not designated, so we don’t have issues; yet we get accused.”

The United Arab Emirates has a particular quarrel with Qatar over the Muslim Brotherhood, as its members were accused of trying to overthrow the Emirati government. The wife of an Emirati opposition leader seeking asylum in Doha served as the crucial nerve-point leading to the quarrel and aggressive attacks against one another in the media, and even served as one of the primary reasons for the blockade, according to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al Thani. Her case has caused a quarrel between the two countries over the demand by the U.A.E. to extradite her and Qatar’s refusal to do so.

Citing both legal and Islamic traditions, Qatari officials commented that she was there on political asylum and not guilty of any crimes, and as a woman, Qatari officials would not be willing to turn her over against her will to a country that might imprison or otherwise harm her. When ICSVE director was in the U.A.E. this past month, Emirati government officials cited Qatar as harboring Muslim Brotherhood members from other countries, and even providing them with passports to enable their travel abroad. While some view such actions as highly irritating, including Egypt and the U.A.E., among others, Qatari officials adamantly deny such actions as constituting  support for known terrorists or terrorist groups. In fact, officials cite the 2012 legitimate and overwhelming victories of Islamist parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, in post-Mubarak parliamentary elections.

Qatar’s position seems to be no different than the other Arab countries in standing firm for a solution with Israel and seeing Hamas both as a legitimate political force and governing party, much like many others now see Hezbollah. Similar to other Arab States, Qatar allows Palestinian refugees to reside in their countries, but fails to provide them with passports, continuing to insist on their right of return. A jeep driver who gave us a great ride and amazing adrenaline rush barreling over cliffs in the sand dunes outside of Doha shared his experiences of having been born in Qatar but still unable to obtain citizenship due to his Palestinian citizenship.

Qatari diplomats insist on Israel adhering to U.N. resolutions and finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Qatar being firmly in favor of a two-state solution. Qatar does not officially recognize Israel, though Qatari officials do not deny having diplomatic relations with Israel which indirectly recognize their statehood, such as in the case of having a Qatari official serving in Jerusalem and in charge of funneling humanitarian aid that is approved by Israel, through Israeli territory into Gaza, to rebuild the war-torn area.

While Qatar is accused by its neighbors of supporting terrorists, the United States Air Force is comfortably hosted at al al-Udeid Air Base, which serves as a main operations and logistical hub for the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) areas of operation. The General and Colonels we met with, who lived off base in Doha with their spouses and children, said that the cooperation between the two countries was crucial for the U.S. Air Force to act at peak performance supporting missions as far away as Afghanistan and in providing air support and supplies for the fight against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. One of the Qatari officials cited Qatar’s financial support for the expansion of the base and their intention to build a school and community there, although U.A.E. officials have countered by offering to build the same facility to replace the al-Udeid Air Base on Emirati soil.

Most of the military members we spoke to at al-Udeid airbase had children who attended the international school in Doha. Their parents remarked that their children were mixing with members of the royal family and that everyone felt safe in Qatar and there was no sense of hostility against the presence of U.S. troops, which was very positive for all of them. While there has been at least one incident of an attempted attack on the airbase, involving a man with a Kalashnikov trying to enter the base in 2001, the U.S. military credited the Qatari security forces with having a tight hold on who enters their country and for what purpose. It is also noteworthy that Qatar was responsible for brokering the prisoner swap to free U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network and helped free American writer Peter Theo Curtis from al Nusra.

Qatari officials stressed that some of the reasons behind the blockade were jockeying between the regional players for influence as well as jealousy over Qatar’s wealth and ability to pour resources into their global efforts. Indeed, Qatar is a wealthy state.

While the blockade has caused deep concern for Qatari officials, they seem to be weathering the storm quiet well. The Governor of the Central Bank of Qatar, Abdulla bin Saoud al-Thani, expressed enthusiasm about the country’s economy and investment funds in general, although some financial experts we spoke to pointed out a mass flight of capital from the bank—that is, Saudis and other blockading country citizens withdrawing their cash, in the early days of the blockade. One of the solutions was to call upon Qatari citizens living abroad to repatriate their money, which many did out of patriotic concern and nationalistic ardor.

The Central Bank of Qatar officials also pointed out that since 9-11, they have significantly tightened controls on money flowing out of the country, particularly by allowing only two organizations (The Qatar Charity and the Red Crescent) to wire funds or make cash disbursements outside of the country. Yet, banks are not the only way in which one can hinder flows across international financial networks when it comes to terrorism, nor hinder the way in which terrorist groups and militias are financed. A case in point is when a party of 26 Qatari falconers—some from the royal family—were taken hostage in southern Iraq in 2015 by a Shia militia, Qatar flew millions of U.S. dollars to buy their freedom, calling some to question where the money went and whether it was an appropriate response. Iraqi intelligence officials, however, informed ICSVE researchers that the plane load of money from Qatar was intercepted by Iraqi intelligence officers. The hostages were ultimately freed through Iraqi brokering and  the money remains in a frozen account.

Accusations have also been made about how al Nusra and ISIS managed to finance themselves in their first days of their formation following the uprising against Syrian President Assad. In fact, both Saudi Arabia and Qatar are accused of supporting Ahrar al-Sham, an organization with direct ties to Al-Qaeda. Stories abound about Sunni Arab businessmen sending money to Sunni Syrians trying to stand up against Assad’s atrocities, including one told to us from a high-level U.S. diplomat of Kuwaiti businessmen sending large sums of money to arm the rebels. In the early years of the Syrian uprising, journalists uncovered money trails moving via Turkey to Syria, through payments made to President Erdogan, and then passed to Sunni rebel groups. There are allegations that Qatar, too, was involved in these payments. Arguably, even the U.S. was part of such concerned parties scrambling to find the correct partners to arm and fund in the uprising against Assad.

Concerns have been voiced as well about where U.S. money and guns might have ended up in Iraq and Syria. In discussing specifically about the arms that were supplied to ISIS and other violent extremist groups by both internal and external actors, Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs pointed out that even American weapons made it into the hands of such groups. Namely, he stressed that in a chaotic war situation where factions rapidly shift and switch loyalties, it can be difficult to know who to arm. He also noted that ISIS captured many of their weapons from competing factions. Indeed, ISIS defectors interviewed by ICSVE researchers cited instances of having to unwrap new weapons from their cellophane protectors and receiving large weapon supplies from many unknown sources and donors, as well as capturing massive supplies of arms from Assad’s troops. When it comes to terrorism financing, Qataris have prosecuted those identified of terrorism financing, although their exact sentences are not known given these facts are not made public.

Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs, al Thani, also noted that Qatar has joined the military theaters of operation in Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and that it was helping to train and arm the rebels alongside the Turks, Arabs and Americans, further noting, the “Red line is ISIS and al Nusra, but we helped the regular groups that are not designated as terrorists. When we [along with other nations] helped establish the Free Syrian Army, we worked very hard to unite them.” However, he stated that things changed with Russia’s involvement, and many seeing Syria as occupied by foreign powers, with the war being one of liberation.

Regarding the future of Syria, the Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs remained steadfast about supporting the will of the Syrian people: “We want it to look like what the people want.” When asked about the possibility of Assad remaining in power, he stated, “Assad did even more crimes than ISIS committed. So, how can we tolerate to deal with a war criminal as a leader in the area? Then we create a precedent for this?”

When one examines the numbers of Qataris who joined the conflicts in Syria and Iraq as foreign fighters, the total numbers are small, with reports varying depending on cited statistics, from 8 to 15 total, whereas neighboring Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Tunisia had thousands of foreign fighters. Ambassador Qahtani explained that the high numbers of foreign fighters coming from Jordan and Tunisia are a direct result of dictatorship, while stating that the few Qataris who joined the conflicts in Syria went after viewing on the media, as he put it, “our people [Sunnis] being killed and feeling hopeless. Qataris went for humanitarian reasons and then got manipulated on the ground,” he explained. Indeed, this echoes what ICSVE researchers have repeatedly heard of those who joined the Syrian conflicts early on from many places around the world.

As alliances in the region shift, particularly in light of the blockade, concerns have been raised about the new nexus of power arising out of Qataris isolation from the blockading countries, including Qatar’s increasingly close relationship to Turkey and Iran. When asked whether there are any such concerns related to Qatar gravitating towards Iran in pursuit of its geo-political and economic goals, a U.S. military leader at the al-Udeid base we spoke to pointed out that it likely made their base safer—Iran would be unlikely to attack a base located on the territory of their ally. In addition to launching a huge airpower build up, such as through the purchase of dozens of Typhoon fighters and Boeing F-15QAs, among others, and pumping up their military capacities and offering more support to the American troops located at the al-Udeid Army Base, Qataris have also extended their hospitality to Turkish troops who have requested an increased presence in the region. In addressing the influx of Turkish troops in Qatar for joint training exercises and Qatari capacity building, many of the Qatari officials pointed out that the Turks had explored possibilities of locating their presence in Saudi Arabia first. They also mentioned that Turkey, at least for the moment, remains a key NATO member and an American ally.

While the blockade may seem to outsiders a case of serious sibling rivalry among Arab royals, or a case of the pot calling the kettle black, in Qatar there were some serious concerns about a military invasion and change of regime being forced as a result. Khalid Bin Mohammad Al Attiyah, Qatari Defense Minister, cited his and his country’s concerns that Saudi Arabia felt emboldened to move against Qatar after their November 2017 successful hosting of President Donald Trump and the negotiation of a large investment in the United States that ensued. “We were very worried about an imminent invasion, but three things warded it off,” the Defense Minister explained. The first was “Turkish President Recep Erdogan endorsing deployment with Qatar on our behalf; this scared them [the blockading nations]. The second was, “They [the blockading nations] also thought that the Europeans will align behind them, but they did not, Germany only, then France and Italy and then the U.S. [failed to join]. Lastly, they also thought the U.S. was with them but ignored that the U.S. is an institutional nation.”

While President Trump at first appeared to agree with the blockading nations, he later reconsidered his position, and in fact, most Western countries have made it clear that the blockade should stop as it is likely illegal from an international law point of view.

The threat of military escalation continues with Emirati jets accused of violating Qatari airspace and the counter accusation of Qatari jets buzzing an Emirati passenger jet flying on the border of their airspace. Qatar’s Defense Minister stated that the official position of Qatar was to arrest and return foreign fisherman found violating Qatari waters to their home countries, although they were angered to find on one such boat five Emirati troops. “Two days ago, the boat came from Bahrain, a bigger size, and military people from the U.A.E. were on the boat. It was not a mistake,” the Defense Minister explained. He went on to explain that there are absolutely no direct military or other communications between Qatar and the blockading countries. “In the Cold War there were back doors, but not in our case. We are totally in dark,” he noted.

Despite the aggravation, however, Qataris seem to feel more confident in their alliances with Turkey and the United States, while also citing the prospects for increased alliance with Iran and Russia—alliances strengthened over feelings of necessity. During the briefing on the topic, Director of Communication at the Ministry of Defense, Lt. Col. Nawaf al Thani noted that he had just received a Reuters report of the Emiratis warning their pilots to not escalate the military tensions.

During a visit to Education City in the heart of Doha, where the campuses of Northwestern, Georgetown, and several other prominent U.S. universities are housed, one cannot help but notice an interesting trend. Students from the blockading countries stayed in country and continued their enrollment uninterrupted, although they are now inconvenienced to travel indirectly when they visit home. Equally interesting is the fact that both Emiratis and Bahrainis have passed laws making it illegal and punishable offenses for those residing in their respective countries to express support for Qatar. Qatari websites are also suppressed in Abu Dhabi, as noted by some of the respondents during our visit to Qatar’s Education City, yet professors and students in Qatar shared that these issues are discussed openly, that free speech and academic freedom is practiced and encouraged on the campus.

Aside from fearing a military invasion, Qataris who were in the middle of observing the holy month of Ramadan, which according to Qatari officials represents a peak food consumption period, were faced with immediate food shortages. Their neighboring countries slammed land barriers and ports down, forcing Qataris to rely on new and more expensive alternatives, such as supply chains for milk and products not normally farmed or produced inside Qatar. Officials cited their resilience, while proudly joking about the herd of “first class cows” that were shipped into the country by air and now housed in air-conditioned barns to resupply the milk and dairy chain. Likewise, Hamad Port, located south of Doha, was officially opened in September of last year. They also began to rely on the Omani port of Sohar. While Qatar now supplies much of its food from Turkey and Iran, they also began high-tech food production inside the country and expect to continue, stating that the blockade in many ways forced them to bolster their self- reliance. “We are now 60 to 70% self-producing and self-sufficient,” the Governor of the Central Bank of Qatar proudly stated.

With the continued cooperation between the U.S. and Qatar it is interesting to consider the different perspectives that are taken by Qatar and the U.S. in regard to fighting terrorism. As Ambassador al Qahtani, explained, “The Qatari perspective is that we focus on root causes of terrorism and violent extremism, whereas Americans often focus on military solutions but underestimate the local drivers of ongoing conflicts, which include dictatorship, poverty, and exclusion.” He went on to explain that Qatar’s answer to terrorism has three prongs: education, aiming to provide educations for 60 million children globally (with Qatar currently providing education for 10 million children in 40 countries); economic empowerment and initiatives that provide employment opportunities for young men and women (having achieved this for 2 million persons, a majority from Jordan, Tunisia, including Saudis, but also aiming to provide job opportunities in Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi and Yemen); and engaging in preventing conflict and preventative diplomacy.

Indeed, these are important issues that require attention. Soft power approaches are badly needed alongside the heavy U.S. kinetic focus. Ambassador Qahtani underlined that, “the U.S. is a strategic partner of Qatar and we have ongoing dialogue with them,” referring to the upcoming high level Strategic Dialogue meetings occurring between the two countries in Washington, D.C. this week. “Of course, we need the military defeat of Daesh, winning the war in Syria and Iraq, but we also need to defeat the ideology and to tackle root causes. Addressing root causes has another timeline for success,” the Ambassador noted, stating Qatar’s pride about being a founding partner, funder and only Muslim country on the board of the G-CERF, an organization devoted to tackling root causes of terrorism.

Historically speaking, Washington has long been frustrated with its Gulf counterparts, including Qatar, for not taking a stronger stance when it comes to combating terrorism financing. While some Middle Eastern experts would argue that when it comes to the Middle East, terrorism financing is a function of regional socio-political dynamics and carefully crafted strategic calculations, the issue remains serious, nonetheless. The concerns over state and private support for terrorism are particularly egregious to Americans knowing that Israel has suffered long at the hands of Hamas. The ties and friendship with Iran also raises serious concerns.

Qatar’s support for Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, remains the crucial nerve-point leading to the quarrel among Qatar and the blockading states. While domestically Qatar’s support for such groups during the Arab Spring might have served to echo Qatar’s determination to respect the will of the people and push for a more progressive stance towards Islamist groups in the region, the question remains if, as suggested by some analysts, Qatar can continue to use them as a counterbalance or shield against its regional neighbors—and if so, at what cost?

Government officials stressed the important role of al-Jazeera in promoting media pluralism and media transparency. Al-Jazeera is seen as a powerful voice in swaying Arab public opinion—and doing it in both English and Arabic. It also serves to promote a diversity of cultural expressions, as noted by some respondents. While al-Jazeera continues to face backlash by the blockading countries, primarily Saudi Arabia, it remains defiant. Arguably, al-Jazeera is there to stay—at least for some time to come, as are the other regionally sponsored networks. Perhaps removing content that plays directly into extremist hands and lends support to violent narratives, without encroaching on its editorial freedom, could be one way to deal with it.

Although the extent to which the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar support radical or violent extremist groups in Syria remain debatable and subject to verification—both are accused of supporting Ahrar al-Sham, an organization with direct ties to Al-Qaeda. The ongoing dispute between the two countries could in fact undermine finances to the Syrian opposition and therefore weaken efforts to oust Syrian President Assad. In addition, the ongoing dispute between Qatar and the blockading countries could have repercussions beyond the domestic policies of such countries and endanger U.S. operations in the Middle East as well.

The fact that Qatar hosts a major U.S. military base, with over 11,000 U.S. and coalition troops deployed there, goes to show that the U.S. provides it with existential security. Qataris are showing a strong desire to be upright allies of the United States and to stand firm with our allies in the global fight against terrorism. The recently signed U.S.- Qatari memorandum of understanding on anti-terrorism financing and Qatar’s legal amendments to its domestic anti-terrorism financing laws, including the upcoming January 30th, 2018, meeting between the U.S. President Trump and the high-level Qatari delegation comprised of Qatar’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Finance, and Defense, among others, remains promising for the future Qatari-U.S. relationship.

Overall, Qatar seems to live up to its commitments to fight terrorism. That said, the continued standoff between Qatar and the blockading states, unless resolved soon, may have a direct impact on the U.S. and the interests of its allies in the fight against terrorism in the region and globally, a reason we may wish to help broker an end to the blockade.

Reference for this article: Speckhard, Anne & Shajkovci, Ardian (January 29, 2018) Qatar and the Terrorism Blame Game. ICSVE Research Reports

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