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Osama aide preaches peace

A former Al Qaeda comrade-in-arms has some advice for Osama bin Laden to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, coinciding this year with a row over a threatened Quran-burning by an obscure US pastor that might have given the organisation a new lease of life.

world Updated: Sep 12, 2010 01:44 IST
Guardian

A former Al Qaeda comrade-in-arms has some advice for Osama bin Laden to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, coinciding this year with a row over a threatened Quran-burning by an obscure US pastor that might have given the organisation a new lease of life. Timeline

Noman Benotman is a Libyan ex-jihadi who now devotes himself to combating the message of jihadi extremism. He fought with the mujahideen against the Red Army in Afghanistan but broke with Osama bin Laden in 2000, after urging him to stop his campaign against the United States because, he argued, it was sabotaging the prospects for change in the Arab world.

Benotman's latest appeal calling for a unilateral six-month ceasefire will fall on deaf ears in Waziristan, or wherever bin Laden is hiding these days. Cynics may dismiss it as a propaganda exercise. But it is worth listening to as an eloquent challenge to Al Qaeda from one who once embraced its noxious world view:

"What has September 11 brought to the world except mass killings, occupations, destruction, hatred of Muslims, humiliation of Islam, and a tighter grip on the lives of ordinary Muslims by the authoritarian regimes that control Arab and Muslim states?" Benotman asks.

"Muslims across the world have rejected your calls for wrongful jihad and the establishment of your so-called 'Islamic state' when they witnessed the form this has taken in Iraq. Even the Palestinians consider your 'help' to have had negative repercussions on their cause."

Benotman said, "Most Muslim communities wish to embrace and engage in democracy; they seek justice, peace, freedom, human rights and peaceful co-existence with the rest of the world. Instead, where there was harmony, you brought discord."

"In New York, your un-Islamic actions have caused hurt, loss, pain and anguish to thousands of innocent people and their families. As a consequence Muslims seeking to build a House of God in New York are today being compared to Nazis…Indeed, Muslims living in democratic and free societies around the world are now experiencing the consequences of your irresponsible acts."

Benotman speaks with the zeal of the convert, like those former communists who came to excoriate the god that had failed them. He is in demand by academics, the media and governments as an expert on Al Qaeda who has near-unique personal experience. He recently joined the controversial Quilliam Foundation, which describes itself as "the world's first counter-extremism thinktank".

Benotman played a key role in persuading imprisoned members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, to draw up theological "revisions" to the jihadi world view, which directly challenged Al Qaeda. He worked closely on this with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, who likes to advertise his modernising agenda.