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2003 News

August 31, 2003
U.S. Muslims Make Civil Rights Top Issue

.c The Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) - Even before the Sept. 11 attacks and the crackdown that followed, American Muslim leaders generally had come to believe they had made a mistake.

In 2000, they made their first unified endorsement in a presidential race, backing George W. Bush. Many thought he would take a harder line against Israel, and, based on statements he made while campaigning, would protect the rights of immigrants facing deportation.

Muslims say they were disappointed on both counts. Now, feeling the additional sting of being scrutinized in the domestic hunt for terrorists, they are mobilizing to express their anger at the polls in 2004.

At their largest convention of the year, which ends Monday, national Muslim leaders announced plans to register 1 million Muslim voters and make civil rights a top issue in any endorsement of a presidential candidate.

``A defining moment of Islam in America is approaching,'' said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights group based in Washington. ``We cannot surrender our future and our destiny to hate in this country.''

Agha Saeed, head of the Muslim American Congress, led the crowd in a chant. ``I am an American, I am a Muslim and I vote,'' he said, joined by thousands gathered for the Islamic Society of North America meeting.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Bush won points with American Muslims by visiting a mosque and declaring Islam a peaceful religion.

But since then, the federal government has detained hundreds of immigrants, shut down U.S. Muslim charities suspected of terrorist ties and gained broad new powers to monitor citizens under the USA Patriot Act.

The Bush administration said these moves have been crucial for U.S. security. American Muslims say they are being scapegoated.

A White House spokesman referred questions about the presidential race to the Bush campaign, whose spokeswoman did not immediately reply to a request for comment Sunday.

It is unclear what effect Muslims can have in the 2004 elections.

Estimates of the number of U.S. Muslims vary dramatically from 2 million to 6 million. But immigrant Muslims generally are highly educated professionals with the means to make significant campaign donations.

Also, their community has matured dramatically in the last four years.

The assault on Islam that followed the suicide hijackings that killed thousands in New York and Washington compelled Muslims around the country to defend their faith.

National Muslim organizations, including Awad's, reported a dramatic increase in donations and membership. Immigrant Muslims who had taken little interest in U.S. government began inviting their mayors, governors and even FBI agents into local mosques to learn about the community.

Muslims see the recent fight over Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes as another sign of their political progress.

Bush nominated Pipes, an outspoken critic of militant Islam, to a federally funded think tank called the U.S. Institute for Peace, angering Muslims who consider him a bigot - a claim Pipes denies.

After an intensive Muslim-led campaign to block the nomination, Bush appointed Pipes in recess on Aug. 22, bypassing the Senate approval process where his confirmation was in jeopardy. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., was among the lawmakers who opposed the nominee.

``For the first time, someone on Capitol Hill was advocating our issues,'' said Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council based in Los Angeles.

By focusing on civil rights in 2004, Muslim leaders acknowledge they could end up endorsing a candidate who would disagree with them on foreign policy, particuarly backing the Israeli government over the Palestinians.

Until recently, the plight of the Palestinians dominated political discussion among American Muslims. But Muslim leaders say they must now be pragmatic as they seek greater influence in government. They are pledging to broaden their alliances by working to improve education, fight crime and protect the environment.

Said Awad: ``We are not a one-issue community.''

On the Net:

Islamic Society of North America: http://www.isna.net/

08/31/03 14:02 EDT


August 29, 2003
Car Bomb Kills 85 at Iraqi Shiite Mosque

.c The Associated Press

NAJAF, Iraq (AP) - A car bomb ripped through a crowd of worshippers leaving Iraq's holiest Shiite shrine after Friday prayers, killing at least 85 people - including a top cleric - in the deadliest attack since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The bomb, which also wounded more than 140, detonated outside the Imam Ali mosque as Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim emerged after delivering a sermon calling for Iraqi unity. The attack was viewed by many as an assassination.

While many here blamed the attack on the Sunni Muslim followers of Saddam Hussein, there has been inter-Shiite violence recently in Iraq. Najaf is the headquarters of Iraq's most powerful Shiite rivals, including followers of Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Ishaq al-Fayyad, Ayatollah Ali Hussein al-Sistani and Moqtada al-Sadr. Shiites make up about 60 percent of Iraq's population.

The blast gouged a 3 1/2-foot crater in the street in front of the mosque, tore apart nearby cars and reduced neighboring shops to a tangled mass of metal, wood and corpses.

Ivan Watson, a correspondent for National Public Radio, said he was standing outside the mosque when the bomb exploded - ``a deafening thunderclap'' that sent flames 30 feet in the air just after al-Hakim finished his sermon.

``I saw al-Hakim walk out of the shrine after his sermon and moments later, there was a massive explosion. There were many dead bodies,'' said Abdul Amir Jassem, a merchant who was in the mosque.

Dr. Ishan al-Khosai at Najaf Teaching Hospital said there were 80 dead at his facility. At Najaf Hospital, Dr. Faisal Ouda said there were five dead from the blast. Doctors reported 142 wounded, many critically, and the toll was expected to rise. Arab satellite broadcasters Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya both reported 229 injured. Medical facilities throughout Najaf were thronged with people looking for relatives and loved-ones.

Hours after the bombing, residents screamed in the streets in grief and anger. Some attacked reporters, while others continued searching through the debris for more victims.

Men and women pressed their hands and faces against the doors of the mosque, which was closed after the blast. Mosaic tiles were blown off the gold-domed building, a sacred Shiite shrine where the Imam Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad is buried. The building, which is visited by tens of thousands of pilgrims each year, appeared only slightly damaged.

The bombing was certain to complicate American efforts to pacify an increasingly violent Iraq.

Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of Iraqi National Congress and a Governing Council member, blamed the attack on those behind the Aug. 19 suicide truck bombing at the U.N. headquarters in Iraq that killed at least 23 people and injured more than 100. He offered no evidence to support his claim.

``I don't hold the American forces responsible for the al-Hakim assassination,'' he told Al-Jazeera. ``But I hold the coalition forces responsible for security in Iraq. The Americans have taken responsibility for security in Iraq and I appeal to them to keep the peace.''

No coalition troops were in the area of the mosque out of respect for the holy site, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jim Cassella said in Washington. U.S.-led troops have been asked to stay away from the mosque by Shiite officials.

An Associated Press reporter in Najaf on Thursday saw no U.S. troops in the city, which is 110 miles south of Baghdad. However, after the bombing, American troops stood guard outside the city's main hospital although they were not in the area around the mosque. Spanish forces, assuming control of the region from the U.S. Marines, were seen in small numbers on the outskirts.

In Washington, Defense Department officials said the Iraqi police would lead the investigation into the bombing, and U.S. investigators would assist only if asked.

L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. civilian official in Iraq, denounced the bombing, saying it demonstrated that ``the enemies of the new Iraq will stop at nothing.''

``Again, they have killed innocent Iraqis. Again, they have violated one of Islam's most sacred places. Again, by their heinous action, they have shown the evil face of terrorism,'' Bremer said in a statement.

In Crawford, Texas, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan condemned the bombing, saying the United States is ``resolved to defeat terrorism and to continue to work to bring a better life to the Iraqi people.''

Iranian political analyst Morad Veisi said from Tehran that the killing of al-Hakim ``is a blow to Iraq's unity'' by those who seek to sow discord between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

``The killing appears to have sought to deny Shiite Muslims an effective role in Iraq's future at a time when Iraq is gradually preparing for elections,'' he said, adding that the United States shares the blame for failing to provide adequate security.

While the Shiites themselves are battling for control of the sect and its future, there was no evidence the bombing was the work of the younger Shiite faction. That group has strongest support in Baghdad's Sadr City slum and has been trying to wrest control from al-Hakim followers.

About 1,000 al-Hakim followers demonstrated in front of the headquarters of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Sadr City. Some sat weeping; others shouted for revenge.

Al-Hakim, 64, was the council's leader, dividing his time since the end of the war between Tehran and Najaf. The council had been formed in Iran during the exile of many leading Shiites.

The ayatollah belonged to one of the most influential families in Iraq's Shiite community. His brother, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, is a member of the U.S.-picked interim government and led the armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, headquartered in Iran before the war.

Younger Shiites have been fighting for power with the more traditional Shiite Muslims in the city and region, trying to grab control from the al-Hakim family.

Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr, who is not yet 30, and his young followers have sought to replace more traditional Shiite factions, portraying themselves as the ones doing the most to redress decades of suppression under Saddam.

Students of Shiism, however, say al-Sadr draws most of his support from the historical following developed by his father, a leading Shiite academic murdered by Saddam.

The power struggle has centered on Najaf, the holiest Shiite Muslim city in Iraq.

The blast came a week after a bombing at the Najaf home of another of Iraqi's most important Shiite clerics killed three guards and injured 10 others. It exploded at the home of Mohammed Saeed al-Hakim - a relative of the slain ayatollah - just after noon prayers Aug. 24.

A day after Saddam's ouster, a mob at the Imam Ali mosque hacked to death Abdul Majid al-Khoei, a Shiite cleric who had just returned from exile, at a meeting called to reconcile rival groups.

Earlier Friday, attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades at two U.S. convoys in separate ambushes, killing one American soldier and wounding six, the U.S. military said.

The death raised the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq to 282. Of those, 67 have died in combat since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq.

08/29/03 17:48 EDT


August 17, 2003
Senior Saudi Clerics Condemn Terrorists

.c The Associated Press

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Saudi Arabia's highest religious body has condemned violence by Islamic militants and deemed helping terrorists ``one of the greatest sins.''

The statement from the Council of Senior Clerics came a day after Saudi authorities arrested at least 11 suspected militants and seized a large weapons cache in the southern Jazan province.

The government has cracked down heavily on Islamic militants since May 12 suicide bombings in Riyadh killed 26 people, as well as the nine attackers. The bombings also touched off a public debate over whether the strict form of Islam preached in the kingdom fostered intolerance and extremism.

The Council of Senior Clerics said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency that participating in terrorist acts is ``a dangerous criminal act ... punishable by Islamic law.''

Terrorism, ``is an act of sabotage, and an absolute aberration. (Those behind recent attacks and plots) shouldn't have been moved by corrupt statements and slogans that cause division and corrupt the nation,'' the statement said, adding that justifications for violence have ``no religious grounds.''

The council also urged Saudis to cooperate in ridding their society of violence and warned against ``harboring or giving (terrorists) shelter, as it would be considered one of the greatest sins.''

The Council of Senior Clerics has great influence over what is said in mosques, taught in schools and discussed in the media.

Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah said Thursday his kingdom is engaged in a ``decisive battle'' against violent extremists and warned that any Saudi who harbors terrorists will not be spared. His comments followed warnings by the United States and Britain of new terror threats in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has been under pressure to crush networks that include al-Qaida, the terror group blamed for the Riyadh bombings and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi and al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden was born in Saudi Arabia.

08/17/03 11:28 EDT


August 15, 2003
2 Pakistani Christians' Life Terms Upheld

.c The Associated Press

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) - A High Court in eastern Pakistan has upheld a decision sentencing two Christian men to life in prison for allegedly burning the Quran, Islam's holy book, a human rights activist said Friday.

The defendants, convicted of blasphemy in the city of Lahore, have argued that they were innocent. They said police set them up after they refused to pay a bribe, said Shahbaz Bhatti, president of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance.

The men - Amjad and Asif Masih, who are not related - plan to appeal the Aug. 7 ruling to the Supreme Court, Bhatti said. The Supreme Court is the last appeal available.

Police accused the men of burning the Quran while they were in jail in Jhang, 240 kilometers (164 miles) northwest of Lahore. Asif Masih, 45, was jailed on drug charges, while Amjad Masih, 40, was convicted of sexual harassment, Bhatti said. The men were first sentenced on blasphemy charges in October 2002.

``There is no evidence that the Quran was burnt,'' Bhatti said. ``The police falsely implicated them in the case when they refused to pay the bribe.''

Under Pakistan's blasphemy laws, those who desecrate the Quran, offend Islam or insult its prophet can be punished with death. Hundreds of people have been jailed on blasphemy convictions.

International and Pakistani human rights groups have criticized the law, saying it is easily abused because only the testimony of an accuser is needed to prosecute a suspect.

Christians are a minority in Pakistan, and they often complain of harassment and discrimination. Bhatti said challenging the case has been hard for Amjad and Asif Masih.

``Their families in Jhang are finding it difficult to pursue the case because they are receiving threats from fundamentalists in the area. Their lives are in danger,'' he said.

Last month, a Roman Catholic priest who was receiving death threats was killed when gunmen broke into his house in Ranala Kot, 200 kilometers (120 miles) southwest of Lahore.

08/15/03 08:53 EDT


August 14, 2003
SE Asia Terror Mastermind Reported Caught

.c The Associated Press

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - He reportedly set up a meeting between al-Qaida and two of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Intelligence reports say he planned a second wave of attacks foiled at the last minute. The Bali bombings that killed 202 people were purportedly carried out under his watch.

He is Riduan Isamuddin, an 39-year-old Indonesian cleric better known as Hambali - once one of the world's most-wanted terrorists who created the southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah in al-Qaida's image and recruited eager young Muslims and sent them to al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, the United States announced he was captured at last.

Hambali, whose whereabouts had been unknown since he disappeared after Sept. 11, seems to be linked to nearly every major al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah plot since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon - and several before that.

``This is going to lop off the most important head of the hydra that is Jemaah Islamiyah,'' said Ken Conboy, a Jakarta-based expert on religious extremism in Indonesdia, the world's most-populous Muslim nation. ``But on the other hand, it is going to potentially invite reprisals against the United States.''

A Thai newspaper, the Nation, reported he was arrested in the central Thai town of Ayutthaya earlier this week, and a cache of explosives was found with him. He is reportedly being held in a secret location by Thai authorities and the FBI.

Most significantly, he is considered to be the link between al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah, and he's been described as Osama bin Laden's pointman in Southeast Asia.

After his arrest was announced, a senior administration official described Hambali as ``one of the world's most lethal terrorists.''

Hambali was born in Indonesia's West Java province, a hotbed of Islamic militancy in the 1940s and 50s, and the home of a religious rebellion called Darul Islam which was finally crushed by government troops in the early 1960s.

In the 1980s, Hambali linked up with another fundamentalist cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir. Along with other militants, they fled a crackdown by Indonesia's then-dictator Suharto and escaped to Malaysia in 1988.

There, Hambali and Bashir taught at a school in Johor spreading al-Qaida's radical brand of Islam and setting up Jemaah Islamiyah - a militant network with cells in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and other nations in Southeast Asia. He was described as one of the school's most charismatic instructors.

Indonesian intelligence says he spent time in Afghanistan and sent especially promising recruits on to training camps there.

One of his most significant finds may have been Yazid Sufaat, a Malaysian who allegedly loaned his condominium for a January 2000 meeting between two of the Sept. 11 hijackers and other al-Qaida figures. Yazid also signed an employment letter for Zacarias Moussaoui, indicted in the United States in connection with the attacks on Washington and New York.

Discussing Hambali's arrest Thursday, President Bush said he was a close associate of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. Philippine intelligence suggests that though he went into hiding after Sept. 11, he was plotting to blow up four Western embassies in Singapore.

``After the United States began its military campaign in Afghanistan, authorities in Singapore said Hambali (al-Qaida's chief in the region) approved plans for another al-Qaida attack,'' the report said.

The plan called for operatives ``to drive trucks packed with powerful fertilizer bombs into the embassies of the United States, Britain, Israel and Australia,'' the report said.

And the list goes on, investigators say: He arranged meetings between al-Qaida and the mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. He was a close associate of Ramzi Yousef, now imprisoned in the United States for his involvement in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. He was accused of planning a series of bombings in the Philippines that killed 22 people in December 2000. He also is a leading suspect in the bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta this month.

08/14/03 19:21 EDT


August 7, 2003
Taliban Kill Six Soldiers in Afghanistan

.c The Associated Press

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) - In one of the most brazen and well-organized attacks in recent months, 40 suspected Taliban fighters armed with assault rifles shot up a government office in southern Afghanistan, killing six Afghan soldiers and a driver for a U.S. aid organization.

The violence followed a series of other attacks on foreign troops, government forces and aid workers, hampering agencies that are trying to rebuild the impoverished, war-shattered country. Religious leaders and schools have also been targeted.

The fighters launched their assault from four vehicles, police said - a relatively bold strategy. Usually such attacks are by smaller, less-conspicuous groups traveling on foot, able to easily stash weapons or fade into crowds.

The violence began about 4 a.m. in Deshu district, 110 miles south of Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand province, said Dad Mohammed Khan, a provincial intelligence chief.

The suspected Taliban fighters drove up, entered the government offices and opened fire, Khan said. The building housed at least six Afghans working for the American aid organization Mercy Corps, which is conducting an agricultural survey in the region.

A driver who was sleeping in a room with the soldiers also was killed, he said.

Abdullah, a Mercy Corps communications officer reached by satellite phone in the southern city of Kandahar, confirmed Khan's version of events said only a driver was killed, and that two engineers escaped unharmed. Like many Afghans, Abdullah uses only one name.

The Taliban - ousted by U.S.-led forces in late 2001 - have been waging a hit-and-run guerrilla war in the south and east of the country for over a year. They've warned Afghans not to work for international aid organizations or for the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Earlier this week, suspected Taliban attacked an office of the Coordination for Humanitarian Assistance, an Afghan aid organization in the village of Malang Karez near Maivand, said the Kandahar police chief, Gen. Mohammed Akram.

No one was in the office during Tuesday's assault, he said. The fighters burned two of the group's vehicles.

Deshu district, where Thursday's attack took place, borders neighboring Pakistan. U.S. and Afghan officials say Taliban rebels and their guerrilla allies - including Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network - have bases inside Pakistan, from where they launch cross-border attacks.

Afghan officials accuse Pakistan of not doing enough to police its side of the border. About 11,500 foreign troops - 8,500 of them American - are deployed on the Afghan side, hunting for Taliban remnants.

Religious leaders have also been targeted by suspected Taliban rebels. Last month, gunmen killed Mullah Jinab - a member of the Ulema Shoora, or religious council - near Kandahar. He was coming out of a local mosque after evening prayers when two gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire.

In June, a bomb ripped through a mosque in Kandahar as worshippers gathered for the final prayer of the day, wounding 16 people. Two months before the blast, the mosque's leader, Mullah Abdullah Fayaz, condemned the Taliban's interpretation of Islam, and he believed this made his mosque a target.

Another suspected Taliban mission in June set fire to a government school in Kandahar province. Taliban suspects also recently torched a tent school in eastern Laghman province and attacked another in neighboring Nangarhar province.


August 6, 2003
Kidnap Gangs target Iraqi Christians

Christian families are often the targets. U.S. priorities lie elsewhere, victims' relatives say.

Held for ransom

(Saad Khalaf / For The Times)

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 6, 2003

BAGHDAD — Stolen from his Baghdad street two weeks ago while playing with friends, Peter Yakob, a mute child of 6, couldn't tell the gang of Iraqi kidnappers his phone number.

For two days, the kidnappers tried to get it from him while the boy's family waited frantically for a message from the criminals.

On the third day, Peter's parents chalked their phone number on an exterior wall of their home. Within 30 minutes, a call came demanding what to them was an unimaginable amount: $50,000.

"When we said we couldn't pay, they said: 'That's your problem. Either pay the money or we'll send him home to you in a sack,' " said Peter's mother, Makdonya Yusuf, 47. After desperate bargaining, the family paid a $15,000 ransom.

In the security vacuum that followed the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, looting came first, followed by carjackings. Now the appearance of highly organized kidnapping gangs sends a worrying message to U.S.-led occupation authorities, suggesting a level of criminal planning and commitment well beyond the spasm of thievery that followed the regime's fall.

The kidnappings have a dark, ruthless quality, often targeting children and teenagers, usually from Iraq's tiny Christian community where no tribal networks exist to fight back against the gangs.

In many cases, the only sons of large middle-income or wealthy families are seized. The abductions, which are often committed in broad daylight, add to Iraqis' sense that nowhere is safe, day or night.

Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who is overseeing Iraq's police force, held a briefing Tuesday to announce that a gang of nine kidnappers had been caught Monday in central Baghdad and that several hostages were freed.

He did not mention that the kidnappers killed a female hostage during the operation, carried out by Iraqi police. That fact emerged during questioning of Iraqi officers near the end of the briefing. Kerik said the police conducted the operation without U.S. help, attacking a house at dawn and triggering a gun battle. One suspect was wounded.

Because the Iraqi police force doesn't keep crime statistics, it's difficult to establish exactly how many kidnappings are occurring, but members of the Christian community listed many cases and Kerik said three other gangs had been arrested in recent weeks. Police uniforms were found at the home of those arrested Monday, Kerik said, suggesting that the kidnappers posed as police. He urged Iraqis to report abductions.

But several families of kidnapping victims, interviewed by The Times in Baghdad, said they had approached police or the U.S. military for help but got little or no assistance. Instead, they paid ransoms ranging from $15,000 to $75,000 for the release of loved ones.

"There are so many of these cases in Baghdad," said Adib Yunan, Peter's uncle, a businessman and liquor store owner who bargained the ransom price down. "It's a matter of money, simple money."

Yunan's brother, the boy's father, works in his store and lives in a rental house.

The gangs carefully track their targets, watching the victim's routine and gleaning details of the family's situation and activities.

Yunan and his brother went to a police station in the Hay Mikhaniq neighborhood seeking help. U.S. military police are stationed in all Iraqi police stations.

"We went to the police and saw the Americans. An American told us, 'What can we do?' " he said, a complaint echoed by other families of victims.

He said that after he provided information and pictures of the boy to American MPs and Iraqi police, the Americans promised to keep in touch. But his family heard nothing more and resolved the case itself by paying the ransom.

During his ordeal, Peter, who can communicate with his family but not with strangers, often cried. Ali, one of the kidnappers, would hold a gun to his head, screaming that if the boy didn't quiet down he would kill him.

Makdonya Yusuf got her son back four days after he was taken. But the formerly happy boy had changed. He was confused and seemed drugged. At night he lay awake, frightened.

"My son used to be carefree, but now he's nervous and terrified," she said. "He can't sleep. He shouts: 'Ali is coming! Ali is coming to take me!' " She has pinned a medallion of Christ to his pillow so that he can kiss it to help him sleep.

Emanuel Lirato is a patriarch with a motorcycle business he started 55 years ago. His son Maher, 50, an epileptic, was kidnapped July 20 when a car with heavily armed bandits cut him off as he reached the family business by car.

Lirato went to the police and stopped a military convoy for assistance, but he said neither gave him real help.

The U.S. soldiers in the convoy asked him what they could do. "I said: 'You have to decide. You're in charge.' " They searched the streets and shops in the neighborhood, but then gave up, he said.

His son was chained to a wall in a room for five days. Lirato paid a $25,000 ransom, but the gang still did not hand over his son. Instead they increased their price to $300,000.

"We kept negotiating. We agreed on $50,000 in addition to the $25,000," Lirato said. Now he wants armed guards to escort him to work, but ordinary Iraqi citizens cannot carry guns.

"Ninety percent of cases are Christians, because they know Christian people are calm and won't make trouble," Lirato said. "They just want their beloved ones to come back home, so they create no difficulties. But Muslim families might resist."

Lirato blamed coalition authorities for the frequent kidnappings, saying they had dismantled the old security structures without putting something in their place.

"They abolished the army, the security forces and the police," he said. "So they gave the bad guys a chance to make the best of this chaos and lack of security. They made it easy for them to commit their crimes.

"I think the gang will come again and maybe this time they'll take me, not my son," he said. "If things get worse, I'll have to leave Iraq."

Adib Yunan, Peter's uncle, said Hussein's release of prisoners before the war planted the seeds of the crime spree. "This is the aftermath of two or three wars," he said. "There are so many men who have no job, so they resort to the simplest way to get money."

Adnan Issa, a restaurant owner, paid $15,000 for the release of his only son, Rani, 17, kidnapped by gunmen who jumped into his taxi one recent morning. The gang initially demanded $120,000 and only relented after the family produced documents to prove that their house is rented.

"My husband was completely shocked. He couldn't do anything. Mary the Virgin gave me the strength to carry on and negotiate the matter," said Rani's mother, Suaad Jibro, who tearfully begged and bargained with the gang on the phone.

She said she and her husband were too frightened to contact police even after they recovered their son for fear of retaliation by the gang. Now they are desperate to sell the family restaurant and flee Iraq.

"These robberies and kidnappings are happening at daytime,"Adnan Issa said." The Americans' priority is to capture Saddam Hussein and guarantee their own safety."

The day Rani went missing, his parents approached U.S. soldiers who were searching the neighborhood to ask for help. "They told me: 'It's not our business.' "Issa said." 'We're here to search for Saddam Hussein.' "


August 5, 2003
Jakarta Bomb Kills 13, Hurts 149

JAKARTA, Indonesia (Aug. 5) - A powerful car bomb exploded outside the Marriott hotel in downtown Jakarta on Tuesday, killing 13 people and wounding nearly 149 in what an official said was likely a suicide attack. A Dutch citizen was reportedly among the dead and two Americans were believed hurt.

Shattered glass and puddles of blood covered the ground for two blocks around the hotel, located in the business district near many embassies and a popular place for foreigners to stay.

''People were screaming, panicking,'' said Sodik, a man who goes by one name who was having lunch on the 27th floor of an adjacent building. ''I thought it was an earthquake.''

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing. But since last year's bombings in Bali, which killed 202 people, authorities have warned that more attacks were likely in Indonesia - possibly by Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian terror group linked to al-Qaida.

The Indonesian Red Cross put the death toll at 13, adding that 149 people were wounded. Dutch citizen Hans Winkelmolen, president of PT Rabobank Duta Indonesia, was among the dead, a company spokeswoman said. The bank is majority-owned by Rabobank of the Netherlands.

A U.S. diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity said two Americans were hurt in the explosion. Ten employees of New Zealand's dairy company Fonterra were among those injured in the blast, a spokesman said in Wellington.

On Thursday, a court in Bali was scheduled to deliver its verdict in the trial of Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, who is accused of planning and carrying out the Oct. 12 attacks in Bali. He is the first of about three dozen suspects to have been tried in the case.

Black smoke billowed from the front of the Marriott, also the site of many diplomatic receptions held by the U.S. Embassy. During the past two years, U.S. officials have held 4th of July celebrations at the hotel, part of the Bethesda, Md.-based chain.

Indonesia's Vice President Hamzah Haz said the attack may have targeted U.S. interests in the country. ''I think it is possible that was what was behind it,'' he said.

Gen. Da'i Bachtiar said officials suspected the explosives were placed in an Indonesian-made four-wheel-drive vehicle, adding that its chassis was being examined.

He said that body parts were found near the vehicle, saying police were investigating whether they were those of bystanders or the suspected bomber.

Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil declined to specify who was behind the explosion, but said it was the work of ''terrorists.''

The blast was sure to hurt Indonesia's efforts to persuade tourists and foreign investors to come back to the country following the Bali blasts. Australia, which lost 88 people in the Bali blasts, warned its citizens Tuesday to avoid central Jakarta.

The Jakarta stock exchange closed 3.1 percent lower following news of the blast.

Jakarta governor Sutiyoso, who like many Indonesians uses a single name, said Tuesday bombing was ''very likely'' carried out by a suicide attacker.

An Associated Press photographer on the scene minutes after the blast saw three badly burned bodies lying in the wreckage of a car outside the badly damaged hotel and an adjacent office building called Plaza Mutiara.

Mellanie Solagratia, a spokeswoman for the hotel, said most of the damage appeared to have occurred in the basement and on the second floor. She said the 330-room hotel was 77 percent occupied as of Monday.

Witness Jaganathan Nadeson said he looked out of his window on the 22nd floor after the blast and saw a vehicle engulfed in flames in front of the hotel - apparently the car bomb, he said.

''I heard a big bang and I tried to get out of the building as quickly as possible,'' said Asroni, a hotel employee, as he picked bits of glass from his uniform. ''The smoke was getting into my lungs.''

The hotel's lobby plate glass windows were shattered, as were some upper-floor windows. The lobby was badly damaged, with chairs and tables strewn about. Several cars smoldered outside.

Inside a ground-floor restaurant of an adjacent building, half-eaten pasta dishes sat on tables covered in broken plates and glass.

Ceiling and wall panels were scattered in the street outside the lobby of the hotel, exposing the bare concrete pillars. The building appeared to be structurally intact.

The adjacent Rajawali building houses the embassies of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. None of the staff were injured, officials said.

''In the Swedish Embassy there was shattered glass, and one of the inner ceilings caved in,'' vice consul Viveca Lofberg said.

Another office worker named Iin said most of the casualties appeared to be security guards who were stationed in front of the Marriott.

''I thought a plane must have hit the building,'' he said.

Jakarta has seen a number of bombings in recent years as Indonesia grapples with a myriad of security problems and political turmoil.

The explosion came four days after President Megawati Sukarnoputri vowed to destroy the terrorist networks responsible for a series of bombings across the world's largest Muslim nation, saying the ''domestic branch of the international terrorism movement is a terrifying threat.''

AP-NY-08-05-03 0746EDT


July 30, 2003
al-Qaida may be planning to hijack and crash more airplanes

al-Qaida may be planning to hijack and crash more airplanes

The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (July 30) - Federal officials say they have no plans to raise the nation's terrorism alert level despite warnings that five-man al-Qaida teams may be planning to hijack and crash more airplanes, similar to the Sept. 11 attacks.

``The hijackers may try to calm passengers and make them believe they were on a hostage, not suicide, mission,'' a warning distributed over the weekend to airlines and law enforcement agencies said. ``The hijackers may attempt to use common items carried by travelers, such as cameras, modified as weapons.''

Officials said the credibility of the threat was still being evaluated. But they noted there was no precise information on when or where such an attack could take place.

A copy of the warning from the Homeland Security Department, obtained by The Associated Press, suggests an attack could take place by the end of the summer. The warning said terrorists may use five-man teams to take over airplanes just after takeoff or before landing and crash them into buildings.

It suggested cities on the East Coast of the United States, in the United Kingdom, Italy and Australia as possible targets.

``No equipment or operatives are known to have been deployed to conduct the operations,'' the warning said.

The national terrorist threat level remained at yellow, signifying an elevated risk of attacks. The five-level, color-coded system was last raised to orange, or high risk, for 11 days in May. Officials said they did not plan to raise it to reflect the possibility of suicide hijackings.

Some complained the government still was doing too little to alert the public and key industries to terror threats.

``Our concern is that there will be bulletins put out that will not be made available to us,'' said Capt. Jon Safley, president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Association, a pilots union. Safley, who doesn't fly, said he hasn't been getting warnings and wasn't sure all pilots know when advisories pertaining to air travel are issued.

Jim Schwartz, director of emergency management for Arlington County, Va., which includes both Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and the Pentagon, said his agency had received no warning from Homeland Security. He said he would need more specifics before increasing security based on published reports.

The warning was based on information gleaned from interviews of at least one al-Qaida prisoner as well as intercepted communications, said one intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The information was developed in the past several weeks.

``Cognizant of changes in aviation security measures since Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida is looking for new ways to circumvent enhancements in aviation security screening and tightening immigration requirements,'' the warning said.

Homeland Security Department placed a statement on its Web site saying the advisory was transmitted after U.S. intelligence-gatherers ``received information that al-Qaida continues to be interested in using the commercial aviation system in the United States and abroad to further their cause.''

In response to the advisory, the State Department on Tuesday revised an existing caution for American travelers to reflect the perceived hijacking threat.

``Terrorist actions may include, but are not limited to, suicide operations, hijackings, bombings or kidnappings. These may also involve commercial aircraft,'' the revised statement said.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Congress has taken a number of actions to limit the possibility of suicide hijackings, including arming commercial pilots, boosting the number of air marshals and hiring an all-federal work force to screen airline passengers.

Last week, House and Senate negotiators agreed to arm cargo pilots as part of a Federal Aviation Administration funding bill. The bill also would require that commercial airlines teach flight crews how to deal with terrorists, including self-defense, and Homeland Security and the FAA would have to review security at facilities that repair and maintain aircraft outside the United States.

Lawmakers are expected to pass the bill in September.

07/30/03 06:14 EDT


A Muslim Missionary Group Draws New Scrutiny in U.S.

July 14, 2003

One of Al Qaeda's first assignments for Iyman Faris, the Ohio truck driver named last month in a terrorist plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, was to visit a travel agency while he was in Pakistan in late 2001 to have some old airline tickets reissued, federal investigators say.

Because the tickets were not in his name, Mr. Faris needed an explanation to validate his request. Investigators say he used one that other Qaeda recruits have relied on to disguise their intentions: he pretended to be a member of Tablighi Jamaat, a fraternity of traveling Muslim preachers that is well known in Pakistan and other Muslim countries.

Founded in rural India 75 years ago, Tablighi Jamaat is one of the most widespread and conservative Islamic movements in the world. It describes itself as a nonpolitical, and nonviolent, group interested in nothing more than proselytizing and bringing wayward Muslims back to Islam.

But since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Tablighi Jamaat, once little known outside Muslim countries, has increasingly attracted the interest of federal investigators, cropping up on the margins of at least four high-profile terrorism cases.

It has been cited either as part of a cover story like Mr. Faris's, or as a springboard into militancy, as in the case of John Walker Lindh, the American serving time for aiding the Taliban.

Law enforcement officials say the group has been caught up in such cases because of its global reach and reputation for rejecting such worldly activities as politics, precisely the qualities that are exploited by terror groups like Al Qaeda.

The name Tablighi Jamaat is Arabic for the "group that propagates the faith," and its members visit mosques and college campuses in small missionary bands, preaching a return to purist Islamic values and recruiting other Muslim men — often young men searching for identity — to join them for a few days or weeks on the road.

"We have a significant presence of Tablighi Jamaat in the United States, and we have found that Al Qaeda used them for recruiting, now and in the past," said Michael J. Heimbach, the deputy chief of the F.B.I.'s international terrorism section.

Another senior law enforcement official described the group as "a natural entree, a way of gathering people together with a common interest in Islam."

The official added, "Then extremists use that as an assessment tool to evaluate individuals with particular zealousness and interest in going beyond what's offered."

Neither the organization nor Tabligh activists have been accused of committing any crime or of supporting terrorism. Yet the authorities remain alert to what they see as the group's susceptibility to infiltration and manipulation.

To Tabligh leaders, accustomed to operating in relative obscurity, the new scrutiny is unwanted, and the government's contention that the group has served as a recruiting ground for terrorists is grossly unfair.

In interviews over the past several months, they said their beliefs were antithetical to everything espoused by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

A Renunciation of Politics

"It's a very great accusation, a total lie," said Abdul Rahman Khan, a leader of the group's North American leadership council. "Anybody who has been active in our work, who spends at least three days, will have an understanding of our peaceful nature."

Mr. Khan, who lives near New Orleans and has been involved with the group for 36 years, said the Tablighi Jamaat's refusal to discuss politics meant that people with militant views quickly moved on.

"From our experience, those people who have those intentions don't talk around us," he said. "If someone starts even one word, we cut him off. So he's going to go somewhere where he can get an audience."

Indeed, the number of core activists is quite small, and they do little to blend in. A gathering of American and Canadian Tablighi Jamaat missionaries this year drew about 200 people. It was at Al Falah mosque in Corona, Queens, a Tabligh center whose neighbors have grown accustomed to the sight of bearded men wearing robes and leather booties that are meant to replicate the dress of Islam's prophet, Muhammad.

Younger disciples who were not emirs, or leaders, of a region or city, remained outside, using the time to proselytize for Islam in the mostly Mexican immigrant neighborhood. Inside, their elders mulled the question of whether they should be held responsible for the actions of people who take part in Tabligh missions but are not dedicated to its beliefs.

"We don't prevent anyone from coming, but obviously we don't know the nature of the individual who is coming and we don't check," Mr. Khan said. "There's no way we can."

The Tablighi Jamaat is less a formal organization than a network of part-time preachers. Begun as a response to a surge of Hindu proselytizing during the waning days of British rule in India, the Tablighi Jamaat now has bases and schools in Pakistan, Britain and Canada. Its annual gatherings in India and Pakistan draw hundreds of thousands.

Traveling and Proselytizing

Generally, though, Tabligh missions are small — a few heavily bearded men, carrying sleeping bags and cooking stoves who show up at a mosque, give lectures and go door to door calling Muslims to prayer.

A central purpose of their visits is to ask other men to travel and preach with them for a time, which they say can benefit the preachers even more than their audiences.

"It's kind of a rite of passage for practicing young Muslims," said Mairaj Syed, a law student at U.C.L.A. who says he was briefly involved with the Tablighi Jamaat in high school in Arizona.

"They emphasized identity, showing outwardly that you are a Muslim," Mr. Syed said. "Also, there was the element of going out, visiting cities, sleeping in mosques. I thought it was cool."

They preach a return to the teachings and trappings of Islam's seventh-century founders, including segregation of women and rejection of activities like voting that they say distract Muslims from the worthier task of preparing for judgment day.

Their goals, the group's American leaders say, are devotion to God and promoting change in each individual, not society.

"What we're trying to do is unite the hearts of all people, and politics has a propensity to divide," said Walid-Muhammad Scott, a Philadelphia activist who is a member of the leadership council. "That's why we don't talk about it at all."

But law enforcement officials and moderate Muslim scholars say that disengagement from society is what worries them most about the Tablighi Jamaat.

"You teach people to exclude themselves, that they don't fit in, that the modern world is an aberration, an offense, some form of blasphemy," said Khaled Abou El Fadl, a professor of Islamic law at U.C.L.A. "By preparing people in this fashion, you are preparing them to be in a state of warfare against this world."

Ripe for Exploitation?

Professor El Fadl said he spoke from experience, having briefly joined the group as a teenager in Cairo about 20 years ago. "I don't believe there's a sinister plot where they're in bed with Osama bin Laden but are hiding it," Professor El Fadl said. "But I think that militants exploit the alienated and withdrawn social attitude created by the Tablighis by fishing in the Tablighi pond."

Some Muslim groups have long criticized the Tablighi Jamaat for its official refusal to take a stand on the causes that have inflamed the Muslim world, from the Afghan holy war against the Soviet Union in the 1980's to the more recent wars over Kashmir, Chechnya and Bosnia.

But investigators in America and elsewhere say more violent groups have been well served by the Tablighi Jamaat's apolitical stance and ability to move missionaries around countries and across borders.

"There may be groups that do not actually profess its basic ideology and profound religiosity and yet use the cover of the Tablighi Jamaat in order to evade scrutiny of the security forces, knowing full well that the Jamaat would not take a public stance against any defectors," the Canadian intelligence service said in a recent analysis.

A turning point for the movement came in the 1990's, with the emergence of the purist Islamic rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan, according to former members and intelligence officials.

By way of illustration, Farad Esack, a South African Islamic scholar who says he spent 12 years with the group in Pakistan, recounted a favorite Tablighi Jamaat analogy that equates individual Muslims to the electricians who work to light up a village. Each person lays wire until one day, the mayor comes to switch on the lights.

"For many people in Tablighi Jamaat," he said, "the Taliban represented God switching the lights on."

Some people drawn to the Tablighi Jamaat were also drawn to the Taliban, Mr. Esack said. The Tablighi Jamaat, he said, "attracts angry people — people who need absolutes, who can't stand the grayness of life." In turn, that mentality "lends itself to being recruited by a Taliban-type project."

John Walker Lindh's path to militancy began in California, where he met Tabligh missionaries in 1999 after converting to Islam. He joined them on a proselytizing tour but soon left them behind.

"John's experience of the Tablighi is that they are what they say they are," said George Harris, one of Mr. Lindh's lawyers. "They are apolitical. And he found that an extreme position that he didn't find particularly attractive. He wanted guidance as to political and spiritual issues."

Mr. Lindh's experience, however, did play a role in his odyssey toward Afghanistan.

One year after his Tablighi Jamaat mission, casting about for a place to study Islam, Mr. Lindh contacted one of his visiting Tabligh preachers, who enrolled him in a madrassa, or religious school, in Pakistan.

It was there, Mr. Lindh has said, that he became convinced that he should help the Taliban. He then signed up for a military training camp that ultimately sent him to fight American and Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan. He was captured there and is now serving 20 years in federal prison, having pleaded guilty to charges of aiding the Taliban and carrying explosives.

Federal prosecutors have suggested that the Tablighi Jamaat was also seen as a springboard by at least one of the defendants in a Portland, Ore., terrorism case, in which six men and one woman are accused of plotting to fight with the Taliban and Al Qaeda against American forces.

The men tried to get to Afghanistan in the late fall of 2001, according to the indictment. Most came home after spending some time in China, but one defendant, Jeffrey Leon Battle, went on to Bangladesh.

Prosecutors said Mr. Battle's trip there was aimed at finding Tablighi Jamaat members who might help him get military training and join the Taliban. His trial and that of the other Portland defendants is scheduled for early January.

Six Yemeni-American men from Lackawanna, a Buffalo suburb, apparently told family and friends a similar story — that they were going to Pakistan in the spring of 2001 for religious training with the Tablighi Jamaat. But once in Pakistan, the men went on to take military training at a Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, investigators say.

The six have pleaded guilty to providing material support to Al Qaeda, or otherwise aiding a terrorist organization through their attendance at the camp.

Federal investigators said the young men, before their trip, had been instructed by a recruiter from Al Qaeda to feign an interest in Tablighi Jamaat to build a believable excuse for traveling to Pakistan for their supposed religious course, rather than to an Arab country where some of them would at least have spoken the language.

In the case of Mr. Faris, who has pleaded guilty to charges of providing support for Al Qaeda, court documents did not say whether it was he or his Qaeda handlers who had the idea of using Tablighi Jamaat as a cover to organize a trip to Yemen without arousing suspicion.

Elders and Acolytes

Al Falah mosque is the main Tablighi Jamaat outpost on the East Coast and often serves as a meeting place for activists from the group's 11 regional zones and 37 local areas. They come from as far away as Canada, California and Florida to the plain-fronted mosque, almost lost on a busy street dominated by Mexican restaurants, a Buddhist temple and a Jehovah's Witness hall.

During the national gathering earlier this year, the wives of some of the members met in an apartment near the mosque. They sat cross-legged in one small room while a Tabligh elder, refusing to sit in the same room with women, shouted a lecture to them from behind a closed door.

Meanwhile, three Tabligh acolytes huddled over coffee in a Mexican restaurant across the street.

As a man from Cleveland tried to persuade the waitress to become a Muslim, one of his companions, a 19-year-old from North Carolina, talked excitedly of his own conversion just weeks before.

Sprouting a small reddish beard and dressed in a long tunic and loose trousers, he said Tablighi Jamaat had rescued him from drugs. Now, he said, his name is Ali Abdullah and his dream is to study Islam in Pakistan.

"I want to be in a Muslim environment," he explained.

Was he also interested in political causes like Chechnya, Kashmir or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

"Man, I know I'd kill anybody who killed another Muslim," he blurted, rapping a quick drumbeat with his hand on the table.

His two companions glared at him. One kicked him sharply under the table.

"We respect all people," said the man from Cleveland, who gave his name as Abdulhakim. "Tablighi Jamaat taught me that you don't need to protest, that we respect the prophets of the Christians and Jews."


Iran Professor's Sentence Cut to 4 Years

.c The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - A university professor whose death sentence was repealed after nationwide protests will serve just under four years in jail, his lawyer said Sunday.

Hashem Aghajari, a history professor at Tehran's Teachers Training University, is also barred from running for office or occupying a government post for five years, lawyer Saleh Nikbakht told The Associated Press.

Aghajari was convicted of insulting Islam and questioning clerical rule during a speech in western Iran last June. Last November, he was condemned to death, banned from teaching for 10 years, exiled for eight years to three remote cities and sentenced to receive 74 lashes.

Iran frequently issues multiple sentences in cases where it wants to make an example of the accused.

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.

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

Iran's Supreme Court lifted the death sentence in February, saying the charges were inconsistent with Aghajari's speech, and returned the case to a lower court for review.

The new sentence puts him in jail for three years, 11 months and 29 days. The verdict also suspends the previous sentence of 74 lashes.

Nikbakht said the appeals court issued its verdict on April 26 and that he was notified on June 9. He said did not announce the verdict because it coincided with student-led protests against the ruling Islamic establishment.

``I would have been accused by the judiciary of inciting public opinion,'' he said.

Nikbakht criticized the verdict as ``an insult to justice and the judiciary.'' He said the appeals court ruling made new charges against his client, including libel and spreading lies.

Nikbakht said he appealed the new sentence earlier this week. It was not immediately clear if this would be Aghajari's last appeal.

Both parliament and President Mohammad Khatami had denounced the death sentence. But hard-liners, who dominate government bodies such as the judiciary and police and accuse reformists of undermining the principles of the 1979 Islamic revolution, defended the sentence.

Also Sunday, the editor of the reformist daily Yas-e-Nou said two of the paper's journalists had been detained.

Vahid Pourostad and Hossein Bastani were detained Saturday evening, Mohammad Naimipour said.

Naimipour, a prominent lawmaker, gave no further details. but relatives said the two were arrested on charges of threatening national security.

Prominent student leader Saeed Razavi Faqih was arrested Thursday on similar charges, relatives said. Faqih had organized student protests to condemn Aghajari's death sentence.

07/13/03 08:04 EDT


Islamic Scholars Seek Dialogue With West

.c The Associated Press

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AP) - Worried that Islam is being linked to terrorism, Muslim scholars at an international conference Friday proposed encouraging greater dialogue with the West and banning books that promote extremism.

Egypt's top Muslim cleric, Grand Sheik of Al-Azhar Mohammed Sayed Tantawi - considered by many to be the Sunni Muslim world's highest religious authority - said Islamic nations should ``wholeheartedly open our arms to the people who want peace with us'' and reject violence against the innocent.

``I do not subscribe to the idea of a clash among civilizations,'' Tantawi said in a speech to nearly 800 scholars and representatives of nongovernmental groups from 34 countries. ``People of different beliefs should cooperate and not get into senseless conflicts and animosity.''

Tantawi later told a news conference that people who commit terrorist acts in the name of the Islamic cause were wrong, stressing that ``extremism is the enemy of Islam.''

Delegates at the three-day conference ending Saturday in Putrajaya, Malaysia's administrative capital, were discussing issues facing Muslim nations, such as disunity, terrorism and misconceptions about their religion.

The religion's reputation was being marred by ``extremists that hide under the slogans of Islam in deceit and propagate ideas that have no relation whatsoever to Islam,'' said Sheik Husam Qaraqirah, who heads an Islamic charity association in Lebanon.

``We have to block them from channels that are meant to spread Islam,'' Qaraqirah said in a discussion paper distributed to delegates. ``Their books must be banned and lifted off the shelves of mosques, schools, universities and libraries.''

But Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, in his address Thursday to open the conference, painted Europeans as rivals of Muslims, who he said were being singled out and humiliated by the international fight against terrorism.

Muslims ``have not tried to catch up and surpass their detractors in knowledge and the capacity to produce arms, to have disciplined and well-trained forces for their defense,'' said Mahathir, a U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism but a fierce critic of the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

``The Muslims will never be able to bring back the honor and the respect for Islam ... unless they become capable again of defending themselves,'' he said.

But he said violence should not be used to achieve these aims, saying ``our salvation will not be achieved by blindly killing innocent people.''

07/11/03 05:26 EDT


Spain Opens First Mosque in 500 Years

.c The Associated Press

GRANADA, Spain (AP) - An imam recited verses from the Quran on Thursday as the former seat of Moorish rule in Spain unveiled its first mosque in more than 500 years.

Dignitaries from Arab and Muslim countries worldwide attended the opening of the Great Mosque of Granada for prayer, crowning a fitful and emotionally charged project that began in 1981.

The hilltop mosque commands a sweeping vista of one of history's prime pieces of real estate: the Alhambra, the reddish 14th-century palace and citadel from which Moorish caliphs governed in splendor until King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled them in 1492, ending 800 years of Muslim rule in southern Spain.

These days, Granada has a Muslim population of about 15,000, one of Spain's largest, but until now its half-dozen mosques were makeshift facilities in apartments, storefronts or garages.

The new, $4.5 million building is the first mosque designed as such to open in Granada since the last Moorish king, Boabdil, rode into exile 511 years ago. His humiliation ended a dynasty that oversaw a culture brimming with art, poetry, music and architecture.

From a mountain vantage point, Boabdil is said to have looked back on the Alhambra one last time, the morning sun shining brightly on its towers and embattlements, and wept.

``When did misfortune ever equal mine?'' he wailed from a spot now known as The Pass of the Moor's Sigh.

The new mosque is a white brick building with a red tile roof and thick, square minaret, all nudged between a convent of cloistered nuns and a Roman Catholic church. The ceremony was held in blazing heat in a garden full of pink and purple touch-me-nots, orange chrysanthemums and miniature palm trees.

``I want to praise and thank God, who let us finish this project and launch a new and fascinating era that begins today,'' Malik Abderrahman Ruiz, president of the foundation that runs the mosque, told several hundred people as the mosque opened.

Spain's Muslims say that after decades of keeping their faith quiet in a predominantly Roman Catholic country, they are growing in both numbers and transparency. A government census says there are about 500,000 Muslims among Spain's 40 million people.

``Islam has gone from being something hidden or invisible in Spanish society to something visible,'' community spokesman Abdul Haqq Salaberria said.

The mosque property in the picturesque Albaicin, the old Moorish quarter of Granada, was purchased with Libyan money in 1981, six years after the death of Gen. Francisco Franco.

But the project was delayed for years by lawsuits from local residents, the discovery of Roman ruins at the site and the death of King Hassan II of Morocco, one of its benefactors.

Ground was broken in 1998. About half the construction cost were financed by the United Arab Emirates.

07/10/03 09:30 EDT


The Washington Times

Hill probers investigate U.S. Muslim extremists

By Jerry Seper
Published July 5, 2003

Congressional investigators have targeted extremist Muslims in America, those described as members of the Wahhabi movement who have become increasingly influential throughout the United States — buoyed by foreign state-sponsored doctrines and a wellspring of cash used to recruit and train international terrorists.

"The extremist ideology is Wahhabism, a major force behind terrorist groups like al Qaeda," said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, whose Senate Judiciary subcommittee on technology, terrorism and government information held recent hearings on the terrorist threat in the United States.

"It is widely recognized that all 19 of the [September 11] suicide pilots ... were Wahhabi followers," he said. "Since then, many questions have been asked about the role in that day's terrible events and in other challenges we face in the war against terror of Saudi Arabia and its official sect, a separatist, exclusionary and violent form of Islam known as Wahhabism."

Mr. Kyl noted that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudi subjects, adding that Wahhabism is the source of the "overwhelming majority of terrorist atrocities in today's world."

The congressional probe, according to Capitol Hill sources, has focused on unpublished U.S. intelligence information stating that Wahhabi agents from Saudi Arabia have been responsible for terrorist attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq. It also has focused on government documents showing that the Wahhabi movement has stepped up its efforts to penetrate the United States.

Federal law enforcement authorities believe cash from Saudi Arabia has been a significant source of funding for global terrorism, particularly the al Qaeda network founded by Osama bin Laden, a Saudi millionaire.

The authorities also said al Qaeda "sleeper cells" working in the United States have begun recruiting operatives who might be harder to detect in an effort to defeat the country's heightened state of security since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Potential operatives include U.S. citizens with valid passports, they said.

Part of the effort, the authorities said, also has targeted black Muslims in this country believed to be sympathetic to Islamic extremism — using mosques, prisons and universities throughout the United States.

The Wahhabi movement seeks to advance a global agenda of holy war, or jihad, and to impose Wahhabism on the international Islamic community, the authorities said.

They also noted that the movement continues to seek a U.S. base to fund recruitment and tactical support of terror operations in this country and overseas.

Mr. Kyl noted during a recent hearing that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a former top al Qaeda lieutenant captured in Pakistan last March, had "reached deep into the heartland," lining up agents in Baltimore; Columbus, Ohio; and Peoria, Ill.

Authorities believe that terrorists operating in this country include groups committed to international jihad and that they have demonstrated a keen ability to withstand numerous and significant setbacks. Since the September 11 attacks, they said, al Qaeda terrorists have been involved in at least a dozen terrorist attacks around the world directed against the United States and its allies.
"To examine the role of Wahhabism and terrorism is not to label all Muslims as extremists. Indeed, I want to make this point very, very clear," Mr. Kyl said.

"Analyzing Wahhabism means identifying the extreme element that, although enjoying immense political and financial resources thanks to support by a sector of the Saudi state, seeks to globally hijack Islam, one of the world's three great Abrahamic faiths.

"It means understanding who our worst enemies are and how we can support the majority of the world's Muslims, ordinary, normal people who desire to live in a safe, secure and stable environment in their own effort to defeat terror," he said. "In the end, Islamist terror must be defeated to a significant extent within Islam, by Muslims themselves."

Mr. Kyl noted that without oil and the creation of the Saudi Kingdom, Wahhabism would have remained "a lunatic fringe." The ruling House of Saud in Riyaddh belongs to the Wahabbi clan.

Since the September 11 attacks, the authorities said the FBI has investigated more than 4,000 terrorist threats to the United States and that the number of active FBI investigations and the potential terrorist activity has quadrupled.

More than 35 potential terrorist incidents inside the United States have been disrupted by the FBI since the attacks through preventive actions, arrests, the seizure of funds and disruption of terrorist recruiting and training efforts, they said.


Blast Kill 16 at Moscow Concert

.c The Associated Press

MOSCOW (July 5) - Two women strapped with explosives blew themselves up Saturday at the gates of a Moscow rock festival crowded with tens of thousands of fans, killing at least 16people and reviving fears that rebels are bringing the Chechen war to the Russian capital.

The bombers, believed to be Chechen, also were killed. After the blasts, bodies lay splayed on the pavement, surrounded by pools of blood. Emergency response officers covered them with black plastic garbage bags.

Moscow city police spokesman Valery Gribakin said the explosions killed 16 people - in addition to the two bombers - and wounded about 60. Channel One television reported that a 15th victim died in a hospital, but that could not immediately be confirmed.

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said suspicions pointed to Chechen rebels. News reports said a passport found at the bombing site identified a Chechen woman.

One bomber has been identified, First Deputy Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said without elaborating.

Gribakin said 13 sets of identification papers - including passports, train tickets and student identifications - were found at the blast sites and most were matched up with the dead.

Aslambek Maigov, the envoy of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, denied that Maskhadov was connected to the bombings. But the Chechen rebels are deeply factionalized and only a small portion are believed to follow Maskhadov's direction.

Chechen rebels have shown an increased penchant for targeting civilians over the past year with suicide-bomb attacks. Fears of terrorism have been high in the Russian capital since the October seizure of a Moscow theater by scores of Chechen militants, including women strapped with explosives and detonators.

The explosions occurred 10 minutes apart outside the Tushino airfield in suburban Moscow, where a crowd of up to 40,000 was listening to a host of Russian rock bands at the one-day festival called ''Krylya,'' or ''Wings.''

The rock festival is a popular summer event for Moscow's youth. The Saturday afternoon weather, cool and partly sunny, was ideal for attracting a large crowd.

Guards at the festival entrances were suspicious of the women bombers and prevented them from entering the grounds, Nurgaliyev said.

''When they approached the entrance, their agitation was visible. They tried to get in too fast and were turned away,'' he said.

The first bomber then triggered an explosives-packed belt, although it did not completely detonate. Police then directed people trying to go through the nearby exit to leave through another gate - and there the second bomb was detonated, said Rustam Abdulganiyev, a 17-year-old who had been inside the airfield.

''I've never seen anything like it,'' he said.

Most of the casualties were believed to be caused by the second blast, officials said.

Anxious relatives who heard reports about the explosions on Russian radio and television crowded the entrances but were barred from entering the airfield.

Manana Gogoa's son, David, 14, was attending the concert with a friend.

''We don't know anything. We just heard it on TV. They won't tell us anything,'' she said, weeping.

Many frightened parents tried to call their children's cell phones, but service was not working in the Tushino area.

Helicopters scoured the skies over the field, and ambulances and police trucks streamed in. Police discovered another bomb near a festival entrance and defused it, the ITAR-Tass news agency said. No other details were immediately available.

Many fans were oblivious to the blasts. The performers were informed but organizers decided not to tell the crowd or cut the festival short for fear of creating panic in the audience.

''There's no reason to spoil the party and there's no need to say anything that's unconfirmed,'' Sergei Galanin, one of the festival's announcers, told reporters.

The attack came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an order setting presidential elections in Chechnya for Oct. 5. The elections are the latest step in Putin's strategy of trying to bring a political resolution in the breakaway Caucasus republic even as fighting continues.

But rebel attacks have undercut Kremlin efforts to portray the situation in the war-shattered region as stabilizing.

In June, a female bomber blew up a bus carrying workers from a Russian air base near Chechnya, killing herself and at least 14 other people.

In May, an explosives-laden woman blew herself up in the middle of a crowd of Muslim pilgrims, killing at least 15, in an apparent attempt to kill the Kremlin-backed acting president of Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov. Two days earlier, three suicide attackers detonated a truck loaded with explosives outside a government compound, killing at least 59 people.

During the Moscow theater standoff in October, Chechen militants threatened to blow themselves up and held 800 people hostage for days. Russian special forces ended the standoff by pumping narcotic gas into the theater and then storming in. At least 129 hostages died, almost all from the effects of the gas.

Russian forces have been bogged down in Chechnya since 1999, when they returned after rebel raids on a neighboring region and a series of bombings in Russian cities. Russian troops fought a 1994-1996 war with Chechen separatists that ended in a Russian retreat and de facto independence for the region.

AP-NY-07-05-03 1417EDT


Israelis Bulldoze Unauthorized Mosque Next to Basilica of Annunciation

.c The Associated Press

NAZARETH, Israel (AP) - Bulldozers on Tuesday tore down a mosque being built without authorization next to the Basilica of the Annunciation, where Christians believe the Angel Gabriel foretold the birth of Jesus.

The mosque construction had raised tensions between Christians and Muslims in Nazareth, Israel's largest Arab city, and brought criticism from the White House and the Vatican. Its demolition on Tuesday provoked an outcry from Israel's Muslim Arab leaders but was welcomed by the Vatican.

A wrecking squad from Israel's Interior Ministry arrived at dawn and demolished the partially built mosque while most of the city's Muslims slept.

Hundreds of riot police guarded the workers and as protesters began arriving at the site, a few scuffles broke out and two policemen were slightly injured. Police arrested seven people, including Deputy Mayor Salman Abu Ahmed, a leader of the Islamic Movement, the largest political group among Israeli Arabs.

Tempers later cooled, and about 200 Muslim worshippers gathered peacefully for midday prayers in a nearby road, which police had closed to traffic.

In Rome, the Vatican welcomed the demolition. The Rev. Giovanni Battistelli, the Franciscan's top representative in the Holy Land, called the decision to remove the mosque ``fair and just.''

Battistelli told Vatican Radio, ``We had been asking for it since the beginning.''

An Israeli court issued a demolition order in March for the Shihab al-Din Mosque, which did not have a building permit despite informal government assent.

The issue has been a source of friction for years between Muslim and Christian leaders and Israeli authorities. Pope John Paul II threatened to cancel a visit in 2000 over the issue, and President Bush raised the subject with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during a meeting the following year.

Christian leaders argued building a mosque so close to the basilica was disrespectful. Muslims said they cherished the site because a Muslim religious leader is buried there.

A government committee set up to resolve the issue decided to renovate his tomb and incorporate it into a public square which would also serve Christian pilgrims visiting the church. Work on the square started immediately after three massive bulldozers cleared the site.

The demolition added to tensions mounting over a decision to start allowing small groups of non-Muslims to visit a Jerusalem shrine after barring them during the past 33 months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

The Jerusalem shrine is called Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, by Muslims, who venerate it as their third-holiest place after Mecca and Medina. Jews refer to it as the Temple Mount, site of the biblical Jewish temples and their holiest site.

Police spokesman Gil Kleiman said in recent weeks organized groups of Israelis and tourists of various religions have been allowed to tour the ancient hilltop under police escort. Kleiman said the mount - home to Islam's Al Aqsa Mosque compound - is still off limits to the general public.

However, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat maintained Jewish fanatics were being let in by police under the guise of being tourists, and their ``main aim is to harm the Haram as-Sharif.''

Kamal Khatib, a leader of the Islamic Movement, contended the moves in Nazareth and Jerusalem were part of a broader government campaign against Muslims.

``Now it's the demolition of the Shihab al-Din mosque and they're starting tours inside Al Aqsa mosque, then maybe they (Jews) will pray there and after that, maybe they'll demolish Al Aqsa,'' Khatib told Israel Radio.

The Islamic Trust, the body responsible for the Al Aqsa complex, asked police to stop the visits.

Israeli lawmaker Avraham Burg, a leading dove in the opposition Labor Party, warned of a possible backlash. ``Why do we have to be stupid and give someone an excuse,'' he told the radio. ``Especially at a period likes this, which is so sensitive.''

In September 2000, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, then Israel's opposition leader, visited the hilltop to underscore Israel's claim to sovereignty there.

A day after the visit, riots erupted between police and Muslim worshippers, and six Palestinians were killed. The confrontation triggered more protests that escalated into an armed Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Since then, more than 2,400 people have been killed on the Palestinian side, and more than 800 people on the Israeli side.

07/01/03 15:06 EDT


Ex-Iraq Info Minister Evasive on TV

.c The Associated Press

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - The once-defiant former Iraqi information minister appeared humbled and evasive in a TV interview aired Friday, describing the fall of the Iraqi regime to coalition forces as an ``earthquake'' and refusing to blame Saddam Hussein for the war.

During the fighting, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf gained fame for his bombast and transparently false claims of Iraqi victories. However, in a 30-minute interview with Al-Arabiya satellite network he offered one-word answers, dodged queries, and said repeatedly that only history could judge what happened.

``It's not a matter of my responsibility, it's not a matter of Saddam's responsibility. History will tell whose responsibility it was,'' he said. ``I wasn't involved in what went on in the higher places, and couldn't say no to anything except on matters concerning my job and had to carry out what I was told to do.''

``What happened was an earthquake - a really big earthquake,'' he said.

``It was very painful. I am not revealing a secret if I said I felt pain when I saw U.S. tanks in Baghdad,'' he said.

In a segment of the interview released Thursday, he said he had turned himself in to coalition forces but was set free. ``Through some friends, I went to the Americans,'' he said. ``I was interrogated about a number of subjects related to my job. After that, I was released.''

Al-Sahhaf is not on the list of the 55 most wanted Iraqi officials.

His appearances on Arab television Thursday - in brief clips shown on Dubai-based Al-Arabiya and in a five-minute interview on Abu Dhabi television - were his first return to the public eye since the collapse of Saddam's regime.

Al-Sahhaf had been a regular sight on TV before and during the U.S.-led war, sporting military garb and a beret with dark hair peeking out. He boasted of non-existent Iraqi military dominance and hurled insults at coalition forces and their leaders.

His outlandish claims and insults during the war bemused fellow Arabs and made al-Sahhaf a notorious figure in the West, where dozens of Web sites, T-shirts, and dolls ridiculed him.

One site, Baghdadbobs.com, even advertises al-Sahhaf hot sauce: The former information minister's photo and the quote ``God will roast your stomachs in hell'' are on jar. And last month, the London-based Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation released ``Baghdad Bob,'' an uncensored DVD compilation of al-Sahhaf's most memorable remarks.

He disappeared the day Baghdad fell to coalition forces on April 9, and reports have said he was hiding in a relative's home in Baghdad, fearing revenge from angry Iraqis.

In the interviews, he wore civilian clothes, his thinning hair was white, and his feisty air had vanished.

Sahhaf insisted on answering most questions with ``yes'' or ``no,'' but said he would write everything he knew and has experienced in the future. He added that he was giving up work as politician and would devote he time now to writing a book.

He rejected the idea of seeking asylum abroad, saying he would remain in Iraq.

Sahhaf said he was not aware if Saddam was dead or alive, had no comment about recent attacks on coalition forces, and would say little of the last days of the regime.

He also refused to say whether videos showing Saddam in the last days of the war had been pre-taped. ``History will tell,'' he said.

In his interview Thursday with Abu Dhabi television, he said he had had little contact with the military in the last few days of the regime, but insisted that he had been convinced of what he had told the international media.

06/27/03 19:25 EDT


Reports: Saudis Foil Plot to Attack Mecca

.c The Associated Press

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Police raided an apartment linked to an alleged al-Qaida plot to attack Mecca, arresting three women and confiscating weapons and gold, according to media reports Saturday.

The apartment in Mecca, Islam's holiest city, was leased to one of 12 men arrested earlier this month in the alleged plot.

Saudi security officials believe the Mecca plot was linked to the May 12 suicide bombings - blamed on the al-Qaida terror group - of Western residential compounds in the capital, Riyadh, which killed 35 people, including nine Americans and nine Saudi attackers.

The women arrested Friday were in the apartment with two children. Police also found three automatic rifles, a pistol, ammunition, two grenades, and a bag full of gold and money, the newspaper al-Watan reported.

Another newspaper, Okaz, said four Saudi women were arrested; the reason for the discrepancy was not immediately known. The reports did not say if the women were accused of any crime.

Officials would not comment on the reports.

Previously, officials have said police were looking for about 10 more suspects connected with the plot against Mecca, 450 miles west of the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

There have been reports of several arrests in and around Mecca since the June 15 arrests in the alleged plot, and security has been tight, particularly on roads leading out of the city.

The Interior Ministry has identified the 12 initial suspects as seven Saudis, three Chadians, one Egyptian and another whose nationality was not given.

06/21/03 09:38 EDT


Rome Mosque Removes Imam Over Sermon

.c The Associated Press

ROME (AP) - The main mosque in Rome suspended its imam after he delivered a sermon praising Palestinian fighters and calling for the destruction of Islam's enemies, officials said Saturday.

The decision by the mosque's administrators to remove Abdel-Samie Mahmoud Ibrahim Moussa capped a week of debate about the sermon, delivered during Friday prayers June 6 and published, in part, by the Rome daily La Repubblica a day later.

``Allah, let the Islamic fighters in Palestine, Chechnya and elsewhere be triumphant!'' La Repubblica quoted Moussa as saying in Arabic.

``Allah, destroy the houses of the enemies of Islam! Allah, help us crush the enemies of Islam! Allah ensure the victory of the nation of Islam!'' the imam said in quotes that were confirmed Saturday by Mario Scialoja, head of the World Muslim League in Italy, which is affiliated with the mosque.

Italy's interior minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, expressed outrage at the imam's call, saying Italy's mosques ``must be completely free of preachers of violence, recruiters for holy war and agents of foreign interests in Italy.''

Jewish groups including the Simon Wiesenthal Center urged the imam be replaced and expressed concern for the safety of Italy's Jewish community following what it said was Moussa's ``religious validation of terrorism.''

On Friday, the administrative council of the Islamic Cultural Center, made up of the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other Muslim countries, decided to suspend him, Scialoja said Saturday.

``We cannot allow the mosque to be used to espouse violence the way the young imam did,'' he said Saturday.

He said the majority of Rome's 90,000 Muslims are ``quite peaceful and serene'' and didn't share Moussa's message and that the Muslim community's relations with the Italian government are good.

It wasn't clear what would become of the 32-year-old Moussa, who is
Egyptian and was named to head Rome's main mosque five months ago by Cairo's Al-Azhar university, Sunni Islam's highest authority. Scialoga said it would take some time for a permanent replacement to be named.

06/14/03 10:34 EDT


Judge: Woman Can't Wear Veil in ID Photo

.c The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - A Florida judge ruled Friday that a Muslim woman cannot wear a veil in her driver's license photo, agreeing with state authorities that the practice could help terrorists conceal their identities.

After hearing three days of testimony last week, Circuit Judge Janet C. Thorpe ruled that Sultaana Freeman's right to free exercise of religion would not be infringed by having to show her face on her license.

Thorpe said the state ``has a compelling interest in protecting the public from criminal activities and security threats,'' and that photo identification ``is essential to promote that interest.''

Freeman, 35, had obtained a license in 2001 that showed her veiled with only her eyes visible through a slit. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, the state demanded that she return to have her photo retaken with her face uncovered. She refused, and the state revoked her license.

Freeman sued the state of Florida, saying it would violate her Islamic beliefs to show her face publicly.

Her case was taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union, which saw the case as a test of religious freedom. Conservative commentators ridiculed the case, saying it would be absurd to allow people to obscure their faces in ID photos.

Assistant Attorney General Jason Vail had argued that Islamic law has exceptions that allow women to expose their faces if it serves a public good, and that arrangements could be made to have Freeman photographed with only women present to allay her concerns about modesty.

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist praised Friday's decision, saying ``Nothing is more important than making sure that our people are safe.''

The ACLU of Florida said it was disappointed in Thorpe's statement that while Freeman ``most likely poses no threat to national security,'' others may take advantage of a ruling in her favor to threaten lives.

``So we have to infringe on Freeman's religious beliefs because of what someone else might do,'' ACLU legal director Randall C. Marshall said. ``It seems to be a funny kind of interpretation on how the law should apply.''

Marshall noted that a driver's license can be obtained without a photo in 14 states.

Freeman's lawyers argued that instead of a driver's license photo, she could use other documents such as a birth certificate or Social Security card to prove her identity.

Freeman, a convert to Islam previously known as Sandra Kellar, started wearing a veil in 1997. She had a mug shot taken without the veil after her arrest in Illinois in 1998 on a domestic battery charge involving one of twin 3-year-old sisters who were in her foster care.

Child welfare workers told investigators that Freeman and her husband had used their concerns about religious modesty to hinder them from looking for bruises on the girls, according to the police records. The girls were removed from the home.

06/06/03 16:50 EDT


Bush: Mideast Nations Must End Terror Aid

.c The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush says Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan must cut off financial aid to terrorist groups and help insure the security of Israel to foster the creation of a Palestinian state in a Middle East peace agreement

President Bush says peace between Israel and the Palestinians is possible and he is promising to keep working to achieve it after his summit talks next week.

Bush said he would tell Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister, that ``this isn't just a visit in which you won't hear from me again.''

Interviewed by Al-Arabiya news channel of the United Arab Emirates before he headed for Europe and then the Middle East, Bush said he was ``the kind of person who does what he says he's going to do, and I am going to achieve that. I think it's possible.''

Mindful of the problems that stand in the way, however, Bush said he would look for support from Arab leaders at a separate summit in Egypt to cut off financial support to terror groups and to help ensure Israel's security.

``I will remind everybody,'' Bush said in a session with a group of reporters, that ``in order for the process to go forward, in order for there to be confidence of all parties, there must be an absolute determined effort to fight off terror, to not allow the few to destroy the process.''

Bush reaffirmed that he would keep trying to isolate Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who was not invited to either summit. The president said he had come to realize that ``it was impossible to achieve peace with Chairman Arafat. He's failed the Palestinian people in the past.''

Bush's Middle East summits in Jordan and Egypt will follow visits to Poland and Russia and a stop in France for an abbreviated appearance at the annual summit of industrialized democracies.

The Middle East trip marks Bush's deepest involvement in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. He said he wanted to meet with regional leaders because ``I am intent upon working toward a two-state solution in the Middle East - two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace. In other words, I want them to look me in the eye so they can see that I am determined to work to make this happen.''

He made his comments Thursday in a series of interviews. They were released Friday as he flew to Poland.

Aboard Air Force One, Secretary of State Colin Powell seemed less upbeat than Bush. Powell played down expectations for Bush's meeting with Sharon and Abbas.

``Let's not look for the 56-yard pass right away or the 54-yard field goal,'' Powell said. ``We have to get this started. The tensions are great, and the mistrust is high.''

At the same time, Powell said that Arafat ``still has standing with the Palestinian people.'' But he said Abbas' earlier meeting with Sharon indicates the Palestinian prime minister ``does have authority to act, and he is not beholden to Mr. Arafat's instructions.''

``I take this as encouraging,'' Powell said.

To keep the two sides in touch after the summits and to help improve security conditions, the Bush administration plans to set up a ``coordination group'' of U.S. officials, Powell said.

``They will have somebody who will serve as a monitor, as a mediator, to help them move forward,'' he said. The head of the group has not been selected yet.

Bush said he would tell Middle East leaders that the United States needs help to achieve peace. ``And we need countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Jordan and others to work together to cut off funding for terrorist groups, to prevent the killers from moving around, to help provide security.''

As a Palestinian state emerges, Arab nations will have to support Abbas with development aid as well as advice, the president said. ``I am going to hold people accountable for their commitments,'' Bush said.

05/30/03 17:56 EDT


Woman Sues to Wear Veil

By Mike Schneider
.c The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (May 28) - Experts in Islamic law are being called to testify in the lawsuit of a Muslim woman fighting a state order to take off her veil for her driver's license photo.

Sultanna Freeman, 35, says Florida's insistence on photographing her face violates her religious rights.

``I don't unveil ... because it would be disobeying my Lord,'' Freeman testified Tuesday at the start of her non-jury trial.

Assistant Attorney General Jason Vail argued that having an easily identifiable photo on a driver's license is a matter of public safety.

``It's the primary method of identification in Florida and the nation,'' Vail said. ``I don't think there can be any doubt there is a public safety interest.''

Freeman's attorneys argue that state officials didn't care that she wore a veil in her Florida driver's license photo until after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, an allegation the state denies.

``This is about religious liberty. It's about whether this country is going to have religious diversity,'' said Howard Marks, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

Both sides planned to call experts in Islamic law at the trial, which continues Wednesday. A copy of the Quran has been entered into evidence.

Freeman, a convert to Islam previously known as Sandra Kellar, wore her veil for the photo on the Florida driver's license she obtained after moving to the state in 2001.

Nine months later, she received a letter from the state warning that it would revoke her license unless she returned for a photo with her face uncovered.

Freeman claims her religious beliefs require her to keep her head and face covered out of modesty and that her faith prohibits her face from being photographed.

05/28/03 07:34 EDT

2003 News Continued

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