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2003 News

Saudi Suspects Accused of Hijack Plot

.c The Associated Press

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Saudi police detained three suspected al-Qaida members who were plotting to hijack a plane, possibly to use in a suicide attack reminiscent of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, police officials and diplomats said Wednesday.

The report - which was denied by the Saudi interior minister - coincided with the release of a new audiotape purportedly by the No. 2 man in al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahri, calling for new Sept. 11-type attacks.

``Consider your 19 brothers who attacked America in Washington and New York with their planes as an example,'' said the speaker on the tape, excerpts of which were aired by the Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera.

The voice resembled al-Zawahri's, judging from previous audiotapes and videotapes attributed to the Egyptian militant and key aid to Osama bin Laden. A U.S. official in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it is plausible that the speaker was al-Zawahri, but a thorough technical analysis is necessary before authorities can be certain.

The report of the alleged hijacking plot came as Saudi Arabia was on alert for new terror attacks after May 12 suicide car bombings at three residential compounds in Riyadh killed 34 people, including nine attackers.

Saudi security officials said Wednesday that three detained Moroccans had been plotting to hijack a plane headed from the western Saudi port of Jiddah to Sudan. The officials did not say if there was a plot to use the plane as a missile, as al-Qaida did in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Later Wednesday, state television interrupted its broadcast to quote the interior minister, Prince Nayef, as saying the hijack report had ``no basis in truth.'' Nayef, who is in charge of police, said only two Moroccans wanted for unspecified ``previous security issues'' were arrested.

However, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said after meeting Foreign Minister Prince Saud that the prince had told him that three men were arrested in Jiddah.

Downer said that Saud had told him that ``May 12 has been the Saudi equivalent of Sept. 11 and it has really harnessed the energy of the country to stop terrorism.''

``It was in that context that he (Saud) mentioned that they had recently arrested three people in Jiddah,'' Downer told reporters. ``He did say that three people had been arrested (in Jiddah) and he used that as an illustration of how the people of Saudi Arabia have been stung into action by what happened on the 12 of May.''

The discrepancy between two and three arrests could not immediately be explained.

The Saudi security officials said the Moroccans were arrested Monday amid a sweep following the Riyadh bombings, but it was unclear whether investigators believe the three were connected to those attacks. Four other suspects were in custody for the car bombings in the capital.

Nawaf Obaid, a private Saudi oil security analyst with close contacts to the Saudi government, said the three were part of a larger cell that was ``in the process of carrying out suicide attacks against landmarks in the kingdom.''

Authorities have linked the Riyadh attacks to al-Qaida, though Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah cautioned in a newspaper interview that he had no solid information about a connection.

The new audiotape attributed to al-Zawahri lashed out at Arab governments that helped the United States in the war on Iraq, mentioning, among others, Saudi Arabia.

It also called for attacks on Jews and American interests. ``Oh Muslims, take your decision against the embassies of America, England, Australia and Norway, their interests, their companies and their employees,'' the speaker said. ``Turn the earth under their feet into fire.''

Britain was the United States' main partner in the war on Iraq, and Australia contributed troops. Norway did not take part in the Iraq fighting, but provided special forces and other support in the war that dislodged al-Qaida from Afghanistan.

The Australian foreign minister told reporters in Riyadh that ``it will take a long time to finish off al-Qaida. There is an al-Qaida threat, there have been al-Qaida attacks recently and al-Qaida still exists.''

Saudi leaders and those of the other five members of the Gulf Cooperation Council met in Riyadh and called for ``intensifying international efforts to fight and eradicate terrorism.''

Saudi Arabia was hardening security after warnings of new terror plots, and U.S. authorities raised the national terror alert level.

Britain, Germany and Italy joined the United States in closing diplomatic offices in Saudi Arabia for at least a few days starting Wednesday. Police patrolled Riyadh in camouflaged vehicles Wednesday and erected concrete barriers in front of major hotels.

Al-Hamra compound, one of the three hit May 12, was heavily fortified, with a police checkpoint on the approaching road about 50 yards from the main gate. Cars entering the compound had to first wend their way through massive concrete blocks and stop for security officers to check their trunks, under their hoods and scan the underside of the car with mirrors. Police armed with semiautomatic weapons stood watch nearby as drivers and passengers were questioned.

A Saudi official said Tuesday that investigators were aware of about 50 militants, some now dead, believed to belong to three Saudi terror cells, including the one that carried out the May 12 bombings. Another cell has fled Saudi Arabia and the third is at large in the kingdom, the official said.

The official indicated the survivors were ready to volunteer for more suicide strikes, were tied to al-Qaida and had hard-core sympathizers numbering ``in the low hundreds.''

Investigators from the FBI and other U.S. agencies were helping investigate the May 12 bombings. CIA Director George Tenet paid a brief visit Riyadh on Tuesday, a U.S. Embassy official said. He declined to say whom Tenet met and what they discussed.

05/21/03 18:14 EDT


Some Saudis Urge Government to Crack Down

.c The Associated Press

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Some Saudis are starting to call on their government to crack down on extremist Islamic clerics, long tolerated within the religious establishment, after the synchronized suicide attacks that brought terrorism to the heart of the Saudi capital.

The royal family is signaling it may see the need to act. Three radical clerics who publicly praised Islamic militants believed linked to this week's bombings are in hiding, sought by the government.

Since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, some Americans have criticized the Saudi government, blaming the country's strict version of Islam for breeding militants like al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Now some Saudis are making a linkage between hard-line clerics and extremist violence.

``It's now a matter of the survival of the nation and society,'' said Turki al-Hamad, a writer and columnist. ``If the government treats the attacks as an isolated incident, the other side will consider it a weakness on the government's part, and the militants' hand will be strengthened.''

Only days before Monday night's attacks, three clerics - Ali al-Khudair, Nasser al-Fahd and Ahmad al-Khalidi - posted an Internet statement justifying help for a group of 19 suspected militants, some of whom had earlier escaped after a gunbattle with Saudi police.

``They are some of the best mujahedeen (holy warriors) and virtuous devout men ... who have offered their lives, money and blood to God almighty and fought the spiteful Crusaders in Afghanistan with heroism,'' the clerics wrote.

Now Saudi investigators believe some of the 19 had a hand the coordinated attacks against housing compounds for Western expatriates in Riyadh that killed at least 34 people Monday night.

It wasn't the first time the three clerics called for support of militants: They had long been known for their sympathy for al-Qaida and the Taliban.

``This is what annoys us,'' said Jamal Khashoggi, editor of the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan. ``They were known for their fanatic ideas and yet they were left alone.''

Khashoggi hopes the Riyadh attacks will mark a turning point in the thinking of Saudi rulers - an end to the blind eye toward radicals, and even a change in the implicit contract that has structured the kingdom.

``We have to stop talking about the need for reform and actually start it, particularly in education. Otherwise, what happened here on Monday night could be the beginning of a war that leads to the Talibanization of our society,'' Sulaiman Al-Hattlan, a columnist for Al-Watan and post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard, wrote in an article on the opinion page of Thursday's New York Times.

In return for support from clerics of the austere Wahhabi sect of Islam, the Saudi royal family has given Islamists a free hand in social matters.

All women have to be covered in black cloaks in public. The sexes are not allowed to mix. Women cannot drive. They cannot get an education, travel or work without permission from a male guardian. And a big chunk of the school curriculum is devoted to religious studies, some of which encourage a rejection of non-Muslims.

Khashoggi links that social fanaticism to anti-Western violence.

``You begin by getting angry at women revealing their faces, Barbie dolls and satellite dishes and then you move into killing others,'' he said.

Since this week's bombings, Saudi leaders have hinted that radical clerics will no longer have a free rein.

Crown Prince Abdullah vowed to ``put an end'' to those who were behind the attacks and said those who promote ``ideas that feed'' the militants should meet the same fate.

The Saudi interior minister, Prince Nayef, followed up with a stern warning. ``We will not remain idle and watch certain religious figures who instigate violence by issuing edicts branding certain people as infidels,'' he told the Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat. ``We will hold them responsible for their words and deeds.''

The government has proved it can crack down on extremists. Last year, it shut down the Islamist agency in charge of girls' education, shocking most Saudis who had thought the royal family would never touch such a venerable institution.

The action was taken after a fire at a girls' school that resulted in the death of 15 students in a stampede.

It also recently fired several hundred of the kingdom's more than 100,000 mosque preachers for their extremist sermons. And it has closed several foreign offices of a large charity group and changed its board.

``They're sincere and earnest in their efforts to root out al-Qaida,'' said U.S. Ambassador Robert Jordan.

But al-Hamad, the writer, cautioned: ``It will be a long war.''

An Internet statement Wednesday signed only ``Islamic warriors'' was addressed to Abdullah, his family and his government, vowing to ``blow up your institutions and your palaces over your heads.''

``We are the ones who proved to the whole world that we are people of action not words,'' the statement said. ``Do you, stupid people, understand or will the horrendous sound of explosions, of which we have plenty, make you understand?''

Some militant figures make extensive use of the Internet, which affords the fanatics a platform to incite and spread their radical messages.

Three months ago, an unsigned fatwa, or religious edict, appeared on the Internet urging Saudi Muslims not to take up residence near compounds that are home to non-Saudis, including Westerners, said lawyer Mohsen al-Awajy.

Another group - calling itself al-Mowahedoon, Arabic for ``the monotheists,'' a term used by Wahhabi followers - issued its first statement on the Internet on May 8. It espoused ridding the Arabian Peninsula of Jews and Christians and waging holy war against ``infidels,'' said the Saudi Information Agency, a U.S.-based Saudi opposition group.

Observers say the clerics do not have a large following, but that does not mean they're weak.

``Their fatwas flood the Internet,'' said al-Awajy, spokesman for a new group, Global Campaign for Resisting Aggression, that advocates the peaceful defense of Muslim rights. ``This means that the ground is very fertile for these plants to grow even if we admit that these are not nice plants.''

Several factors have made the ground fertile: an increased hostility toward the United States spurred by the Palestinian uprising and the war on Iraq, an unemployment rate estimated at 15-30 percent and corruption in the royal family.

Khashoggi, in an Al-Watan editorial, said the government should see Monday's attacks, which fell on the 11th of the Muslim month Rabia al-Awal, in the way Washington saw the Sept. 11 attacks: as the beginning of a new era.

``Just as their (Americans') world changed that day, our world changed that night and we should get ready for what's coming,'' wrote Khashoggi.

05/15/03 18:14 EDT


Brigitte Bardot criticises Muslims in a new book.

PARIS, May 14 (Reuters) - French actress and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot has landed in hot water again with anti-racism campaigners after criticising Muslims in a new book.

Anti-racist group MRAP and the Human Rights League both said they were filing a complaint in court against Bardot, 68, for remarks made in her book, "A Scream in the Silence."

In the book, she wrote: "I am against the Islamisation of France. For centuries our forefathers...our fathers gave their lives to chase all successive invaders from France."

France, home to some five million Muslims, is in the midst of a fierce debate over the wearing of the traditional Muslim headscarf in the country's secular schools.

In 1997 and 1998, Bardot was convicted of inciting racial hatred and fined a total of 30,000 francs ($5,400) in published criticism of Arab customs and the role of Islam in France.

In her first television interview in seven years on Monday, Bardot defended her comments, saying she was not ashamed of her opinions.

Bardot, who starred in classics including "And God Created Woman," put her film career behind her 30 years ago to concentrate on her role as an animal rights activist, starting the Brigitte Bardot Foundation in 1986.


91 Killed in Saudi Arabia Terror Blasts

.c The Associated Press

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Attackers shot their way into three housing compounds in synchronized strikes in the Saudi capital and then set off multiple suicide car bombs, killing 91 people, including seven Americans, officials reported Tuesday.

In Washington, a State Department official put the total dead at 91, but gave no breakdown by nationality.

Authorities also found nine charred bodies believed to be those of the suicide attackers, a Saudi Interior Ministry official said.

The bombings, which took place about 11:30 p.m. Monday, constituted one of the deadliest terror attacks on Americans since Sept. 11, 2001, and Secretary of State Colin Powell said the coordinated strike had ``the earmarks of al-Qaida.''

``Terrorism strikes anywhere, everyone,'' Powell said. ``It is a threat to the entire civilized world.''

President Bush vowed to hunt down the attackers.

``These despicable acts were committed by killers whose only faith is hate, and the United States will find the killers, and they will learn the meaning of American justice,'' he said during an appearance in Indianapolis.

The attackers wounded 194 people, most of them slightly, the Saudi official said. At least 40 of the injured were Americans, U.S. Ambassador Robert Jordan said.

Witnesses reported hearing gunfire moments before one of the cars exploded.

One survivor, John Gardiner from Kinghorn, Scotland, told the British Broadcasting Corp. the blasts were ``absolutely terrifying.'' ``All the doors came in, the external doors, the internal doors, all the windows, and the next think I knew I was lying on my back in shattered glass,'' he said.

The force of the blast ripped through multi-story apartment buildings and single-family houses. Facades of five- and four- story buildings were sheared off. Heaps of rubble and blocks of upended concrete surrounded twisted steel bars and knocked downed palm trees. Burned-out hulks that had been cars were still in their parking spots; upended furniture and debris littered a pool deck.

There was no claim of responsibility. If the al-Qaida connection is confirmed, it would show that Osama bin Laden's network is still capable of mounting coordinated attacks, even in one of the world's most tightly policed countries.

Before being uprooted in the U.S. war in Afghanistan, the group carried out the Sept. 11 attacks and the 1998 simultaneous car bombings outside American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 230 people.

The Riyadh attack came as the United States is pulling out most of the 5,000 troops it had based in Saudi Arabia, whose presence fueled anti-American sentiment. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said last week that most would be gone by the end of the summer.

Bin Laden has repeatedly railed against the presence of what he calls ``infidel'' troops on Muslim holy land.

The Saudi Interior Ministry official said at least 20 people were killed in the latest attack, including seven Americans, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

Powell, who arrived Tuesday on a previously scheduled visit despite the attacks, said at least 10 Americans were among the dead. He later said it was possible the death toll was lower. Seven Americans were among the more than 200 people killed in the October terror bombings in Bali, Indonesia.

The Saudi Interior Ministry official said the attackers used cars packed with explosives in suicide operations. He said the blasts also killed seven Saudis, two Jordanians, two Filipinos, one Lebanese and one Swiss at the three compounds.

Saudi Arabia has a large population of expatriate workers, including about 35,000 Americans. The U.S. Central Command said there were no reports of casualties among American service members.

The attacks were followed by a smaller bombing Tuesday near the headquarters of a Saudi-U.S. company. No casualties were reported.

A guard at one of the housing compounds in the northeastern Riyadh was quoted by the Saudi paper al-Watan as saying that seven cars exploded there, all apparently carrying suicide bombers. At least three bodies could be seen lying on the ground Tuesday morning.

Police vehicles, lights flashing, patrolled the walls of the compounds and kept reporters out. The Al-Hamra compound, which suffered one of the worst attacks, was hidden behind 20-foot walls. Surveillance cameras were posted along the walls.

Most of the homes in such compounds are large, single-family villas. Behind high walls, Westerners can escape Saudi restrictions such as the requirement that women outside the home wear enveloping robes. Residents tend to work as corporate executives, oil industry professionals and teachers.

Two of the complexes hit Monday were named after cities in Spain conquered by the Muslim empire in the 13th century. Al-Hamra is Arabic for Alhambra and Eshbiliya is Seville. The third target, Vinnel, is the name of the U.S. company whose workers make up most of its residents. The company does contracting work for the Saudi national guard.

Powell was greeted on his arrival by Prince Saud, the Saudi foreign minister, who expressed his sorrow and vowed to cooperate with the United States in fighting terrorism.

``It is no consolation, but these things happen everywhere,'' Saud said. ``It should increase our efforts and should make us not hesitate to take whatever measures that are needed to oppose these people, who know only hate, only killing.''

An intelligence official in Washington said information from the past two weeks indicated al-Qaida had been planning a strike in Saudi Arabia, bin Laden's birthplace and home to Islam's holiest sites.

State Department officials said the American school in Riyadh would be closed and advised Americans to remain at home until further notice.

Earlier this month, the State Department advised Americans to avoid travel to Saudi Arabia because of increased terrorism concerns, and the U.S. Embassy said it had information that terrorists were completing plans to attack American interests in the country.

The FBI said it would send investigators once it gets clearance from the Saudi government.

The Interior Minister, Prince Nayef, told Saudi newspapers the assailants were believed to be linked to the May 6 discovery of a large weapons cache.

The Saudi government was seeking 19 suspects in that case - 17 Saudis, a Yemeni, and an Iraqi with Kuwaiti and Canadian citizenship - that it believed received orders directly from bin Laden. The government said the group had been planning to use the seized weapons to attack the Saudi royal family as well as American and British interests.

The gated communities attacked Monday were in the same part of the city where the May 6 weapons seizure was made.

Justice Department and FBI officials had no immediate indication that other attacks might be planned against U.S. interests at home or abroad.

Nayef told al-Watan that one of the weapons case suspects surrendered - it was unclear when - and was being interrogated for information about Monday's explosions. So far he had offered ``limited information,'' Nayef said.

A previously unknown Saudi group, the Mujahedeen in the Arabian Peninsula, had linked itself to the cache. Over the weekend, it vowed on an Internet site to strike American targets worldwide. It was not clear whether the Riyadh attacks were linked to the group.

Tuesday's small blast went off near the headquarters of the Saudi Maintenance Company, also known as Siyanco. The company is a jointly owned by Frank E. Basil Inc., of Washington, and local Saudi partners, officials said.

Last month, an American civilian working for the Saudi Royal Navy was attacked and slightly injured in eastern Saudi Arabia.

In 1996, a truck bombing killed 19 Americans at the Khobar Towers barracks in Dhahran.

In 1995, a car bomb exploded at a U.S.-run military training facility in Riyadh, killing seven, including five American advisers to the Saudi national guard. The Islamic Movement for Change and two smaller groups claimed responsibility.

05/13/03 11:35 EDT


Opposition Leader: Iraq's Future in Islam

.c The Associated Press

AHVAZ, Iran (AP) - On the eve of his return to Iraq, the leader of the largest Shiite Muslim group opposed to Saddam Hussein said Friday that Iraq's future belongs in the hands of Islam.

Top officials of Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim's party likened their leader to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who returned from 14 years in exile to lead Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

``We were Iran's guests for 23 years. Now, we thank the Iranian nation and its elite revolutionary guards for their hospitality,'' al-Hakim told worshippers at Tehran University.

``The future of Iraq belongs to Islam. And making efforts to preserve Iraq's independence is our key challenge.''

Before taking a flight to Ahvaz, capital of Iran's southwestern Khuzestan province, to prepare for his entry into Iraq, al-Hakim said his Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq seeks ``to realize the will of the Iraqi people.''

The group, he told worshippers, hopes to ``try to rebuild the country and establish good relations with our neighbors.''

The Bush administration is opposed to any Iranian-style theocracy taking control in Iraq, and Washington has accused Tehran of meddling in Iraqi affairs.

Iran said it was neither seeking ``friction'' with America over Iraq's future government nor pushing for an Iranian-style administration in Baghdad.

Iraq is about 60 percent Shiite, and a democratic vote might produce a conservative, Islamic-oriented government with close ties to Iran's historically anti-American Shiite clerics.

But Iranian analysts see few comparisons between Iraq and Iran, or between al-Hakim and Khomeini.

``Khomeini was Iran's unrivaled figure and a charismatic leader loved by all Iranians, but al-Hakim is not Iraq's only leader. There are several key figures representing Iraq's population and al-Hakim is only one of them,'' said leading cleric Taha Hashemi.

Al-Hakim and his delegation are expected to cross into Iraq on Saturday. His first stop will be the southern Iraqi city of Basra, a Shiite stronghold.

Mohsen Hakim, a spokesman for al-Hakim's Supreme Council, said his leader ``could be a new Ayatollah Khomeini but it largely depends on how the Iraqi people will welcome him.''

``We expect that a glorious and dignified welcome awaits Ayatollah al-Hakim,'' he said.

Thousands of supporters greeted Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim's younger brother - Abdulaziz al-Hakim - in the Iraqi cities of Kut and Karbala last month. The younger al-Hakim has been taking part in talks with other leading Iraqis over the country's new government.

05/09/03 12:16 EDT


Evangelical Leaders Condemn Statements

.c The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - In an unusual public rebuke, leading evangelical Christians condemned derogatory statements about Islam by the Rev. Franklin Graham and others among their fellow religious conservatives.

The evangelicals meeting Wednesday said the derisive comments endangered Christian missionaries in the Muslim world, strained already tense interfaith relations and fed the perception in the Mideast and beyond that the war on terrorism is a Christian crusade against Islam.

``We must temper our speech,'' said the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents more than 43,000 congregations and helped organize the meeting. ``There has to be a way to do good works without raising alarms.''

Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom, a human rights group, said anti-Islam comments serve only to antagonize people. ``Exactly what is to be achieved by that except boosting the ego of who said it?'' he asked.

Graham was in San Diego on Wednesday for a mission led by his father, the Rev. Billy Graham, and could not immediately be reached to comment, said his spokesman, Jeremy Blume.

Hodan Hassan, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is among Graham's harshest critics, said she was encouraged by Wednesday's meeting. About 50 representatives of evangelical churches, schools and mission groups attended.

``We can understand theological differences but what's important is that the dialogue is one of respect, not demonization,'' Hassan said.

No Muslims participated in the event, although a local mosque director was invited.

Muslims were outraged when Franklin Graham called Islam ``a very evil and wicked religion'' following the Sept. 11 attacks and last summer when the Rev. Jerry Vines, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, called the Prophet Muhammad ``a demon-possessed pedophile.''

The Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson also have criticized the religion.

Clive Calver, president of World Vision, the humanitarian relief arm of the evangelical association, said all of the statements have ``placed lives and livelihoods at risk'' overseas, where missionaries have become targets of Muslim extremists.

At one point in the meeting, Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Washington think tank, asked if anyone wanted to defend the comments made by Graham, Robertson and Falwell. No one did, though participants also avoided personally criticizing the religious leaders.

To repair the damage to relations with Muslims, the evangelical group and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative Christian organization, are drafting guidelines to begin interfaith dialogue with Islamic leaders. While Muslim leaders have been meeting regularly with liberal Protestants, no such national dialogue has taken place with evangelical Christians.

Evangelicals at the meeting acknowledged they have an arduous task ahead to overcome grievances among members of both faiths.

Conservative Christians have been struggling to end abuse of minority Christians in Muslim countries, while Muslims resent Christian proselytizing in their communities.

Evangelicals also will not participate in interfaith talks that require them to play down their beliefs - a concession they believe liberal Christians have wrongly made to befriend Muslims. And for some conservative Christians, Islam has replaced communism as the ``modern-day equivalent of the evil empire,'' said Rich Cizik, a spokesman for the National Association of Evangelicals.

Haggard suggested holding a meeting with Falwell, Robertson and other high-profile evangelicals to explain the damage their comments have caused.

``We've got to have an attitude of how can we serve, how can we help,'' said Calver. ``Saying Islam is evil isn't going to help any of us.''

On the Net:

National Association of Evangelicals: http://www.nae.net/

Institute on Religion and Democracy: http://www.ird-renew.org/

05/07/03 18:13 EDT


Book on Terrorism Banned in Pakistan

.c The Associated Press

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) - A book by an American cleric claiming to offer Biblical answers to the Sept. 11 attacks was banned in a Pakistani province controlled by Islamic hard-liners, according to a statement Tuesday from the local government.

The book banned on Monday ``has the potential to deliberately and maliciously outrage the feelings of different classes of citizens in Pakistan,'' the government of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province said in a statement.

The province's Home and Tribal Affairs Department said it was recalling all copies of ``Terrorism, Jihad and the Bible,'' by John MacArthur, an outspoken Christian fundamentalist and religious broadcaster.

Critics say the book uses inflammatory language to question the origins of Islam and argue that the teachings of the Quran, Islam's holy book, encourage young Muslims to turn to violence.

Religious conservatives took control of the province after making big gains in October elections on an anti-American platform.

Party leaders were opposed to the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and openly sympathize with Afghanistan's former Taliban government and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

05/06/03 04:16 EDT


Headscarves Issue Leads France Meeting

.c The Associated Press

PARIS (AP) - The issue of whether girls should be allowed to wear Islamic headscarves in French public schools dominated the first meeting Saturday of a new assembly representing Islam's diverse factions in France.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin was one of the opening speakers at the assembly, set up to serve as a link between the government and France's large Muslim community.

Raffarin tried to calm tensions over the question of headscarves in schools - a years-long debate that has gained momentum. In the southeastern city of Lyon, some teachers have pressed school officials to take action against a Muslim student who has worn a bandanna to school to cover her hair in the Islamic tradition.

Without expressing a personal opinion, Raffarin said there should be a national discussion.

``The headscarf is a symbol for those who wear it,'' Raffarin told the assembly. ``It is also a symbol for those who contest it.''

The conflict is the latest episode in the often heated debate over how to uphold the secular nature of France's public education system. The question has brought France's long tradition of separation of religion and state into a clash with freedom of expression.

Raffarin said he didn't rule out a new law to promote secularism in schools. As one example of ``intolerable'' behavior, he cited the case of students who refuse to listen during classes on the Koran if the teacher is a woman or a non-Muslim.

Islam is the second largest religion in France, after Roman Catholicism. About five million people in France are Muslim out of a population of 60 million.

Until now, France's Muslims have been led by diverse squabbling groups, associations and federations backed variously by Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia - former French colonies.

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is working closely with the new assembly, designed in part to thwart the growth of Islamic fundamentalism and help the government keep a link open to Muslim leaders.

Thousands of Muslims around France practice their faith in makeshift underground prayer rooms simply because there aren't enough mosques. The government is trying to bring Islam above ground.

``We're turning our back on the Islam of basements and garages,'' Sarkozy said.

Until now, unlike France's Jews or Catholics, Muslims have had no unified structure to represent them. Previous efforts to form such a body have failed because of internal differences.

On Saturday, the 200 delegates at the meeting adopted statues and nailed down leadership questions.

Under an agreement reached by Muslim leaders in December, the council will initially be presided by the head of the Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur - despite a weak performance in April elections.

A fundamentalist Muslim party made an unexpectedly strong showing in the vote. The Union of Islamic Organizations of France - inspired by Egypt's banned fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood - took 19 seats in a 60-member council within the assembly.

Another slightly less conservative party close to Morocco won 20 seats, while the moderate, Algerian-backed Mosque of Paris, which had been considered a favorite, won just 15 seats.

05/03/03 19:18 EDT


Iraqi Christians Want Rights Guaranteed

.c The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Iraq's Christian churches, seeking a national constitution that will guarantee minority Christians full rights, laid out their hopes in an appeal made public by the Vatican on Wednesday.

The call from Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syrians, Armenians, Greeks and Latins was aimed both at Iraqi authorities and the international community, and reflected ``pressure from our faithful,'' the bishops and patriarchs said.

The appeal calls for guarantees that people would be judged by their abilities without discrimination, so that they could participate in government; that they could worship according to ancient traditions and could ``educate our children according to Christian principles.''

It also calls for the right to assemble, and to build houses of worship and cultural and social centers.

Descended from ancient communities, Christians, most of them Chaldean Catholics, make up about 5 percent of Iraq's population, which is overwhelmingly Muslim.

Some Iraqi Christians have worried that despite U.S. promises of democracy, Iraq's long downtrodden majority of Shiite Muslims might establish rule based on religious intolerance.

Under Saddam Hussein's Baath party, Christian schools were nationalized, Christians were required to convert to Islam if they wanted to marry Muslims and unofficial discrimination persisted in employment.

On Easter Sunday, Baghdad's recently retired bishop, the Rev. Emmanuel Delly, sought support from President Bush for a constitution that would treat Christians the same as Muslims. Delly is pushing for the release of confiscated Christian schools and other property.

04/30/03 13:42 EDT


Malaysia: Bible ban lifted.

By Date: Wednesday 30 April 2003
Subj: Malaysia: Bible ban lifted
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator <eliz@alphalink.com.au>

We are very pleased to announce that after a meeting on Wednesday 23
April between Malaysian Christian leaders and Malaysia's Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the ban on the Iban-language Bible has been lifted.

As reported in the New Straits Times on Friday 25 April, "National Evangelical Christian Fellowship of Malaysia secretary-general Reverend Wong Kim Kong said the lifting of the ban was evidence of Malaysian leaders' religious tolerance. 'We are very relieved and happy. It reflects the Government's willingness to accommodate others' religious needs and practices with respect and honour.' Malaysian Bar Council president Kuthubul Zaman Bukhari said the move showed that the Government was responsive to the concerns of the people."

Acting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the issue in question - the use of the word Allah Tala for God in the Iban language - had been resolved and so the ban could be lifted with immediate effect. The Star quoted Acting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawias saying, "When I consulted the Council of Churches, I was told the word had been used by the community as a reference to God for a very long time. There is no reason to ban it (Bup Kudus) and cause anger among the community."

This is a victory for constructive dialogue and religious liberty, as well as an answer to the prayers of many. (Proverbs 29:26)

- Elizabeth Kendal

**WEA Religious-Liberty e-mail Conference**


Documents prove that Saddam worked with bin Laden

By Inigo Gilmore
.c The Associated Press

(Filed: 27/04/2003)

Iraqi intelligence documents discovered in Baghdad by The Telegraph have provided the first evidence of a direct link between Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'eda terrorist network and Saddam Hussein's regime.

Papers found yesterday in the bombed headquarters of the Mukhabarat, Iraq's intelligence service, reveal that an al-Qa'eda envoy was invited clandestinely to Baghdad in March 1998.

The documents show that the purpose of the meeting was to establish a relationship between Baghdad and al-Qa'eda based on their mutual hatred of America and Saudi Arabia. The meeting apparently went so well that it was extended by a week and ended with arrangements being discussed for bin Laden to visit Baghdad.

The papers will be seized on by Washington as the first proof of what the United States has long alleged - that, despite denials by both sides, Saddam's regime had a close relationship with al-Qa'eda.

The Telegraph found the file on bin Laden inside a folder lying in the rubble of one of the rooms of the destroyed intelligence HQ. There are three pages, stapled together; two are on paper headed with the insignia and lettering of the Mukhabarat.

They show correspondence between Mukhabarat agencies over preparations for the visit of al-Qa'eda's envoy, who travelled to Iraq from Sudan, where bin Laden had been based until 1996. They disclose what Baghdad hopes to achieve from the meeting, which took place less than five months before bin Laden was placed at the top of America's most wanted list following the bombing of two US embassies in east Africa.

Perhaps aware of the sensitivities of the subject matter, Iraqi agents at some point clumsily attempted to mask out all references to bin Laden, using white correcting fluid. The dried fluid was removed to reveal the clearly legible name three times in the documents.

One paper is marked "Top Secret and Urgent". It is signed "MDA", a codename believed to be the director of one of the intelligence sections within the Mukhabarat, and dated February 19, 1998. It refers to the planned trip from Sudan by bin Laden's unnamed envoy and refers to the arrangements for his visit.

A letter with this document says the envoy is a trusted confidant of bin Laden. It adds: "According to the above, we suggest permission to call the Khartoum station [Iraq's intelligence office in Sudan] to facilitate the travel arrangements for the above-mentioned person to Iraq. And that our body carry all the travel and hotel costs inside Iraq to gain the knowledge of the message from bin Laden and to convey to his envoy an oral message from us to bin Laden."

The letter refers to al-Qa'eda's leader as an opponent of the Saudi Arabian regime and says that the message to convey to him through the envoy "would relate to the future of our relationship with him, bin Laden, and to achieve a direct meeting with him."

According to handwritten notes at the bottom of the page, the letter was passed on through another director in the Mukhabarat and on to the deputy director general of the intelligence service.

It recommends that "the deputy director general bring the envoy to Iraq because we may find in this envoy a way to maintain contacts with bin Laden". The deputy director general has signed the document. All of the signatories use codenames.

The other documents then confirm that the envoy travelled from Khartoum to Baghdad in March 1998, staying at al-Mansour Melia, a first-class hotel. It mentions that his visit was extended by a week. In the notes in a margin, a name "Mohammed F. Mohammed Ahmed" is mentioned, but it is not clear whether this is the the envoy or an agent.

Intriguingly, the Iraqis talk about sending back an oral message to bin Laden, perhaps aware of the risk of a written message being intercepted. However, the documents do not mention if any meeting took place between bin Laden and Iraqi officials.

The file contradicts the claims of Baghdad, bin Laden and many critics of the coalition that there was no link between the Iraqi regime and al-Qa'eda. One Western intelligence official contacted last night described the file as "sensational", adding: "Baghdad clearly sought out the meeting. The regime would have wanted it to happen in the capital as it's only there they would feel safe from surveillance by Western intelligence."

Over the past three weeks, The Telegraph has discovered various other intelligence files in the wrecked Mukhabarat building, including documents revealing how Russia passed on to Iraq details of private conversations between Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, and how Germany held clandestine meetings with the regime.

A Downing Street spokesman said last night: "Since Saddam's fall a series of documents have come to light which will have to be fully assessed by the proper authorities over a period of time. We will certainly want to study these documents as part of that process to see if they shed new light on the relationship between Saddam's regime and al-Qa'eda.


Rumsfeld Rules Out Religious Iraqi Gov't

.c The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is ruling out an Iran-style religious government in Iraq as well as any attempt by Syria and others in the region to influence Iraq's future.

``If you're suggesting, how would we feel about an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country, the answer is: That isn't going to happen,'' Rumsfeld said.

On the other hand, Secretary of State Colin Powell said religious Muslims should not be precluded from governing Iraq.

``There are Islamic countries that are having elections - Pakistan, Turkey. It's happening,'' Powell said in an interview Thursday with al-Arabiya, a television station based in Dubai.

``Why cannot an Islamic form of government that has as its basis the faith of Islam not also be democratic?'' he asked.

``There are some people who say, well, because you're practicing Islam you can't allow people to choose how they will be governed politically. I don't think Islam presents that,'' he said.

``It's up to the Iraqi people,'' Powell said in a separate interview with Free Iraq TV/Radio. ``It's not up to the United States.''

Speaking to the Iraqi people directly for the first time, Powell said ``the coalition forces that are there are there to help them'' recover from the Baath party leadership.

At the same time, Powell said the Bush administration had expressed concern to Iran that it cease trying to have ``undue influence'' with Shiites in southern Iraq. ``We know there's some movement in from Iran,'' he said.

A senior administration official said President Bush wants a government in Iraq that is democratic, multiethnic, maintains Iraq's territorial integrity, has no weapons of mass destruction and is at peace with its neighbors.

Shiites in Iraq are the majority Islamic sect, and they disagree on whether to embrace a secular government or an Iran-style theocracy. Some U.S. officials worry that the Islamic government in Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, may seek to influence Iraq's postwar reshaping.

Interviewed in his Pentagon conference room, Rumsfeld said the Iraqi people, after decades of political repression, need time to adjust to a new reality and to determine for themselves how to organize a new government and elections.

The president made a similar point Thursday in a speech to workers at a tank factory in Ohio.

``One thing is certain: We will not impose a government on Iraq,'' Bush said. ``We will help that nation build a government of, by and for the Iraqi people.''

Due to travel soon to Iraq, Rumsfeld also said that U.S. and British forces were searching for many more former members of the Saddam Hussein government than the 55 on a ``most wanted'' list.

``In fact we have a list of some 200,'' he said. ``That original list was purposely kept low at the outset because we wanted to separate the worst people from the regime, hoping that others would come forward.''

Rumsfeld said more of the top 55 have been captured in the past day or so than have been announced. He gave no details and said that once the identities were verified they would be made public.

U.S. forces in Iraq have taken custody of Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister and the most visible Iraqi leader other than Saddam.

On the U.S. list of the 55 most-wanted members of the former government, Aziz was No. 43, the eight of spades in the military's card deck of top Iraqi leaders.

His prominence in the regime could make Aziz a source for the best information yet on the fate of the former Iraqi leader and his two sons, as well as on the location of any hidden weapons of mass destruction.

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Thursday night the arrest of another top Iraq official, in Syria, would be announced shortly.

Graham, at a session of the Council on Foreign Relations, declined to identify the Iraqi, saying only that he had held one of the most sensitive positions in the Iraqi government and was arrested in the past 24 hours.

The senator accused the Bush administration of ``failed diplomacy'' on Iraq and said U.S. relationships and alliances should be rebuilt. He also called for including the United Nations in rebuilding Iraq.

04/25/03 11:20 EDT


Iraqi Shiite Muslims Worrying Neighbors

.c The Associated Press

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - The new assertiveness of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority has raised worries elsewhere in the mostly Sunni Muslim Middle East, where governments fear the rise of an Iranian-style theocracy, unrest at home and revived tensions within the family of Islam.

Saudi Arabia, with its own significant Shiite population, may feel among the most threatened by events in Iraq, its neighbor to the north. But even farther afield in places like Egypt, there is concern about what is seen as Shiite restiveness.

``Now the game is how to contain it,'' Egyptian political scientist Gehad Auda said.

Sunnis are by far the majority of the world's more than 1 billion Muslims, but in Iraq they make up only about a third of the 24 million people. Most of the rest are Shiite.

Saddam Hussein's regime was dominated by Sunnis. Now that his regime has been toppled by U.S. and British forces, Shiites are bursting forth to make clear they expect more say in Iraq's political future.

This week, an annual ritual that was repressed by Saddam's regime became a display of Shiite power as hundreds of thousands made a pilgrimage to the central Iraqi city of Karbala to commemorate the 7th century martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein. While performing the ritual, many pilgrims shouted anti-U.S. as well as anti-Saddam slogans.

``The end of Saddam the tyrant has awakened the Shiite giant in Iraq,'' Saudi political analyst Khaled bin Sulaiman al-Sulaiman said Wednesday.

Auda predicted that nations in Iraq's neighborhood would try to slow political reforms the United States envisions that could result in Iraqi Shiites voting themselves into power.

``Democracy wouldn't serve the purpose of containment,'' Auda said.

He expects Saudi Arabia to work with countries like Egypt, whose status as the largest Arab country and a key U.S. ally gives it political muscle in the region, to try put its own stamp on Iraq's future.

Egypt's government may feel it has to act to calm Sunni fundamentalists, a growing political force in Egypt, Auda said. Sunni fundamentalists are deeply suspicious of Shiites.

In Egypt, where Shiite traditions are largely unknown, bloody television and newspaper images this week of Iraqi Shiites slashing their bodies and crying out in a stylized display of mourning for Hussein were viewed by many with baffled distaste.

Shiites are more visible in Saudi Arabia, making up 10 to 15 percent of the kingdom's roughly 19 million people, but they complain of restrictions on their freedom of expression, inability to advance in government jobs and other discrimination. The divide is deepened by a puritanical Sunni code in Saudi Arabia that shuns not only other religions but also other Muslim sects.

In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia was convinced that mostly Shiite Iran planned to spread its 1979 Islamic revolution and exploit the complaints of Saudi Shiites. The kingdom and other Arab states supported Saddam in his 1980-88 war with Iran.

In 1988, Saudi Arabia broke relations with Iran, accusing it of supporting terrorism and subversion. Relations were restored shortly after the 1991 Gulf War, but suspicions are being revived now that Iran is seen as meddling in Iraq, its neighbor to the west.

Islam has been divided into the orthodox Sunni and minority Shiite sects since soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632. Sunnis accepted Abu Bakr, a respected contemporary of the prophet, to lead what was then an international political as well as spiritual empire. A small group, the ``shi'at Ali,'' or party of Ali, followed the much younger Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-and-law.

In one 7th century battle rooted in the dispute, Hussein, Ali's son, was killed by Sunni rivals on the plains of Karbala in what is now Iraq.

The bloodshed has continued even in modern times.

Sunni, Shiite and Christian militias all fought each other during Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war. In the Gulf state of Bahrain, where Shiites are a slight majority but the ruling family is Sunni, Shiites staged a violent campaign for political reform in the 1990s, triggering a government crackdown.

Lebanon's war ended when a power-sharing deal was struck under which the president is always Maronite Catholic, the prime minister Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament Shiite Muslim. Calm came to Bahrain when the emir bowed to demands for more democracy that gave Shiites a say in politics.

The Bahraini and Lebanese examples showed that the Sunni-Shiite rivalry can be peacefully resolved. Ali Fakhro, a former Bahraini minister of education and a Sunni, said he believed all Iraqis understand that if they fought each other, the U.S. and British troops that ousted Saddam would linger, denying Iraq its independence.

``I think both Sunnis and Shiites realize these cards should not be given to the American occupiers for the exploitation of Iraq,'' he said. ``I have great faith in the Iraqi people and I think its time they are allowed to decide their own fate and live united.''


Associated Press Correspondents Sam F. Ghattas in Lebanon, Tarek al-Issawi in the United Arab Emirates and Adnan Malik in Bahrain contributed to this report.

04/24/03 05:28 EDT


Scholar Nominee Criticizes Bush Comments

.c The Associated Press

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) - A scholar nominated to a federal think tank on peace over the objections of Muslim groups said Tuesday that President Bush should not have characterized Islam as a peaceful religion after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Asked by reporters whether he thought Bush should have made the statement, Daniel Pipes said: ``No.'' He said ``presidents shouldn't talk about religion'' and it was wrong to ``make generalizations'' about Islam.

``I never say Islam is this or Islam is that,'' Pipes told journalists attending a seminar at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism.

Pipes said sweeping comments about Islam prevent people from fully understanding the threat from militant Muslims, who he said combine religion and politics to justify brutal acts.

``We protect ourselves better by defining who the enemy is,'' he said.

Pipes is a Harvard-trained scholar and the director of the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia. Bush has nominated him to the United States Institute of Peace, a centrist foreign policy think tank whose 15 board members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

Pipes' statements on the roots of terrorism have been condemned by many American Arab and Muslim leaders.

Pipes said most U.S. mosques and American Muslim political organizations are dominated by extremists, and their representatives should not be asked to the White House. The Bush administration has hosted some leaders of these groups since Sept. 11. Pipes named the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based group, as one example.

Days after the 2001 terrorist attacks, Bush visited a mosque in Washington and urged Americans not to turn on Muslims, defending their right to practice their faith.

``Islam is peace,'' he said. ``These terrorists don't represent peace, they represent evil and war.''

Muslim leaders have said that Bush's statement sent a powerful signal that it was wrong to blame American Muslims and their religion for the suicide hijackings.

Hodan Hassan, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Pipes is guilty of making the very generalizations he claims to oppose.

``His record stands as someone who has consistently sought to paint the vast majority of Muslims in this country as a threat to national security,'' Hassan said. ``We're encouraging our community to lobby to prevent his nomination.''

04/22/03 18:40 EDT


France May Expel Islamic Extremists

.c The Associated Press

PARIS (AP) - Worried by the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in France, the country's interior minister has threatened to expel any foreign Muslim religious leader who disseminates extremist propaganda.

Nicolas Sarkozy issued the warning after the unexpectedly strong showing of a Muslim fundamentalist party in weekend elections for a new council to represent France's various Islamic factions.

The Union of Islamic Organizations of France - inspired by Egypt's banned fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood - won 19 of the council's 58 seats. The moderate, Algerian-backed Mosque of Paris, which was considered a favorite, won just 15 seats.

``We want to say very simply: imams who propagate views that run counter to French values will be expelled,'' Sarkozy told Europe-1 radio on Tuesday.

A majority of Muslim leaders in France are of foreign nationality, according to the Interior Ministry.

Sarkozy, who was instrumental in creating the council, said he was determined to curb the influence of extremism on one of Europe's largest Muslim communities.

He said he would not allow the council to be used as a vehicle for spreading extremist views, notably sharia, or Islamic law.

``Islamic law will be applied nowhere because it is not the law of the (French) Republic,'' he said.

The council, a major step in France's effort to address the concerns of its 5 million Muslims, will serve as a link to government.

Unlike Roman Catholicism or Judaism, Islam has no hierarchical structure in France and, therefore, no leadership that can directly communicate concerns or grievances to the government.

The lack of structure has forced thousands of Muslims around France to practice their faith in makeshift underground prayer rooms simply because there are not enough mosques.

``If fundamentalism or extremism has spread so much, it is because we condoned an Islam of cellars and garages,'' Sarkozy said.

Part of the council's purpose is to oversee the building of more mosques and encourage foreign imams to learn French.

But Sarkozy also made clear the government will keep a close watch on the new council's activities and expects it to abide by French law.

``It is precisely because we recognize the right of Islam to sit at the table of the (French) Republic that we will not accept any misconduct,'' he said.

Under a pre-election agreement hammered out by Sarkozy, the head of the Mosque of Paris, moderate Dalil Boubakeur, will preside over the council initially.

04/16/03 09:09 EDT


Muslim Groups Protest Bush Peace Nominee

.c The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Muslim groups were stunned last week when President Bush nominated Daniel Pipes to the board of the United States Institute of Peace, a federal think tank.

For years, the outspoken director of the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia has called for a war on Islamic extremism, declaring in one post-Sept. 11 interview: ``What we need to do is inspire fear, not affection.''

The Harvard-trained scholar has declared Islamic extremists are conspiring to replace the U.S. Constitution with the Koran, that one in 10 American Muslims are militants and suggested the government needs to monitor Muslims and mosques across the country.

``Militant Islam is comparable to Fascism and Communism,'' he says. ``It is a threat to our way of life.''

The statements have led to accusations of bigotry from groups such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Arab American Institute.

``For someone like that to be nominated to the Institute of Peace is astounding,'' said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for The Council on American Islamic Relations.

If Pipes is actually appointed, Hooper said, it would confirm suspicions in that the war on Iraq and the war on terrorism ``is really a war on Islam.''

The Institute of Peace was initially conceived in the aftermath of the Vietnam War as a counterbalance to the influence of the nation's military schools. It has evolved into a centrist foreign policy think tank.

It received $16.2 million from Congress this year and its 15 board members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. By law, no more than eight can be a member of one political party. Institute spokesman John Brinkley declined to comment on Pipes' nomination.

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said Pipes would mark a substantial swing to the right for the Institute of Peace.

``He is perhaps the most extreme hawk that you could find,'' Carpenter said. ``This is really a barometer of the neo-conservative mood of this administration.''

Pipes, who reads and speaks Arabic, said Thursday that his criticism of militant Islam shouldn't be confused with a condemnation of the religion.

``My view is that militant Islam is the problem, and moderate Islam is the answer,'' Pipes said.

His definition of what constitutes militancy, though, is one of the things fueling his critics.

To Pipes, militant Muslims are those who favor a totalitarian ideology that considers other religions sinful and calls for the replacement of democratic and secular institutions with Islamic tradition.

One doesn't have to be a terrorist, Pipes says, to be a militant.

He has accused liberal professors of fueling anti-American sentiments by claiming the Gulf wars have been fought over oil, or by suggesting the United States was partly to blame for the Sept. 11 attacks because it had pursued its economic growth at the expense of the developing world.

Last summer, the Middle East Forum started a Web site called Campus Watch to expose what Pipes says is a militant infiltration of Middle East studies departments at universities nationwide.

In articles with titles such as ``Why the left loves Osama,'' and ``Profs Who Hate America,'' Pipes has accused anti-war academics such as Noam Chomsky of being terrorist sympathizers.

Pipes said he is simply tired of liberal academics playing apologist for a brand of Islam that is oppressive and anti-American.

``I see my role as saying, 'We have a problem here,''' Pipes said. ``I think the broader American public is waking up to it, but slowly.''

On the Net:

Middle East Forum: http://www.meforum.org

United States Institute of Peace: http://www.usip.org

The Council on American Islamic Relations: http://www.cair-net.org

04/11/03 15:22 EDT


Iraqis Celebrate As U.S. Takes Baghdad

.c The Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Saddam Hussein's rule over the capital has ended, U.S. commanders declared Wednesday, and jubilant crowds swarmed into the streets here, dancing, looting and defacing images of the Iraqi leader. A Marine tank toppled a giant statue of Saddam in a sweeping, symbolic gesture.

In the most visible sign of Saddam's evaporating power, the 40-foot statue of the Iraqi president was brought down in the middle of Firdos Square. Cheering Iraqis, some waving the national flag, scaled the statue and danced upon the downed icon, now lying face down. As it fell, some threw shoes and slippers at the statue - a gross insult in the Arab world.

The scene was telecast worldwide by CNN and others.

``I'm 49, but I never lived a single day,'' said Yusuf Abed Kazim, a Baghdad imam who pounded the statue's pedestal with a sledgehammer. ``Only now will I start living. That Saddam Hussein is a murderer and a criminal.''

Others marked the regime's dissolution more passively, picking flowers from a nearby garden and handing them to Marines. While the capital was celebrating, the fate of Saddam and his sons remained unknown, two days after they were targeted by four 2,000-pound U.S. bombs in Baghdad.

``The capital city is now one of those areas that has been added to the list of where the regime does not have control,'' said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks at U.S. Central Command in Qatar.

Brooks said that Saddam loyalists were holding out in the north, notably at Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, and still posed a threat, including the possible use of weapons of mass destruction.

Even as they encountered sniper fire and fierce resistance from roving bands of holdout fighters, Marine and Army units swept through Baghdad, seizing or destroying buildings that once housed some of Saddam's most feared security forces. Gunshots and explosions rocked the University of Baghdad, where smoke rose over the campus after a firefight, CNN reported.

Yet Marine tanks rolled into the heart of the city, on the east bank of the Tigris, greeted by people clapping and waving white flags. Civilians gestured to the Americans with V-for-victory signs. ``We were nearly mobbed by people trying to shake our hands,'' said Maj. Andy Milburn of the 7th Marines. One Army contingent had to use razor-wire to hold back surging crowds of well-wishers.

At police stations, government ministries, the headquarters of the Iraq Olympic Committee, looters unhindered by any police presence made off with computers, furniture, telephones, even military jeeps. One young man used roller skates to wheel away a refrigerator.

``Thank you, thank you, Mr. Bush,'' some of the looters shouted. An elderly man beat a portrait of Saddam with his shoe, while a younger man spat on the portrait.

Not everyone rejoiced.

``This is the destruction of Islam,'' said Qassim al-Shamari, 50, a laborer wearing an Arab robe. ``After all, Iraq is our country. And what about all the women and children who died in the bombing?''

The U.S. Central Command reacted cautiously to the euphoria and chaos in Baghdad, pointing to locations in northern Iraq where significant pockets of pro-Saddam fighters remained.

``We'll continue to go where those pockets are and reduce them,'' said command spokesman Jim Wilkinson. ``It'll just take time to find those pockets and destroy them and hopefully they'll surrender.''

04/09/03 11:31 EDT


Iranian Professor Given Prison Leave

.c The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - A university professor whose death sentence provoked nationwide protests until it was lifted by the Supreme Court began a one-week prison leave Sunday, his lawyer said.

Hashem Aghajari, a history professor at Tehran's Teachers Training University, was released on $125,000 bail, said his lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht.

Although the death sentence was lifted in February, an appeals court must still reconsider the rest of his sentence, including 74 lashes, a 10-year teaching ban and eight years of banishment to three remote cities.

Aghajari was sentenced for insulting Islam and questioning clerical rule during a speech he gave in June in which he said that each new generation should be able to interpret the faith.

His sentencing last November provoked the biggest student protests in Iran in three years and highlighted the power struggle between the country's liberals and hard-liners.

Aghajari initially said he would not appeal the death sentence, challenging the judiciary to carry it out. But his lawyer filed an appeal over Aghajari's objections.

Both the parliament and President Mohammad Khatami denounced the verdict.

But hard-liners defended the sentence. Conservatives, who dominate government bodies such as the judiciary and police, oppose reformists allied to Khatami, accusing them of undermining the principles of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

In overturning the death sentence, the Supreme Court ruled that the charges were not compatible with his speech.

Nikbakht said he had asked that Aghajari be allowed to join his family for last month's Persian new year holidays but the request had been denied.

``Apparently, the ongoing war in Iraq has helped Aghajari's freedom,'' Nikbakht said without elaborating.

04/06/03 20:01 EDT



28 March 2003

Vulnerable Christian minorities in Iraq and across the Islamic world are living with the fear of reprisals from Islamic extremists who associate them with the ‘Christian’ West. Hundreds of Christians died in such revenge attacks following the war in Afghanistan eighteen months ago.


In Iraq Christians are most vulnerable. Christian leaders fear it would only take one small spark – an aggressive anti-Christian sermon preached in a mosque, or an argument between a Christian and a Muslim neighbour – to trigger violent attacks on churches and Christian homes. To date thankfully no such incidents have occurred despite the pressures on the Iraqi people at the end of the first week of war.

Many Christians have left Baghdad to return to their ancestral homelands in the north of Iraq until the war is over. Others have fled into Syria. “The churches, however, will stay open, regardless of what happens, to guarantee at any time shelter for all” according to Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman. Christians in Baghdad have been sheltering in churches, finding support, encouragement and prayer at this most tense and dangerous time. One church has sustained broken windows and minor damage as a result of bombing.

In the twelve years since the end of the first Gulf War the Christian population of Iraq dropped dramatically from 1.5 million to 700,000 as Christians fled the country under the combined pressures of Saddam Hussein’s regime, UN sanctions and hostility from their Muslim neighbours. Tension for Christians increased markedly during the war in Afghanistan when some were deliberately discriminated against in the distribution of food rations, being derided as “Crusaders” and told to ask America for food instead.

The situation has now become so bad that many Christians dare not openly wear crosses in public for fear that this would make them a target. A number of violent incidents have occurred in recent months including the brutal murder and decapitation of a Christian nun by a Muslim mob. As the war drags on Christians fear that they could become the victims of further such violent attacks on a much larger scale.


For over a year Barnabas Fund has been expressing the concern of Christian leaders from all over the Islamic world that war in Iraq could lead to violent reprisals against their poor and vulnerable communities. “We had the Gulf War in the 1990s which caused many Iraqi Christians to leave or emigrate and now, God forbid, with another war in Iraq, we will put an end to the Christian presence throughout the Middle East” Bishop Riah Abu Al-Assal of Jerusalem recently warned. In neighbouring Jordan, Fouad, a national Christian interviewed by the BBC, spoke of how “They (the Muslims) look at us differently, they are suspicious of us.” Elsewhere, Christian leader Ceceil Chaudry warns that, “Attacks on Christians in Pakistan are one way the Muslim fanatics express their disapproval of American actions anywhere in the world.” The US Commission on International Religious Freedom is also voicing its concerns, warning of revenge attacks against Christians and Jews in the Islamic world.

Many countries such as Indonesia and Pakistan have witnessed violent anti-war/anti-Western demonstrations, which have alarmed Christian communities. Eighteen months ago some 200 people were slaughtered and 16,000 left homeless when Muslim demonstrators taking part in an anti-US demonstration during the war in Afghanistan turned on local Christians in Kano, Nigeria, in October 2001.

In Pakistan, there have been at least ten brutal attacks on Christian churches, hospitals, a school and a charity by Islamic extremists in which some forty men, women and children have been killed in the past eighteen months. Following the beginning of the war in Iraq, Pakistan’s government began to step up its already significant security measures for the vulnerable Christian community, providing extra armed guards for churches and other Christian buildings.

In October 2001 when American planes began to bomb Afghanistan Christians all over the Islamic world began to suffer violent reprisals in a series of brutal incidents which far outweighed in size and significance the several outrageous attacks on Muslims which occurred in the West (http://www.barnabasfund.org/News/Archive/News%20Archive/News-081101.htm). In Indonesia four Christians were dragged from their cars and beaten by Muslim students, in Kenya two churches were burned down, and the words “God is Great” and “We condemn America” were carved into the charred remains.

In Pakistan several Islamic religious leaders issued a fatwa in September 2001 stating that two Pakistani Christians would be killed for every Muslim who died during American strikes on Afghanistan. In one incident a 13-year-old Christian boy was beaten to death by five Muslim men who refused to pay for a meal they had brought from his stand, saying, “Take your payment from America.” On another occasion five Christian families were dragged from their homes and savagely beaten by Muslim mobs during anti-American protests.

In the year and a half since the events of 11 September 2001 and the war in Afghanistan, and over a year after the prospect of a new war in Iraq was first raised, the world is now more polarised than ever. As the war progresses Christians in Iraq and other parts of the Islamic world face the prospect of more prejudice and aggression from conservative Muslim neighbours. Despite the fact that most Christian living in the Islamic world are themselves opposed to the war, and Church leaders have repeatedly declared their opposition, it is their churches, homes and families which face the prospect of bearing the brunt of extremist retaliation.


Pray for protection for vulnerable Christians in Iraq and other countries in the Islamic world. Pray that no single attack will occur, and for good relations with Muslim neighbours.

Pray for a swift end to the conflict in Iraq with a minimum loss of life on all sides. Pray for the grieving relatives of those who have died, both civilians and soldiers, and for healing and recovery for those who have been injured.


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Saudi Clerics Denounce War in Sermons

c. The Associated Press

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Saudi preachers lashed out against the United States and its war on Iraq in Friday sermons, praying for Allah to inflict his wrath on America and help Muslims raise the banner of jihad.

The unusually harsh language in the weekly sermons indicated the government - which generally discourages clerics from using language that could be considered inflammatory - sees a need for an outlet for anti-war sentiment in a country where protests are banned.

Saudis, like most Arabs, are seething with rage against the war in Iraq. The government is having a hard time balancing its desire to keep the street calm while at the same time quietly helping the Americans in the war. Thousands of Americans have been deployed near the border with Iraq to help rescue downed troops or planes.

In Medina, Islam's second holiest city, Sheik Salah al-Budeir ended his fiery sermon with several invocations to God: ``Protect the weakness of our Muslim brothers in Iraq.'' ``Destroy their enemies, kill them (enemies) with their weapons, burn them with their fires.

``Allah, raise the banner of jihad.''

Al-Budeir, without naming the Americans, said ``they'' started the war, ``opening its fire'' without thinking of its consequences, adding that they will fall into the ``pit they have dug.''

He said Muslims are being subjected to ``the bloodiest massacres ... the most ferocious crimes.''

``They (Americans) feel no mercy for the weakness of old men, the illness of the sick ... or women grieving for the greatness of the tragedy,'' al-Budeir said.

He said the policies carried out are ``unjust, irrational barbarism.''

In Mecca, Sheik Saleh bin Humayid, head of the appointed Consultative Council and a cleric of Mecca's Grand Mosque, said the war in Iraq should stop immediately.

``It's a losing war that will have no winner,'' he said.

``We should stand by the Muslim Iraqi people in its tragedy and alleviate their suffering,'' he added.

Bin Humayid also urged worshippers not to listen to ``rumors'' circulating on the Internet and not to trust what they read or hear on satellite television unless they see proof that what is published or said is true.

He did not spell out the rumors, but the Web has carried reports of U.S. troops in the kingdom.

Since shortly after the war began, several mosques have been making special invocations after regular prayers, calling for the defeat of the Americans in their war on Iraq.

Other Saudi clerics in Riyadh on Friday asserted that resisting ``the invaders'' is holy and prayed for God to inflict his wrath on America and its allies.

One in Riyadh said, ``Allah, take revenge from America ... make the people of Iraq victorious over the enemies of Arabs and Muslims.''

On Wednesday, the government's Senior Scholars Commission, comprised of an influential group of clerics, called on Saudis to remain united behind their government and support their stand in the war, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

The statement reminded Saudis ``that they are requested by Allah ... to remain united behind the ruler and obedient at normal times and obliged to support him at times of strife and crises,'' said SPA.

The statement also called on Saudis to avoid rumors that target their religion and the stability and security of the country, according to SPA.

03/28/03 12:35 EST


Killing for Islam
Suspect Testifies in Fortuyn Murder Trial

c. The Associated Press

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) - The man who confessed to killing Dutch anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn told a panel of judges Thursday that he acted out of concern for the country's Muslim minority.

Volkert van der Graaf, 33, appeared in court for the first time since he was charged with the only political assassination in modern Dutch history.

``(The idea) was never concrete until the last moment, the day before the attack,'' Van der Graaf said.

He repeated his confession and pleaded guilty to illegally possessing firearms and sending Fortuyn threats before carrying out the attack.

Van der Graaf was arrested minutes after Fortuyn was gunned down in a parking lot outside a radio studio May 6, just days before general elections.

Fortuyn, a brash gay academic and columnist, was running for prime minister on an anti-immigration platform.

There are no jury trials in the Netherlands, but prosecutors must present their case even when there is a confession.

In coming days, the judges will consider Van der Graaf's mental state at the time of the shooting and whether he can be held accountable for his actions.

The proceedings are being held in a high-security courtroom, nicknamed ``The Bunker,'' separated by a bulletproof glass barrier. Onlookers repeatedly interrupted the proceedings, denouncing Van der Graaf as a murderer and chanting ``Life! Life!'' One woman was dragged away by bailiffs.

Van der Graaf said he followed Fortuyn's career as a columnist for a popular national magazine and was concerned he was using ``the weak parts of society to score points'' and gain political power.

Muslims in the Netherlands were being used as ``scapegoats,'' he said.

``I saw it as a danger, but what should you do about it?'' he said. ``I hoped that I could solve it myself.''

Earlier, prosecutors showed a video animation reconstructing the pursuit of Van Der Graaf by Fortuyn's driver and several other witnesses.

Van der Graaf was captured with the alleged murder weapon in his pocket and spatters of Fortuyn's blood on his pants. He confessed in November, saying he acted out of concern Fortuyn was gaining too much power and posed a threat to ``vulnerable members of society.''

Van der Graaf is charged with premeditated murder and faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Fortuyn swiftly gained popularity with calls to close the borders to newcomers, at one time calling Islam a ``backward religion.'' His party won more than 10 percent of the electorate and a place in the three-party, right-wing governing coalition.

But bickering in Fortuyn's party led to the fall of the government and fresh elections in January. With coalition talks ongoing, political stability has yet to returned to the country.

A graduate of the country's leading agriculture university, Van der Graaf became a successful litigator against commercial animal farming. At the time of the murder, he lived with his longtime girlfriend and baby daughter.

He remains the only suspect in the case, although prosecutors never ruled out that he may have worked with others. In raids of the couple's home, police investigators recovered chemicals needed to make explosives and bullets matching those found at the crime scene.

03/27/03 12:33 EST


The Enemy Within

A US soldier was detained Sunday March 23, 2003, in Kuwait on suspicion of throwing grenades into three tents at a 101st Airborne command center in Kuwait, killing one fellow serviceman and wounding 15, at least three of them seriously. The motive in the attack ''most likely was resentment,'' said Max Blumenfeld, a US Army spokesman.

The soldier in custody was identified Sunday as Sgt. Asan Akbar of the 326th Engineer Battalion. Fort Campbell, Ky., Heath said Akbar had been ''having what some might call an attitude problem.'' It was reported that Akbar being a Muslim was having bad feelings as a result of being part of a military campaign directed against Iraq, a Muslim country. This underscores what we repeatedly have been saying that a Muslim's allegiance is first and foremost to the Islamic Umma "the body of Muslims all over the world." The prophet Mohammed was quoted as saying, " Onsor akhaka zaleman aou mazloman." which is translated to, " Support your Muslim brother whether he was the aggressor or the victim."


Egypt Court Acquits Rights Activist

c. The Associated Press

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Egypt's highest court on Tuesday acquitted an outspoken Egyptian-American rights campaigner of charges including tarnishing Egypt's image, ordering him freed in a case that drew international criticism.

``Thank God, thank God,'' Saad Eddin Ibrahim cried out after hearing the verdict, which followed guilty decisions in two previous trials.

The courtroom erupted in shouts and screeches of joy. Ibrahim's adult daughter, Randa, cried with happiness.

Ibrahim, 64, was arrested in June 2000 with 27 associates, who worked with him at the Ibn Khaldun Center, an independent think tank Ibrahim established in 1988. A security court convicted him in May 2001 of tarnishing Egypt's image, embezzlement and accepting foreign money without government approval.

He was sentenced to seven years in prison, appealed and was found guilty again in July in a retrial. He again was sentenced to seven years. Egypt's highest court was his last judicial option for appeal.

``I feel I am walking on air. I was confident of the court's decision and of my innocence. The court's decision is the climax of Egypt's sublime judiciary,'' Ibrahim told reporters.

``I am grateful and hope that no other intellectual will go to prison because of his opinions. It is a victory for democracy and human rights issues,'' he said.

Ibrahim said it was too early to talk about reopening his center, but that he would continue his work.

He said his thoughts were with his wife, Barbara, who had attended nearly every hearing and spoken out on his behalf, but was now visiting the United States.

``She had suffered a lot in this case,'' Ibrahim said.

The earlier security court had said Ibrahim ``intentionally propagated false statements and biased rumors concerning some internal affairs ... that could weaken the standing of the state.''

Ibrahim, who holds American and Egyptian citizenship and taught at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., from 1967-74, spent eight months in prison after his first conviction and had been jailed since the July conviction.

``We wholeheartedly welcome today's decision,'' the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

Ibrahim has said he believed the charges stemmed from his decision to set up a committee to monitor Egypt's 2000 parliamentary elections. The Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies that he ran had published reports accusing the government of rigging 1995 parliamentary elections.

The European Union has said in an affidavit that it did not believe there was any misuse of the $250,000 it granted to the center, which campaigned for political and economic reform in the Arab world.

Representatives of several embassies and international human rights groups, who have criticized Ibrahim's trial as politically motivated and condemned his past convictions, attended Tuesday's court session.

The previous convictions strained Egypt's relations with the United States. After the second conviction, President Bush said the United States would protest by opposing any aid to Egypt beyond the $2 billion it receives from Washington each year.

The government has worked to limit human rights groups' influence and bar them from receiving funding without government approval and from engaging in political activities. Violators face up to 12 months in jail and a fine.

Local civil and human rights groups have for years been stymied by local perceptions that they operate as agents for foreign governments, a serious accusation in a country highly sensitive to criticism.

03/18/03 05:53 EST


Bush Tests Saddam's Gambler Instinct

c. The Associated Press

DOHA, Qatar (AP) - President Bush's ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to flee Iraq within 48 hours may not be enough to frighten away a leader whose life has been marked by intrigue, bluff, murder - and miscalculation.

For months, Arab leaders have been suggesting that Saddam could spare his people the suffering of a new war by agreeing to step down and seek asylum, possibly in Belarus, Libya, even Cuba or North Korea.

``He will stay in place like a solid rock,'' Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said Monday in an interview with the Arabic satellite television station Al Jazeera.

Although the exile idea has gotten little public Arab support, it had been widely assumed that an Arab League delegation would raise the possibility during a visit to Baghdad this month. But the Iraqis refused to receive the delegation.

Diplomatic sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, have told reporters that the possibility of a Saddam departure has even been discussed within certain unspecified circles of the Iraqi government - a bold step if true in a land where any whiff of disloyalty can end in sudden death.

Iraqi dissident sources in London say Iraqi officials have won neighboring Iran's approval for members of Saddam's family to flee there in case of war.

But a decree issued by Saddam last weekend suggests he plans to stand and fight, perhaps hoping he can inflict enough U.S. and British casualties to raise political pressure on Bush to seek a cease-fire.

The decree divided the country into four military zones under the command of his son Qusai and three of his most trusted lieutenants, one of whom is a relative.

By placing power in their hands, Saddam apparently hopes that Iraqi forces can operate without having to rely on orders from Baghdad that may be disrupted if the Americans destroy his communications.

It also ensures that Saddam can remain hidden from U.S. electronic detection, knowing that his son and aides will carry out his orders.

And if all that fails, some commentators have speculated that Saddam would rather go down in history as a great Arab martyr than seek the ignominy of exile.

It might seem suicidal in the face of overwhelming American power. But Saddam doesn't scare easily. He has lived his life by a code of brutality, promoting an image of power through the limitless posters, banners, and TV footage of him firing a rifle one-handed.

Born into poverty in a village near Tikrit, Saddam joined the underground Baath Socialist Party at age 20 and a year later was arrested for killing his own brother-in-law, a Communist. He spent six months in prison.

In 1959, 22-year-old Saddam was on the squad that ambushed Iraqi strongman Gen. Abdel-Karim Kassem in Baghdad, wounding him. Saddam managed to escape to Syria and Egypt.

He was arrested for an abortive coup and spent two years in prison before escaping in 1964. He assumed the presidency in 1979 and launched a purge in which some 500 senior Baath Party officials were executed.

However, Saddam also has a history of miscalculation. In 1980 he invaded Iran, expecting a quick victory. Instead, the war dragged on for eight years and was the bloodiest in Middle Eastern history.

In August 1990, Saddam invaded Kuwait, convinced the West would let him swallow up a country whose independence Iraq had never accepted.

Instead, another President Bush marshaled the coalition that drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.

03/17/03 22:01 EST


Another Arrest in U of Idaho Terror Case

c. The Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - A second man with ties to the University of Idaho has been arrested in a widening investigation of a suspected terrorist-related group in the Moscow, Idaho, and Pullman, Wash., area, an FBI source confirms.

Two other men who also have ties to the area and the Michigan-based Islamic Assembly of North America have been implicated in the investigation but not arrested.

Federal investigators allege the nonprofit IANA, which says it was formed to promote Islam, funneled money to activities supporting terrorism.

Former Idaho student Bassem K. Khafagi was arrested in January near New York City's LaGuardia Airport to face bank fraud charges in Michigan, court documents show.

However, his arrest resulted from the investigation of IANA, the FBI source said Friday on condition of anonymity. The government says Khafagi was a founding member of the assembly.

``There is a very strong University of Idaho tie to that organization (IANA),'' the FBI agent said.

The second man under arrest is University of Idaho student Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, who was arrested last month and charged with visa fraud and making false statements on visa applications. He is in custody in Boise, Idaho.

Khafagi's arrest was first reported Friday by The Spokesman-Review newspaper of Spokane.

Khafagi, of Egypt, and Al-Hussayen, a Saudi, also are being held for investigation of violating U.S. immigration laws.

Federal investigators contend Al-Hussayen and IANA provided Web sites for two radical Saudi sheiks, Salman Al-Awdah and Safar al-Hawali, who have direct contact with Osama bin Laden.

IANA is affiliated with Help the Needy, a nonprofit organization based in Syracuse, N.Y., that also is under investigation by the FBI. Four men of Arab descent were arrested in Syracuse last month and are accused of raising $4 million for unnamed individuals in Iraq through Help the Needy.

Investigators also have identified a former University of Idaho student who now lives in Detroit as an associate of IANA. He has not been charged and the FBI agent refused to disclose his name.

The Spokesman-Review reported that a former Washington State University student, Ismail Diab, is being held as a material witness in the investigation. Officials at the Pullman university could not confirm Friday that Diab was a student.

03/15/03 18:40 EST


Saudis Won't Allow Churches on Its Land

c The Associated Press

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Saudi Arabia, as the birthplace of Islam, will not allow churches to be built on its land, according to Defense Minister Prince Sultan.

Islam is the only accepted religion in Saudi Arabia, home to the faith's holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina.

``This country was the launch pad for the prophecy and the message, and nothing can contradict this, even if we lose our necks,'' Sultan told reporters Saturday. His comments were published by Saudi newspapers and confirmed by several journalists who attended the press conference.

Sultan said that foreigners have been allowed to worship freely in their homes since they began arriving in Saudi Arabia in 1951 but permitting a church in the country ``would affect Islam and all Muslims.''

On Thursday, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent federal agency, complained that a new State Department list of countries that severely limit religious freedom omits several that deserve censure, including U.S. ally Saudi Arabia. The commission's annual reports say that religious freedom ``does not exist'' in the Gulf Kingdom.

``Those who talked (about churches in Saudi Arabia) are church people and they are, unfortunately, fanatics,'' Sultan said, according to Monday's Okaz daily newspaper. ``We are not against religions at all ... but there are no churches - not in the past, the present or future.''

03/10/03 14:46 EST


Muslims, killers of Christians in Al-Kosheh, Egypt, are all aquited.

Following is an English translation of the editorial on al-Kosheh verdict, made by al-Keraza Magazine, issues # 9 & 10 March 7, 2003 , Editor in chief H. H. Pope Shenouda III.

We appeal the verdict to God alone.

God who told the first killer, Cain, "The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground." Genesis 4: 10

To His justice, the blood of twenty Copts, which flowed on the soil of al-Kosheh, upper Egypt, cries out.

With them the blood of their brethren in Abu Qurqas, Deir al-Moharak, Deirut, Sanabu, Samalout, Minshat Dimlo and in other places, also cries out for God's divine justice.

If it doesn't receive justice on earth, it seeks justice in God alone, He is the source of all justice.

The verdict that was issued in al-Kosheh case was a source of disappointment to all Copts. It left a deep wound in their souls and a scare in their memory that time will not erase.

Thus, they turn to God who have never forgotten Abel's blood.

For, He establishes justice and provides comfort.


For Immediate Release -


Radio Syria, a government controlled Shortwave radio operation used for military and civilian communication programs, has intentionally abandoned previously agreed upon international broadcasting agreements and abruptly shifted their frequency without international approval. Placing themselves on a war footing, Radio Syria unexpectedly moved their assigned Shortwave frequency to 9.335 Mhz, up from their previously dial position of 9.330.

With a 500,000 watt transmission facility, this move completely jammed the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) assigned frequency of WBCQ in Monticello Maine, who was operating 50,000 watts at that frequency. WBCQ's largest broadcaster is the Christian Media Network. With a transmission output of ten times the common rate for commercial Shortwave broadcasts, the move effectively jammed the Christian Media Network's Shortwave broadcasts on that frequency.

Under emergency contingency rules, on Friday, February 20th 2003, WBCQ was granted permission by the Federal Communications Commission to immediately shift frequencies. Because Shortwave frequency slots are in short supply, on Tuesday February 25th WBCQ moved their transmissions to 9.330 -- the adjacency that was assigned to be occupied by Radio Syria. As a result, all WBCQ listeners, including all the Christian Media Network programmers and listeners received virtually no warning of the move.

Although the Islamic aligned Syrian government has indicated this move was made because of the imminency of military hostilities in the region, no explanation has been offered as to why the frequency shift, in effect, jammed the largest independent Christian Shortwave broadcast ministry in the United States. Because of the present delicate political situation in the Middle East, diplomatic pressure on the Damascus government to abide by their own agreements is not expected to yield any tangible results.

From Christianmediadaily.com -- contact James Lloyd at james@christianmedianetwork.com or Allan Weiner at WBCQ@gwi.net

Contact 541/899/8888


(Regarding an article about Mohammed's sex life)
Jordanian Court Convicts 3 Journalists

.c The Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) - A Jordanian military court Monday convicted three journalists of libeling Islam's prophet and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from two to six months.

The State Security Court said their Jan. 14 article about the prophet's sex life harmed Jordan's image, ``destabilizing the society, propagating perversity and circulating false rumors.''

The journalists had pleaded innocent. They said the article was based on historic and religious references about the Prophet Muhammed's life with his wife, Aisha, and was never intended to libel him.

Muhannad Mubaideen, 29, who wrote the article for the al-Hilal weekly newspaper, was sentenced to six months in prison.

The article's editors, Roman Haddad, 28, and Nasser Qamash, 33, were given two and three months, respectively.

The court also ordered the paper - an independent weekly with an estimated circulation of 7,000 - closed for another month as punishment. Police shut down al-Hilal on Jan. 16 after arresting the journalists.

Under Jordanian law, the verdicts and sentences are irrevocable. But the judge said the editors could be freed if they pay an undetermined fine - which their lawyer said they were ready to do.

According to prosecutors, the article claimed that when Muhammad became a prophet and set up a Muslim state in present-day Saudi Arabia, ``he became financially capable to spend on married life and had since chosen whatever woman he desired.''

The article also alleged the prophet had become sexually potent - with the energy of 40 men - when he married Aisha, a virgin. The writer quoted Aisha as saying that Muhammad ``had his revelations while both of us were in the same bed,'' prosecutors said.

Jordan imposed serious restrictions on the press in 2001, amending a penal code to set fines and prison terms for violating journalists.

02/17/03 12:47 EST


'Bin Laden' Tape Claims Plot Vs. Muslims

.c The Associated Press

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - An audiotape purportedly from Osama bin Laden calls President Bush ``stupid'' and claims American war plans against Iraq are part of a plot to attack Muslim nations in the Middle East and North Africa.

The tape appeared to be the same 53-minute recording of which a few excerpts were released Thursday by the British-based Islamic Al-Ansaar news agency. It began appearing in full Sunday on Islamic-oriented Web sites. Al-Ansaar had said it acquired the tape from a seller who advertised it over the Internet.

The United States' goal in waging war against Iraq is to change the regional map to benefit Israel, according to the raspy voice said to belong to bin Laden.

``It is clear that the preparations to attack Iraq are part of a series of attacks prepared for nations of the region including Syria, Iran, Egypt and Sudan,'' the voice said.

``The aim of the Crusaders' campaign is to prepare the atmosphere for the establishment of the so-called greater Israel state, which includes great parts of Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and large portions of (Saudi Arabia),'' it said.

It wasn't possible to verify if the voice was bin Laden's.

Last week, U.S. counterterrorism officials in Washington reviewed a transcript of Al-Ansaar's tape, but said they could not verify its authenticity. Officials there said on condition of anonymity they could not be certain of the speaker's identity without reviewing the actual recording.

Al-Ansaar released some quotes from the tape, and described it - like the full tape released Sunday - as poetic with several Quranic verses.

Imran Khan, who runs Al-Ansaar, translated the tape and quoted the voice as saying: ``In this final year I hurl myself and my steed with my soul at the enemy. Indeed on my demise I will become a martyr.''

``I pray my demise isn't on a coffin bearing green mantles. I wish my demise to be in the eagle's belly,'' the voice continued in what Al-Ansaar interpreted as bin Laden's wish to end his life in a final act of terror against the ``eagle,'' or America.

Similar words were used in poetry recited at the end of the 53-minute tape heard Sunday on an Islamic Web site. Khan could not be reached Sunday morning.

The voice on the Web site recording said it is possible to defeat the United States, despite its strong military and huge economy: ``It is possible to target the bases and concentrate on the weak points and if one percent of these points were hit, it (America) will stagger and stop ruling the world in an unjust way.''

The tape also praised the 1998 attack on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, calling the latter a ``beautiful and courageous operation ... destroying America's idols.''

``Their (Americans') stupid leader claimed we envy them for their way of life, but the truth that the pharaoh of this age is hiding is that we attack them because of their injustice toward us and the Muslim world, especially Palestine and Iraq,'' the voice said.

Earlier last week, Al-Jazeera satellite television station aired another tape attributed to bin Laden in which the voice urged Iraqis to back Saddam Hussein and carry out attacks against Americans. U.S. officials said they believed that voice was bin Laden's and claimed it showed his ties to the Iraqi government.

02/16/03 08:03 EST


Iran Lifts Death Sentence on Professor

By Ali Akbar Dareini
.c The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran's Supreme Court has lifted the death sentence ordered in the case of a university professor whose sentencing provoked nationwide demonstrations, one of the judges who heard his appeal said Friday.

Hashem Aghajari, a history professor at Tehran's Teachers Training University, had been condemned to death for insulting Islam and questioning clerical rule during a speech in June.

``The death sentence against Aghajari has been revoked by a majority of votes by the review judges. Three out of four of the judges voted to revoke the sentence,'' said Ayatollah Mohammad Sajjadi, one of the judges who heard the appeal in the Supreme Court in Qom.

``The decision came after weeks of careful study and scrutinizing of Aghajari's entire speech. Three out of four judges decided that the charges against Aghajari was not compatible with his speech,'' said Sajjadi.

He said the fourth judge opposed the lifting the sentence.

Hard-line clerics warned this month that they would execute Hashem Aghajari themselves if the court overturned the death sentence. It was not clear Friday what they intended to do.

Aghajari's sentencing last November provoked the biggest student protests in Iran in three years, and highlighted the power struggle between the country's liberals and hard-liners.

The parliament denounced the verdict as ``disgusting'' and President Mohammad Khatami said it ``should never have been issued.''

But hard-liners defended the verdict. Conservatives, who dominate government bodies such as the judiciary and police, oppose reformists allied to Khatami, accusing them of undermining the principles of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

In his speech last June, Aghajari infuriated hard-line clerics when he asked why only clerics were authorized to interpret Islam. He said that each new generation should be able to interpret the faith.

Aghajari initially said he would not appeal against the death sentence, challenging the judiciary to carry it out. But his lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, filed an appeal on Dec. 2 despite his client's objections.

02/14/03 11:05 EST


Muslims Offer Prayers to Avoid Iraq War

.c The Associated Press

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Nearly 2 million Muslims converged on this city holy to Islam on Saturday for the annual pilgrimage. Some of the faithful offered prayers to avert a U.S.-led war on Iraq.

The start of the five-day hajj resonated on the other side of the globe, where the United States heightened its terror alert status, saying Friday that intelligence pointed to a possible attack timed to coincide with the pilgrimage.

Saudi authorities, wary of protests against a looming invasion of Iraq to topple President Saddam Hussein, deployed thousands of police in this otherwise sleepy city.

``We have taken all necessary measures and we do not expect any disturbing events during the hajj,'' Maj. Moussa al-Tanbi, head of the Hajj Department in the Saudi Public Security, told The Associated Press.

``There are no less than 20,000 security personnel deployed in Mecca,'' al-Tanbi said.

Police manned roadblocks, checking pilgrims' papers before letting them into the city. Non-Muslims cannot enter Mecca.

More than 500,000 pilgrims from inside Saudi Arabia are expected to join in excess of 1.5 million overseas arrivals.

Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Kuwaiti Emir Sheik Jaber Al Ahmad Al Sabah are among the leaders performing the hajj this year.

Despite calls from Saudi authorities to put politics aside during the hajj, the U.S.-Iraqi standoff has a fair share of discussion among pilgrims.

``Nobody wants war, but we are sure it will happen,'' Ender Serbes, a Turkish pilgrim, told The Associated Press Television News. ``This is America's oil game. I think they will wait until the hajj is over and attack.''

Anti-American sentiment has been running high in the Muslim world. America's perceived support of Israel against the Palestinians and its threat of war to disarm Iraq of its alleged banned non-conventional weapons are seen by many Muslims as a campaign against their faith.

``We are praying for Iraq, and we do not support America in its war against (our) religion,'' said Abdullah, from Pakistan.

Iranians, who insist that protests are a cornerstone of the rituals, want the Muslims' opposition to a war in Iraq to be heard through the hajj.

``The Iraqi crisis will have its repercussions among the pilgrims who will make their views heard to the world,'' Abbas Ali Hosseini, a Shiite cleric in Qom, Iran, said Thursday.

Jonathan Stevenson, an anti-terrorism expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said there were ideological and logistical reasons why the hajj could be a period of high risk for terror attacks.

``There's the chance that ... with more Muslims traveling, monitoring systems would suffer overload and therefore there would be more likelihood of somebody slipping through the cracks,'' he said Friday.

The pilgrimage also could draw attention to American troops in Saudi Arabia, one of the main complaints of Osama bin Laden and his supporters, Stevenson said.

The pilgrimage to Mecca, birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and home to Islam's holiest shrine, is required once in a lifetime for all Muslims who are able-bodied and can afford the trip. There are more than 1 billion Muslims worldwide.

The rituals begin with a visit to the Grand Mosque, which all pilgrims must complete by Sunday. Pilgrims then spend the night at the tent city of Mina, pray together the next morning at the gentle incline of Mount Arafat, the climax of the hajj, then wrap up rituals by sacrificing a goat, cow or camel, and finally end with the symbolic stoning of the devil.

Deaths often accompany the hajj. In 1987, more than 400 people were killed in Mecca when security forces clashed with Iranians staging an anti-U.S. demonstration. Last year, about 35 people died in a stampede while performing the ``stoning of the devil'' ritual. A 1997 fire in Mina killed more than 340 pilgrims.

The most deadly hajj-related tragedy was a 1990 stampede that killed 1,426 pilgrims.

02/08/03 09:25 EST


Activist's Retrial Opens in Egypt

.c The Associated Press

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Egypt's highest court on Tuesday opened a new trial for an Egyptian-American human rights activist whose seven-year conviction for tarnishing his country's image has drawn widespread international criticism.

The trial is Saad Eddin Ibrahim's last chance to fight his conviction before seeking presidential clemency.

The 64-year-old sociology professor said any verdict that does not clear him of the charges ``will simply mean that a great injustice has been done.'' Following seven hours of defense arguments, the court announced it will issue its verdict March 18.

Ibrahim was arrested in June 2000 with 27 associates, who worked with him at the Ibn Khaldun Center, an independent think tank Ibrahim established in 1988.

A security court convicted him in May 2001 of tarnishing Egypt's image, embezzlement and accepting foreign money without government approval. His associates received sentences ranging from one to seven years. Ibrahim appealed but was convicted again last July.

The security court had said Ibrahim ``intentionally propagated false statements and biased rumors concerning some internal affairs ... that could weaken the standing of the state.''

Ibrahim, who holds U.S. and Egyptian citizenship, has said he believes the charges stemmed from his decision to set up a committee to monitor Egypt's 2000 parliamentary elections.

The Ibn Khaldun Center that published reports accusing the government of rigging 1995 parliamentary elections.

The defense team lashed out at the charges during opening remarks Tuesday.

``Should writers break their pens and hold their tongues? Does Egypt want to forcibly constrain those who hold the banner of enlightenment?'' lead defense lawyer Ibrahim Saleh asked.

Saleh said later that he was optimistic the panel of nine judges ``will make a fair and just decision.'' Five of them were on the appeals court's panel that ordered the retrial.

The appeal said defendant Khaled Fayad had been pressured by security police to falsely accuse Ibrahim of embezzling European Union funds.

The 15-nation EU said in an affidavit it did not believe its $250,000 in grants were misused.

International human rights groups have condemned Ibrahim's past convictions and the case has strained ties between Egypt and the United States. His wife, Barbara, a native of Palatine, Ill., also has fought for his release.

After the second conviction, President Bush said the United States would protest by opposing aid to Egypt beyond the $2 billion it receives from Washington each year.

02/04/03 13:58 EST



Christian Coalition Survey Reveals Nearly 90% of Survey Respondents Believe Islam is Not A Religion Of Peace

NEW YORK, N.Y., January 17, 2003 - The Christian Coalition of America announced results today of a national on-line survey on Islam. Nine Hundred and Fifty-Five (955) individuals were surveyed via online questions on Islam on January 17, 2003.


Do you believe that Islam is a divine religion?
Less than 4% of respondents answered "Yes", 91.5% of respondents answered "No", and less than 5% said, "I don't know."

A much-debated question by the national media "Is Islam a religion of peace?
" Eighty-Eight (88%) of respondents answered "No", 5% answered "Yes", and 5% said, "Don't know."

"The attacks of 9/11 in America, the impending conflict with Iraq, and related topics have had an interesting impact upon the consciousness of people regarding their opinions on Islam, hence we found these survey results to be quite interesting," stated Roberta Combs, President of The Christian Coalition of America.

The Christian Coalition of America will be holding a symposium on Islam entitled: "Christian Coalition Symposium on Islam: Muslims & The Judeo-Christian World - Where to From Here?" The event will be held in the Columbia Ballroom of The Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, located at 400 New Jersey Avenue, NW in Washington, DC on Saturday, February 15th, 2003 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.


In response to the question "Do Christians in Islamic countries have the same freedom Muslims have in America?" less than 1% said "Yes", 96% said "No", and 2% said, "I don't know."

In response to the question "How much do you know about Islam?
22% said, "I know a lot", 38 % said, "I am not very knowledgeable about the Koran", 36% said, "I know very little", and 3 % said, "I don't know anything."


An overwhelming 75% of respondents said, "Yes, I support a War with Iraq", 7% said, "No, I don't support a War with Iraq", and 16.5% said, "I don't know whether I support a War with Iraq."

The Christian Coalition of America is America's largest Christian grassroots organization. The organization's website may be referenced at www.cc.org

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Shoe Bomber Sentenced to Life in Prison

.c The Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) - Richard Reid, the al-Qaida follower who tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic jetliner with explosives hidden in his shoes, was sentenced to life in prison Thursday by a judge who warned him: ``We are not afraid ... We are Americans. We have been through the fire before.''

The 29-year-old British citizen cried, ``You will be judged by Allah!'' before being dragged from the courtroom in handcuffs.

Reid received the maximum sentence after declaring himself a soldier of war and denouncing U.S. foreign policy toward Islamic countries.

``Your government has sponsored the torture of Muslims in Iraq, and Turkey, and Jordan and Syria with their money and weapons,'' said Reid, who converted to Islam eight years ago.

U.S. District Judge William Young would have none of it.

``We are not afraid of any of your terrorist co-conspirators, Mr. Reid,'' said the judge. ``We are Americans. We have been through the fire before.

``You are not an enemy combatant - you are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war - you are a terrorist. To call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. You are a terrorist and we do not negotiate with terrorists. We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.''

At that, the judge pointed to the American flag behind him and said: ``You see that flag, Mr. Reid? That's the flag of the United States of America. That flag will fly there long after this is long forgotten.''

Reid had faced 60 years to life for trying to blow up an American Airlines flight bound from Paris to Miami just three months after the Sept. 11 attacks. Prosecutors said Reid had enough plastic explosives in his shoes to blow a hole in the fuselage and kill all 197 people aboard.

Passengers and crew members overpowered Reid, using seat belts and their own belts to strap him to his seat. Two doctors aboard the flight injected him with sedatives and the jet was diverted to Boston.

Federal prosecutor Gerard Leone Jr. told the judge that in Reid's mind ``the religion of Islam justifies the killing of innocent civilians. In his mind, the horrific and homicidal attacks of Sept. 11 were but a missed opportunity.''

As Reid sought to justify his actions, several crew members who were on the flight looked stunned, glancing at each other in the courtroom and shaking their heads. One woman wept.

In Washington, Attorney General John Ashcroft praised the sentence and called the passengers and crew heroes who averted a disaster.

``The sentence imposed on Richard Reid says to the world that terrorists cannot escape American justice,'' Ashcroft said. ``We will hunt them down, stop them and we will put them away.''

When Reid pleaded guilty last October, he said he was a member of al-Qaida, pledged his support to Osama bin Laden and declared himself an enemy of the United States.

Prosecutors and the FBI said that witnesses reported Reid was present at al-Qaida training camps, and that Reid had help making the bomb from an al-Qaida bomb maker.

Defense attorneys said Reid credits his religion with saving him from a life of drug use and despair. They described a troubled childhood and young adulthood, when Reid was plagued by poverty, racism and crime.

In arguing for a life sentence, prosecutors this month submitted a videotaped simulation of what Reid might have accomplished, showing a fiery explosion causing severe damage to a wide-body jet.

Reid tried furiously to light a match to his shoes but he was unable to ignite the fuse. Authorities have speculated the shoes were moist from sweat.

One of the flight attendants, Carole Nelson, pleaded with the judge Thursday for a life sentence. ``I believe that Richard Reid was on a mission of evil, a mission of destruction and a mission of murder,'' she said.

Federal authorities had been preparing for a high-security trial when Reid stunned prosecutors by pleading guilty in what he said was an effort to spare his family the pain and publicity of a trial. He pleaded guilty to eight charges, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

01/30/03 17:29 EST


Florida Churches Denounce Anti-Islam Sign

.c The Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - A Baptist church's roadside sign that says Islam approves of murder has been denounced by church leaders representing worshippers around the state.

The marquee-type sign outside the First Conservative Baptist Church reads: ``Jesus Forbade Murder. Matthew 26:52. Muhammad Approved Murder. Surah 8:65.''

Muslims say the verse cited is not an endorsement of murder, but rather says those who believe and are steadfast in battle will overcome much larger armies.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations last week called on religious groups to condemn the sign.

On Monday, the Rev. Fred Morris, executive director of the Florida Council of Churches, which represents 3,500 congregations statewide, called Islam a sister religion and repudiated ``expressions of hatred toward any person or group.''

The Rev. Tom Borland, president of the Interfaith Council of Jacksonville, also rejected the message.

``As a Christian, I am disappointed at this unchristian effort to disparage Islam,'' Borland said in statement. ``Jesus never attacked other faiths.''

First Conservative's pastor, Gene Youngblood, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Youngblood, who also leads the Conservative Theological Society and Conservative Christian Academy, has said he's used the sign to express the church's opinion for 15 years and has no plans to remove the message.

On the Net:

Council on American-Islamic Relations-Florida: http://www.cair-florida.org

First Conservative Baptist Church: http://www.conservative.edu/main.htm

01/22/03 08:08 EST


U.S. Considers Citing Saudi Arabia for Intolerance

State Dept. May Use Diplomacy or Privately Confront Kingdom to Win Gains for Religious Minorities

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 18, 2003; Page A17

The State Department, facing pressure to cite Saudi Arabia for years of systematic religious intolerance, is discussing a strategy that would favor private diplomacy over public confrontation to win improvements in the religious lives of persecuted minorities and foreign workers.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell will be asked in coming weeks to choose whether Saudi Arabia should be spotlighted for its poor record, a move being pushed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others. If Powell approves, the longtime U.S. ally would take a place alongside such countries as North Korea, Burma and China as the subjects of official ire.

A more likely solution, some officials believe, is a behind-the-scenes approach described by one official as "practical, reasonable ways for moving forward." Such steps could include a project to revise Saudi textbooks or encourage the Saudi government to furnish unadorned buildings for non-Muslim religions prohibited from practicing their faith in public.

The decision comes at a sensitive time, when President Bush is pursuing a set of colliding interests with its ally. Saudi Arabia is a considered a vital partner in a potential war against Iraq, with airfields and command centers deemed critical to U.S. success.

At the same time, the conservative Saudi monarchy poses a principal obstacle to Bush's expansive vision of a tolerant and democratic Middle East. The grudging Saudi response to the anti-terrorism campaign has irritated an administration already dismayed by evidence that 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks were Saudi subjects.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government agency, has recommended that Powell name Saudi Arabia a "country of particular concern," opening the possibility of diplomatic or economic sanctions. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) contends the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act requires the move.

"How can they not name them?" asked Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.). "They clearly ought to be named."

McCain urged Powell last month to declare the kingdom a "major violator of religious freedom." Acknowledging "sensitive relationships," he wrote that the designation of Saudi Arabia would be a "strong symbolic statement of America's larger concern about the denial of basic freedoms in this country and the region.

"It would demonstrate in a responsible, measured, but powerful way," McCain continued, "that under President Bush, America's policy towards this region is indeed changing in many ways."

John Hanford, the U.S. ambassador for religious freedom, told reporters in October that naming Saudi Arabia was "something that we're going to have to consider very seriously." The State Department named six nations to its list of particular concern -- North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, China and Burma.

Powell, in an interview, said he has made no decision about whether to name Saudi Arabia. He referred to recent administration speeches emphasizing the importance of human liberty, and said "every nation's going to have to find a way there, because the world is changing."

"I have these conversations with my Saudi colleagues," Powell said. "They are not ignorant of how the world is changing. They are not ignorant of the need to make the most out of the people power that they have. How they go about it and how they move forward is something that we discuss with them, but they will have to find their own path."

The reluctance of the Bush administration to take the next step against the Saudis undermines the president's stated ambition to spread democracy in the Middle East, critics in human rights organizations said. They often cite Washington's friendly treatment of its most important strategic partners in the region, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as evidence of U.S. inconsistency.

"I fear that a failure to name them would be read by the Saudis as a sign that their special relationship with the United States protects them from the kind of scrutiny that every country in the world gets. That doesn't strike me as the best way to encourage progress," said Tom Malinowski, director of Human Rights Watch's Washington office.

"The only way to overcome the mistrust of American motives among the good guys in the region," Malinowski said, "is to be more consistent. Saudi Arabia is probably the biggest test of that."

Inside the State Department, some officials say that Saudi Arabia's poor record might merit designation under the law, but they question the effectiveness of escalating the public criticism of Riyadh. It would be better, these diplomats believe, to work behind the scenes with the Saudis, and give them a chance to improve their record before designating them a country of concern.

"We are not going to march in and say, 'You have to adopt the First Amendment to the American Constitution.' This is tough for the Saudis, and we recognize that," said a State Department official. "The public beating of breasts is not our way."

The Saudi monarchy's record of religious intolerance is well documented. In its October report on global religious practices, the State Department noted the Saudi prohibition on the practice of non-Muslim religions in public. Laws are enforced arbitrarily, the report said, and members of the million-member Shiite minority face political and economic discrimination.

"Freedom of religion does not exist," the report stated. "Non-Muslim worshipers risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation and sometimes torture for engaging in overt religious activity."

Judges may discount the testimony of people who do not practice Islam according to the official government interpretation. Bibles and religious videotapes are subject to confiscation. Non-Muslim clergy are not permitted to enter the country to conduct religious services, despite the presence of more than 5 million foreigners of many faiths, the U.S. report said.

In the eastern city of Abqaiq, two Filipino Christians were arrested early last year for conduction a Roman Catholic prayer group in their home, the State Department said. They were sentenced to 150 lashes and 30 days in jail before being deported in May.

Shiite Muslims have described hate speech at Sunni mosques and among educators at public schools. Human Rights Watch, in its annual report released this week, cited a communication from Ismaili elders who charged that 93 Ismailis were in prison because of their faith.

One former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia said he is skeptical of international efforts to influence Riyadh. He said the Saudis are unlikely to take significant steps, particularly if they are seen to be forced.

"It's definitely a lose-lose proposition," Chas Freeman said of efforts to enforce the U.S. religious freedom law. "You're either violating your own principles, or you're uselessly annoying a friend."


Terror Suspects Arrested in London Mosque

.c The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) - Police using ladders and battering rams raided a London mosque - a known center of radical Islam led by a suspected terrorist - and arrested seven men early Monday in connection with the recent discovery of the deadly poison ricin.

Dozens of officers wearing bulletproof vests stormed the red-brick Finsbury Park mosque and two neighboring houses just after 2 a.m., as circling helicopters shined spotlights on the buildings below.

Police seized computers and documents, and found a stun gun, an illegal canister of CS gas, similar to pepper spray, and a blank-firing imitation gun.

They found no evidence of ricin in the mosque, where previous worshippers include shoe-bomber Richard Reid and extremists who plotted to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Paris, officials say.

Mosque leader Abu Hamza al-Masri, whose fiery anti-Western sermons have led Britain to order him removed from his pulpit, was not arrested. The Egyptian-born al-Masri is under police surveillance and is wanted in Yemen on terror charges.

Al-Masri has denied any link with al-Qaida or other terror activities, though the mosque was used for a rally marking the first anniversary of Sept. 11, during which radical Muslims praised the attacks as revenge on the United States for its Mideast policies.

He repeated denials of terror connections Monday, and denounced the early morning raid as a propaganda exercise that would alienate Muslims.

``It is disgusting. The police have never been denied access to the mosque,'' al-Masri said. ``You cannot find a reason for this kind of Rambo-like way of attacking the mosque.''

Police said the raid was connected to the Jan. 5 discovery of traces of ricin - a poison derived from castor beans that has been linked to the al-Qaida terror network - in another part of north London.

The ricin evidence heightened Prime Minister Tony Blair's warnings of possible terror activities in Britain and sparked an investigation that has seen several raids and arrests.

Four North Africans are charged in the initial ricin find, and three more were arrested Jan. 14 in an apartment raid in the northern city Manchester. During that raid, a policeman was stabbed to death when a suspect broke free and grabbed a knife, leading to complaints that police had been ill-prepared.

Police identified those arrested Monday as six North Africans, ages 23-48, and an Eastern European, 22, and said searches continued at the mosque, known officially as the North London Central Mosque.

``There is a national operation against terrorists in this country ... that led us to this mosque,'' London police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Trotter said.

Sensitive to potential criticism for breaking into place of worship, officers distributed leaflets at Finsbury Park's subway station describing their efforts to respect the mosque and the people inside.

Last July, police faced complaints for raiding a mosque in Lye in central England and forcibly removing a family of Afghan asylum-seekers. This time, officers stressed they had not entered the mosque's prayer rooms, only offices and areas where visitors sleep.

``We had Muslim police officers giving advice about the appropriateness of our actions inside, but public safety is our No. 1 priority,'' Trotter said.

Still, the raid upset some residents of this gritty, multicultural neighborhood, where North African cafes and bakeries sit alongside Irish pubs.

``I am so angry. The mosque is a holy place,'' said Mohammed Sekkoum, head of the Algerian Refugee Council.

``We are here to help police, but they did not ask us,'' added Sekkoum, who has claimed that as many as 100 known Algerian terrorists have entered Britain in the past two years. ``They knew what was going on here. Why didn't they do anything until now?''

A neighbor of the mosque, who gave his name only as Ali, said as many as 100 young men often slept at the mosque, working as cleaners, kitchen help or security guards in return for shelter. He said the mosque drew worshippers from Pakistan, Algeria, France and elsewhere.

But police fear some worshippers are being drawn into extremist groups, and have had the mosque - as well as its cleric - under surveillance for months.

Al-Masri, who lost both hands and an eye fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, has referred to Britain as ``the land of the enemies of Islam.''

The United States says al-Masri belongs to the Islamic Army of Aden, a group that claimed responsibility for a 2000 suicide bombing of the warship USS Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 sailors.

The cleric, who denies any involvement in violence and says he is only a spokesman for political causes, has had British citizenship since 1985. British law protects him from extradition to Yemen to face charges for his alleged role in the attack.

Britain's charity watchdog has ordered him to give up his pulpit at the mosque because of his ``inflammatory and highly political'' speeches.

Police said Monday's raid was not connected to the removal order, which al-Masri has appealed.

Richard Reid, who attempted to blow up a trans-Atlantic airliner with explosives hidden in his shoes, reportedly attended the mosque. So did Zacharias Moussaoui, who has been charged with conspiring with the Sept. 11 hijackers, and Djamel Beghal, a French-Algerian who French investigators say plotted in 2001 to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

01/20/03 18:25 EST


Police Seize Deadly Poison in London

.c The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) - Police said Tuesday they found traces of ricin - a deadly poison twice as potent as cobra venom - in a north London apartment and arrested six men of North African origin in connection with the virulent toxin that has been linked to al-Qaida terrorists and Iraq.

London police said material seized at a flat in the Wood Green neighborhood on Sunday had tested positive Tuesday for traces of the toxin, tiny amounts of which can kill an adult. There is no antidote.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking to a meeting of British ambassadors, said the find highlights the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.

``As the arrests...show, this danger is present and real, and with us now, and its potential is huge,'' he said.

Ricin (pronounced RICE-in) is derived from the castor bean plant, which is grown around the world. The poison is relatively easy to produce, and Andy Oppenheimer, a chemical and biological weapons expert at Jane's Terrorism and Security Monitor, said its presence in London did not necessarily indicate a connection to any outside group or country.

Anti-terrorist police said they arrested the six men of north African origin under the Terrorism Act during raids in east and north London and seized ``a quantity of material and items of equipment'' at the Wood Green apartment.

Police did not identify the men and refused to specify what country or countries they were from, saying only that they were in their late teens, 20s and 30s. They were not immediately charged with a crime.

A woman arrested in the raids was released, authorities said.

Police said the arrests were prompted by ``receipt of intelligence'' but gave no other details.

``We have previously said that London - and indeed the rest of the U.K. - continues to face a range of terrorist threats from a number of different groups,'' police anti-terrorist branch chief David Veness and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pat Troop said in a statement.

Blair's spokesman said he knew of no specific intelligence about how the suspects may have planned to use the ricin.

The Department of Health said doctors around Britain had been informed of the find and warned to look for symptoms of ricin exposure, including fever, stomach pains, diarrhea and vomiting.

Ricin causes diarrhea so severe that victims can die of shock from massive fluid and electrolyte loss.

Oppenheimer, the weapons expert, said injecting ricin was an effective way of targeting individuals as was the case of Bulgarian defector Georgi Markov, killed in London in 1978. Police said ricin was in a pinhead-sized pellet injected into Markov's thigh, but couldn't confirm the widely reported theory that he was jabbed by a rigged umbrella.

Oppenheimer said terrorists could kill large numbers of people with ricin if they put it into aerosol, a job he described as tricky but not impossible. A crowded, enclosed environment like the London subway would probably be the most appealing target, he added.

``It's just one of these horror scenarios which people are very frightened of at the moment,'' he said. ``You only need milligrams to kill somebody.''

For decades, Londoners lived with Irish Republican Army bomb attacks, but the specter of biological terrorism is frighteningly new.

In November, the government issued - and then hurriedly withdrew - a statement warning that al-Qaida might be prepared to use a radiological device or poison gas in Britain. The warning was replaced with a more general alert of terrorist threats.

On a tape released in November, a speaker believed to be al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden castigated U.S. allies that have joined the war against terrorism, specifically mentioning Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany and Australia.

U.S. officials said in August that the Islamic extremist group Ansar al-Islam had tested ricin along with other chemical and biological agents in northern Iraq, territory controlled by Kurds, not Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Ansar is allegedly linked to al-Qaida.

United Nations weapons inspectors who left Iraq in 1998 listed ricin among the poisons they believed Saddam produced. U.S. troops also found traces of the substance at suspected al-Qaida biological weapons sites in Afghanistan.

Amateur American scientists with no links to terror groups have also produced the poison at home.

In Janesville, Wis., Thomas Leahy pleaded guilty to possessing ricin in 1998. The FBI arrested Kenneth Olsen in Spokane, Wash., last summer for allegedly manufacturing it, a charge he denies.

01/07/03 15:57 EST


Egypt Makes Christmas a National Holiday

.c The Associated Press

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - A presidential decree making Christmas - which falls on Tuesday on Egypt's Coptic Christian calendar - a national holiday is focusing attention on relations between Christians and Muslims in this overwhelmingly Islamic country.

It is the first time a Christian holiday has been officially recognized in modern Egypt. In the past, only Copts, as Egyptian Christians are known, got Christmas off, while the rest of Egypt worked as usual.

Reaction by some Muslims illustrates the sometimes uneasy relationship between the two faiths, according to Copts who say their identity as Egyptians and their contributions are not adequately recognized.

A statement posted on Islammemo, a Web site devoted to conservative Islamic comment, said President Hosni Mubarak made Christmas a holiday because of U.S. pressure to prove Egypt was democratic and respected minorities' rights.

The Muslim Brotherhood expressed surprise that the whole country was given the day off when, according to prominent Brotherhood member Essam el-Erian, only students had complained about occasionally having to take exams on Christmas.

``It is so strange that the regime is giving the people one more day off, while most government employees are not hard workers,'' Erian said. Christmas became Egypt's 18th national holiday.

Copts have a long history in Egypt - tradition says St. Mark brought Christianity to Egypt just a few years after the death of Christ. Copts were once so dominant here that their name is the ancient name for all Egyptians. Now they are estimated at just 10 percent of Egypt's 68 million people.

Copts survived Roman persecution and Arab conquest, and today are generally free to worship in Egypt. But they complain of tensions with the Muslim majority and say they face discrimination, particularly in the job market. At times, they face violence.

During an Islamic insurrection in Egypt in the early 1990s, Copts were occasionally attacked by Muslim militants.

In 2000, the deadliest Christian-Muslim clashes in years killed 23 people, all but two of them Copts, touched off by an argument between a Coptic merchant and a Muslim shopper in the southern village of el-Kusheh.

Last year, 11 people were injured and 50 were arrested after brawls broke out in a southern village after an argument over whether a church's bells tolled too loudly.

Human rights groups and the U.S. State Department have noted the lack of attention paid to Coptic history in Egypt's schools, the scant number of Copts in high government posts and scattered reports of forced conversion to Islam and attacks on Copts by Muslim militants. But outside observers say there is little evidence of systematic government discrimination or widespread hatred of Copts among Muslims.

While marking Christmas is perhaps the most dramatic move, it is not the first time Mubarak has addressed the concerns of Copts.

Last year, Mubarak made it easier for Copts to renovate churches by allowing his aides to grant permission for the work. In the past, only the president could grant such permission, creating long delays.

For the last two years, state television has broadcast Coptic Christmas and Easter services.

Still, Milad Hana, a Coptic writer, said such steps ``do not touch the core Copt demands,'' including teaching more Coptic history in state schools.

Two years ago, an independent think tank run by human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim developed new material on Coptic history for schools, but Coptic Bishop Pisenti said ``very few chapters were added to the curricula.''

Ibrahim's outspokenness about Copts was cited when he was convicted last year of tarnishing Egypt's image, reflecting sensitivity about charges Copts are treated unfairly.

Copts also demand more political representation. Copts won three of 454 seats in parliament during 2000 elections and a fourth was appointed by Mubarak. Politicians argue they can do little if voters won't elect Copts, but Hana said Mubarak could appoint more Copts to executive positions.

Nabil Abdel Fatah, a Muslim who edits an independent review of religious affairs, said the government is working on behalf of Copts.

He cited ``a step-by-step policy, begun first by giving space to Coptic writers in opinion pages in semi-governmental newspapers, assigning Coptic figures to ministerial positions, and finally with the national holiday.''

01/06/03 14:50 EST


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