In exclusive interview, Abu Qatada decries “Jihad is not and should not be about murdering innocent civilians;” believes US-led coalition to fight ISIS unnecessary because “ISIS will destroy itself”
By Ali Younes
He was called Al Qaida’s ambassador in Europe, a radical preacher, a Salafist, a violent Jihadist, a terrorist mastermind and Europe’s Bin Laden. But Omar Othman, better known as Abu Qatada insists that he is none of that. I spoke to him at length at his house in Amman, Jordan on several occasions about the stages he went through in his life.
We discussed his controversial “ Algerian terror fatwa” the terror charges he was charged with in Jordan, his intellectual transformations over the years, and of his developed doctrine of Jihad which stands as a total opposite to the “militaristic” or violent Jihad that dominates of the current Jihadist groups today. He also talked about his disdain for Salafisim which he now renounces and says that he is no longer one and of his rejection of using terror to empower Muslims.
He also talked about his British experience which made him rethink his strategies and his legal case both in Britain and Jordan . He also spoke of his deep respect for women especially his wife and his mother who he says have made him a better man, and his strong belief that Muslim women should be empowered and respected as equal human being. He also spoke about his dedication to Palestine and how ISIS, based on his theological reasoning, will eventually cannibalize and destroy itself from within. He also talked about his three young daughters and two sons and their choices in life and education.
Contrary to the image the western media weaved for him as a dangerous terrorist mastermind and a blood thirsty murderer, Abu Qatada appears to be a man in complete harmony with himself and of clear religious convictions that he says are to make the world a better place for Muslims and Islam as he sees it. “I am not a terrorist” he told me. He says that he transformed himself both theologically and politically in light of changing realities in Arab World especially after the rise of many Jihadists groups that use extreme murderous violence against innocent civilians in the name of Jihad and Islam. “Jihad is not and should not be about murder.” “I am no longer a Salafi” he added. The historic term “ Salafi” means the return to the methods and religious life of early Islamic scholars.
But for Abu Qatada, this term has been abused and has become a “meaningless slogan.” And that “every group that calls itself a salafist is in reality no more than a front for political agendas that probably uses Islam and religion for political and monetary gains.” According to this reasoning, therefore, this label no longer applies to him.
His views on the doctrine of Jihad have also become more sophisticated and developed further, reflecting his new thinking about the best strategy to empower the Muslim Ummah or nation. His doctrine of Jihad as he explained it to me, is not about murdering innocent civilians, journalists or aid workers or just wanton murderous violence the way ISIS is making it to be. In that sense, Abu Qatada said ” I am not a Jihadist .” For him, Jihad should come to mean a Muslim renaissance where the whole “ Ummah” should rise up to be a powerful and advanced nation on par with other developed powerful nations of the world.
He states that “Jihad should be among other things, about political, cultural, scientific empowerment of the Muslims.” The problem with current” Jihadist” groups today is that they use “ Jihad” in a way that made the whole religion of Islam absorbed by “Jihad” not the other way around. This is a pivotal point in Abu Qatada’s development of his doctrine of Jihad.
“The problem with groups like ISIS is that they use Jihad as paramount to everything else in Islam, and this is wrong and destructive.”
Speaking of ISIS, Abu Qatada said that this group is “a destructive, takfeeri, bloody and murderous organization that will not last too long.” He reasons that such murderous groups are intrinsically “self-destruct” . This is because its core values are based on finding elements within Islamic laws to negate the others and then murder them in the name of Jihad. Thus, ISIS will end up destroying itself by cannibalizing its members and murdering its way to a fiery end. Abu Qatada, meanwhile is confident that ISIS will eventually destroy itself based on his understanding of the way it uses Islamic faith and law to justify its actions and its narrow understanding of Jihad. That said, however, he argues that the international coalition led by the United States to destroy it has in essence breathed life in it.
While many in the Arab world speculate, rather conspiratorially, that ISIS is “a CIA creation” Abu Qatada holds that this is not true. “ISIS is not a CIA creation; it is, however, the choice of the enemies of our nation to use it against us.” In other words he thinks that the West has jumped on ISIS bandwagon, by amplifying its size and danger, in order to use it to its advantage to wreak havoc in the Arab World.
He does not however consider the United States or the West as an inherent enemy of Muslims. “Their actions against us and their support of Israeli actions against the Palestinians made them our enemies.” Using the American actor Silvestre Stallone character Rocky Balboa in the movie “Rocky” to illustrate his point further, he argued that “Muslims did not go to the United States to fight it, the way Rocky Balboa went to Moscow to fight the Russian boxer, similarly, the US through its unconditional support for Israel to occupy our lands in Palestine, made itself as our enemy.”
Abu Qatada, in addition, was accused of being an “ Al Qaida’s man in Europe” and that he held allegiance to Bin Laden and that he gave a controversial fatwa to Jihadists in Algeria to kill women and children during the civil war in that country. He denied both charges. He said that he actually never pledged allegiance to Bin Laden. Abu Qatada. moreover, does not see himself as a member of any religious group, jihadist or not. ” I am a religious scholar, not a member of any political or religious group. my concerns are researching Islamic religious laws and theology. ” he said
He also said that his famous Algerian Fatwa was about allowing Algerian Jihadists, on religious ground, to attack the Algerian army military bases not population or civilians. He said however, that the Algerian military had kept women and children-the families of its soldiers- on their military bases premises, therefore, it is the Algerian military that endangered the lives of innocent civilians by housing them inside legitimate military targets. He also said that Saudi religious scholars went even further than him and were too extreme about the issue.
Abu Qatada is a free man today, thanks to his legal victory in the European Human Rights Court against the British government especially Home Secretary Theresa May. The British government had tried for years to deport him to his native Jordan, where he was convicted in absentia on terror charges.
Abu Qatada was accused of masterminding plots to carry out several terror bombings in Amman known as the Millennium bombings. His lawyers however argued successfully that the confessions by witnesses against Abu Qatada were gained through torture in Jordan. Several British judges recognized that the evidence against Abu Qatada was extracted through torture and it was“extremely thin evidence.”
The European Human Rights Court agreed with Abu Qatada’s attorneys and rendered all confessions and the evidence against him inadmissible in court. This ruling, therefore, prohibited the British government form extraditing Abu Qatada to Jordan based on the discredited witnesses statements that were key to his conviction in Jordan in the first place.
Therefore, the only way for the British government to get rid of Abu Qatada and deport him from Britain was to convince Jordan based the legal treaty between the two countries, to retry Abu Qatada based on new evidence. Jordan agreed, and Abu Qatada was removed to Jordan where he faced a new trial. But since the Jordanian prosecutors were unable to come up with new evidence against him, Abu Qatada was found not guilty and was cleared of all charges against him. Local Jordanian newspapers reported, however, that the Jordanian government had agreed to the British demands not to use its alleged torture-based evidence only after it got paid a $ 150 million from Britain.
Although Abu Qatada was famous for his alleged connections to terrorism, Al Qaida, and violent Jihad, his views on women have rarely been explored and he comes across surprisingly, as open minded and modern. He told me that he considers women as the best creature God has created. “I have the deepest and utmost respect for women.” He also said that he does not consider it mandatory for women to cover their faces under a veil. “Although it is ok to do so, but women don’t have to do it. It is a matter of choice.” He said.
He spoke with a smile on his face about his mother Aisha who when she and his father were displaced from their village, Dier al Shaikh in 1948 after the founding of Israel, they went to live in the Palestinian Christian town of Biet Sahour, and how because of her, his father made better choices for his family.
He laughed fondly as he was telling me about his mother when she as a young girl used to drink from her Christian neighbors “grape juice” who used to make it in big pots and was getting tipsy. Or that when she gave birth to her oldest son and that it was her Christian neighbors who named him “Maher” while his father insisted on naming him Ali.
The name Maher remained the brother’s legal name, while Ali became the unofficial nickname. Just like his mother, Abu Qatada feels the deepest appreciation and respect for his wife. “She is in control of this house, and my lady.” he said. He also added that it was because of his wife insistence that they made the decision the buy the plot of land where they built their house before Amman became too expensive to buy any land or build a house. He feels very much grateful to her because of that.
The same thing goes for his children. Abu Qatada has 3 daughters, and two boys. He told me that his oldest daughter, 24, made her own choice to study Islamic Sharia, and while she covers her face, it was solely her choice. The middle daughter is now studying Biology and the youngest, 16 is in high school.
Qatada, 19, told me that when he was in Britain he was studying engineering, but when the family returned to Jordan, he could not continue with Engineering at the University of Jordan, he changed his major to study Islamic Sharia. The youngest is 13 years old Zied who was born while his father was in British jail. Abu Qatada insists he never forced his children to do anything. “My role as a father is to teach my children how to make the right choices in their lives.”
Ali Younes is the Editor of the Arab Daily News. He can be reached at : aliyounes@theArabdailynews.com, and on twitter @clearli
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