Q&A with Muslim cleric Abu Qatada
LONDON, England (CNN) -- London Muslim cleric Abu Qatada has been convicted in Jordan for inciting terrorist acts and has been linked by Spanish authorities to people with alleged ties to Osama bin Laden. In his first TV interview with Western media since September 11, he spoke with CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour.
Here is an edited transcript of that interview, which took place in November 2001 in London:
Q: The Jordanian authorities, intelligence and police say that you are the right-hand man of Osama bin Laden.
A: The Jordanian government has a habit of lying, and its intelligence service provides the accusations. At the beginning of the new millennium, when they said I had a relationship with bin Laden and uncovered an organization they claimed had connections with Osama bin Laden, the media was full of it. Afterwards, a list of accusations was presented to court and none of those accused had any connection with bin Laden. When it came to trial, it transpired that it wasn't really an organization, and as such, it's a lie perpetuated by the Jordanian government.
Q: Have you ever met Osama bin Laden?
A. I have never met him. I went to Pakistan in 1990, and Osama bin Laden left before that time to Sudan. So I haven't met him. This is not an attempt to escape the question, for if I had met him I would have been proud of it.
Q: Have you been to Afghanistan?
A: I went to Peshawar (in Pakistan) in 1990 and I was there as a professor of Sharia sciences (Islamic jurisprudence) and I didn't enter Afghanistan. ... I entered Afghanistan to visit some scholars after the fighting ended and Kabul was opened.
Q: Jordan has sentenced you in absentia for charges where they said you were involved in explosions -- bombings -- in Jordan, including plots against American tourists; that was around, as you know, the millennium celebrations.
A. Jordan. The whole world discovers petroleum and uranium, and Jordan discovers every year or two nothing but organizations claiming that they wanted to cause explosions and destruction. It was proven later that the explosions inside the cinema were unfortunately the work of some intelligence officers to cause confusion.
Q: You've heard of Djamel Beghal?
A: This name was mentioned a lot in the press and in their questions to me, but I don't know this name, and I don't remember if it was mentioned before these latest events or before the press mentioned it.
Q: Well he has said in his confessions that he learned all about Jihad from you and your teachings when he was here in London. And that he was at your sermons at the Baker Street mosque, and also here at your home. Why would he say that if you've never met him before?
A: I have been teaching in London for eight years, so for him to have come across me and learned about Sharia or asked something, it's not something I can confirm or deny because many like him pass by me and learn and ask me legitimate religious questions.
Q: People who know your teachings say that they are quite militant, that you do preach an anti-Western message, an anti-American message. Why do you do that?
A: I believe that the West has greatly oppressed our nation and now it's trying not only to pillage our wealth and waste our resources but also to change the way we live, and consequently I have attempted to uncover these plots and tried to strengthen the roots of religion in our nation to reject the Western ideology. I believe this is part of the religion I practice, and it's nothing that I would deny but rather I am proud of it.
Q: And what do you say to your students?
A: I have no students, but I teach all Muslim people. I teach them this religion which should protect them against any other methods or ways, and teach them how to protect themselves against attacks by others. I teach them how to worship God and how to follow the ethics of Islam.
Q: Djamel Beghal and other people, including Nizar Trabelsi, Kamel Daoudi, Zacharias Moussaoui, they all say that they learned from you religious training and encouragement to go to Afghanistan to get trained and also encouragement to wage Jihad from Afghanistan. They said that.
A: I teach people religion but as to where they go to apply this religion, I have means of asking them where they go to apply the religion. This is not true in the precise sense of what was mentioned in the question. I don't tell people to go to Afghanistan or Palestine. I am not a Ministry of Defence to tell people where to go, but I ask all Muslims to defend this religion.
Q: Why do you think that they would say that you and your fellow teachers here tell people they have to go and prepare for Jihad in Afghanistan?
A: To prepare for Jihad is a matter that is mentioned in the Koran, so if they heard me say that people have to go and prepare for Jihad for sake of Allah, this is something that is written in the Koran. "Prepare for them all what you can in the way of force and horses." As to where they go, it's not my concern and I don't undertake this task.
Q: Do you know Mohammed Atta?
A: I have heard this name through your media, and I have not heard this name before (September 11).
Q: Police documents from Germany say that your sermons and your teachings, recordings of these teachings, were found in his apartment in Hamburg. Why do you think that he would have your teachings? This is a man who is being accused of flying one of the hijacked planes into the World Trade Center buildings.
A: My tapes are distributed worldwide, in Germany, Europe and in Arab countries, so if the presence of one my tapes in somebody's house who had done something is an absolute proof of accusation is ridiculous. The question is what is on that tape and its relationship with what Mohammed Atta had done, if he had done this act that took place in New York. The question is what is the relationship between that tape of mine that he heard and his act, if it were he that had done it.
Q: The question also is, several of the men who have been detained in Europe with suspected links to the al Qaeda organisation are also claiming to be your followers.
A: I belong to no organization, neither al Qaeda nor any other organization. But being a scholar and teaching people about religion, there is nothing to stop anyone who belongs to al Qaeda or any other organization to listen to me, ask my opinion or learn from me. This is a normal relationship within Muslim communities.
Q: Maybe you misheard me, I am not suggesting that you are a member of al Qaeda. According to police documents your followers include several men who are in jail, in detention now in Europe, because of suspected links with al Qaeda.
A: I repeat once more, I don't belong to any organization and I repeat that there are no Muslims that belong to an organization of mine. For people to listen to me, come to me and listen to my sermons or take my tapes and listen to my lessons, this has no connection with what someone does in terms of an act related or has a connection with organizations. Attention must be paid to this. The Muslim world has scholars and religious leaders; listening to them doesn't mean that one is a follower or carrying out their instructions. If you look, you will find that (one) might have tapes of the Koran and tapes of many other sheiks, not only myself. This is what I would expect.
Q: What is it about your teachings, do you think, that inspire men to commit violence -- for instance, Mohammed Atta; for instance, these people who are in jail in Europe suspected of being linked with the terrorist organisation known as al Qaeda. What is it about your teachings that inspires these men?
A: Until now, I don't believe what the U.S. says -- that those it had shown are those who committed these acts. The whole world is asking the U.S. to provide proof of so and so's involvement or an involvement of an organization; until now this has not been clear. To answer your question, I teach people religion. I have books here which I read to them from, but what makes them commit an act later on is something I don't know and don't understand, and the other people are required to answer that.
Q: Are you pleased, happy or satisfied that your teachings are discovered in the possession of people who are accused of causing mass terrorism, the September 11 terrorist attack?
A: I haven't thought of this before now to be happy or sad. First of all, I don't even know if I have met those people or whether or not I have come across those names before. This is not something I thought about, whether it would make me happy or sad.
Q: Do you believe that there are any targets in Britain that are legitimate targets for the kind of terrorism that was witnessed in the United States on September 11?
A: I believe that it is the right of every human being to defend his religion and country. After what I have seen on TV -- the killing of Muslims in Afghanistan -- people have the right to defend themselves. In the West, you are no purer or higher (more civilized) than those poor and weak people who are being killed in Afghanistan. So I believe that people have the right to defend themselves.
Q: What happened in the United States -- before anyone was being killed in Afghanistan -- do you believe that American civilians were legitimate targets?
A: I repeat for the thousandth time, no one has the right to judge those who are absent. Every Muslim has learned that a judge cannot rule in a case where a man came to him with an eye taken out. Maybe his opponent had both of his eyes taken out. How do you want me to condemn this act when I don't know who did it and why? You are crying over the death of 6,000 people when you might have killed 20,000. How do you want us to judge someone who is absent and we have not heard his or her story? Regardless of being a Muslim or not, the question is looking into the facts of the matter.
Q: I am not sure I understood your answer. My basic question was, do you believe that civilians, women and children, old men, are legitimate targets in what you call this conflict between Islam and the West?
A: When you impose a method of war, and when America bombed a civilian target in Hiroshima where thousands were killed in order to achieve a military target, how can I tie the hand of the other when you apply the same principle? I cannot answer if this act was right or wrong. I have not answered nor condemned nor condoned nor encouraged but I say that the principle of war which is imposed by man has to expect the same return.
Q: Experts, people who are familiar with your writings and teachings, say that in the mid-1990s you issued several religious edicts -- not fatwas, but orders -- saying that it is ... justifying the killing of women and children from families who are connected with the government of Algeria.
A: In our religion, the killing of women and children is not allowed. This is a matter which is decided and no one can say otherwise, but what has to be known is that if the only way to stop an attack on our women and children is by threatening (the attackers) to kill their women and children, we shall do so. This is allowed under religious laws to treat others to do the same. We don't kill women and children but an attack on their dwellings becomes legitimate if this is to stop the evil deeds of those people.
Q: So, it is a legitimate threat -- I don't understand -- what is the difference between threatening and doing it?
A: I said to threaten because then they can be stopped. Because a threat is different from the act. To take a child and a women and to kill them, this is wrong and unlawful. But if we threaten them (the attackers) they are scaring them into not killing the women and children and not committing crimes of rape.
Q: If you threaten, it can also lead to them being killed -- because if you say, as a respected scholar, and you tell people to threaten the women and children and say that it is legitimate to kill them -- what's to stop any of the people who hear that from going out and doing that?
A: I have not said one day that the killing of children and women is allowed but I said that the bombing of the sites where they shelter among their women and children. This is in the case of them continuing to kill our women and children.
Q: You were briefly arrested here in England back in February and then released. With the change in climate right now since September 11, do you think that you might be arrested again -- are you concerned about that?
A: Everything is expected in this world. As long as you have in America something called secret evidence, everything is possible under your defeated system of justice.
Q: What do you teach people about America and about Jihad and about what they can do?
A: We teach them religion, and religion requires them to live the life of Muslims and not the life of those who are not Muslims. In turn, it is the duty of a Muslim to live by Islam and not to be subjugated or enslaved by the lives of the others, America or the others. Islam must be lived as it is without mixing with others. This is what I preach. ... The West now wants to impose its way of life upon us. All aspects of life, politically, economically and socially. What I call for is to refuse this newcomer and to live all aspects of life by Islam.
Q: There have been videotapes that have come out of Afghanistan -- there has been this man Sulaiman Abu Ghaith who is the spokesman for al Qaeda. I am not asking you whether you know him or whether you are linked to him -- I want to know what you think of what he said. He praised the people who did what they did in the U.S. on September 11; he said the world should expect more of that, and he called these people good men, good and faithful men. And he said they are good Muslims. Is that what Islam teaches -- that it is good to fly a plane into a building killing everybody?
A: Listen to me. You have presented to me as a great journalist with the CNN. There is man who lost a sum of money in street No. 1 so he went to look for this in street No. 2. Do you know why? Because street No. 2 was lit. Your problem is over there, don't victimize me. You are dealing with your problem in Afghanistan in your filthy way, which is represented by the American policy and the military. Your problem is not with me and it's not here. Here our role is to teach people and to make a stand as required by our religion. So don't try to find anything here that merits an accusation or a wrong practice.
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