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Saturday, August 14, 2004

BBC NEWS | England | London | Hamza faces 11 US terror charges

BBC NEWS | England | London | Hamza faces 11 US terror charges: "Hamza faces 11 US terror charges

Radical Muslim preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri has appeared at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London. The cleric faces 11 terrorism charges including hostage-taking and trying to set up a terrorist training camp in the US.

The 47-year-old was arrested at his home in west London at 0300 BST on Thursday. The US want to extradite him over allegations of hostage-taking in Yemen and supporting terrorism. Abu Hamza, who preaches outside a north London mosque, is appealing against removal of his UK citizenship. Details of the charges were revealed in New York as he was appearing in court at the top security prison in south east London.

On Thursday, his home was being searched under the Extradition Act 2003, the street is cordoned off and items were seized, including videos, documents and a briefcase. The cleric has never been convicted of any terrorism offences in the UK, but Yemeni authorities accuse him of being involved in attacks there in 1998.

BBC social affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford said the FBI is thought to have built a case against him using information from James Ujaama, who is in prison in America.

The hearing before Bow Street magistrates sitting at Belmarsh is likely to be the start of a lengthy court battle. It is likely to be several months before a formal committal hearing at which a district judge will look at the evidence and decide whether it is strong enough for extradition.

The Egyptian-born preacher is already at the centre of a deportation battle with the Home Office, which wants to remove his citizenship, gained through marriage in 1981. The government claims that he has provided support and advice to terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.

He had been a regular preacher at the Finsbury Park mosque until he was banned by the Charity Commission in February 2003. It accused him of abusing his position for "personal and political, rather than charitable purposes". But he has continued to preach to worshippers outside the mosque, which was closed for repairs after a police raid in January 2003.

Mr Abu Hamza's lawyer, Muddassar Arani, said she had been surprised by the arrest and knew nothing of the charges. She spoke to her client by telephone and said: "He is quite calm about it. He said: 'Take your time and come down whenever you can'." She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that extradition would have to be based on something that had happened in the US. "I really can't comment on what is being alleged to have happened in America," she said."

Robert Irwin on Sayyid Qutb, the father of modern Islamist fundamentalism

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Is this the man who inspired Bin Laden?: "Is this the man who inspired Bin Laden?

Robert Irwin on Sayyid Qutb, the father of modern Islamist fundamentalism

Thursday November 1, 2001
The Guardian

As the west struggles to get to grips with its newest enemy, pundits, scholars and journalists have combed every inch of Osama bin Laden's life story for clues to what turned an apparently quiet and unexceptional rich Saudi boy into the world's most feared terrorist. But the most useful insights into the shaping of Bin Laden may lie not in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan, or the rampant materialism of 1970s Saudi Arabia, but the biography of a long dead Egyptian fundamentalist scholar called Sayyid Qutb.
Qutb, regarded as the father of modern fundamentalism and described by his (Arab) biographer as "the most famous personality of the Muslim world in the second half of the 20th century", is being increasingly cited as the figure who has most influenced the al-Qaida leader. Yet outside the Muslim world, he remains virtually unknown.

Qutb was the most influential advocate in modern times of jihad, or Islamic holy war, and the chief developer of doctrines that legitimise violent Muslim resistance to regimes that claim to be Muslim, but whose implementation of Islamic precepts is judged to be imperfect. Although Qutb is particularly popular in Saudi Arabia, his copious writings have been translated into most of the languages of the Islamic world. In the 1960s and 70s, when many Afghan religious scholars came under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qutb's ideas attracted particular interest in the faculty of religious law in Kabul, and the scholar Burhanuddin Rabbani translated him into the Afghan language of Dari. However, though Qutb is studied everywhere from Malaysia to Morocco, there are many versions of fundamentalism and his writings have been read and interpreted in many ways (and some Islamic fundamentalists have actually written polemics against Qutb's version of Islam).

Qutb was born in 1906, in Mush, a small village in Upper Egypt. Later he was to look back on the superstition and backwardness of village life. He was mostly educated at Dar al-'Ulum, a secular secondary college, and subsequently worked for the Egyptian ministry of education as an inspector of schools. In the 1930s and 40s he led a second life as a literary man about town. He haunted cafes, published literary criticism as well as a not particularly successful novel.

Everything changed in 1948 when he was sent to study education in the US. It was a fateful decision. Perhaps those who sent him thought that it would broaden his horizons. What happened was that on the voyage out he decided that his only salvation lay in an unswerving allegiance to Islam. Almost immediately his newfound resolve was tested on the liner, as a drunken American woman attempted to seduce him. Qutb did not succumb, nor was he later won over by the charms of the American way of life. He was repelled by prejudice against Arabs and shocked by the freedom that American men allowed their women. He described the churches as "entertainment centres and sexual playgrounds". After two and a half years of exposure to western civilisation he knew that he hated it and, on his return to Egypt in 1951, he joined the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

In the early 1950s the Muslim Brotherhood was in transition, as many of its members abandoned faith in gradualism and education as the way to bring about an Islamic revolution in Egypt and came to espouse violence instead. Qutb followed a similar trajectory. In 1954, he and many other Muslim Brothers were rounded up by Nasser's regime. He was to spend 10 years in prison. Though conditions were harsh, Qutb was not prevented from writing. He was released in 1964, then rearrested in 1965 after members of the Muslim Brotherhood had attempted to assassinate Nasser. He was routinely tortured before being brought to trial and then hanged on August 29 1966.

What Qutb wrote is of more significance than his somewhat shadowy life. His major work is Fi Zalal al-Koran (In the Shadow of the Koran), a commentary on the Koran in 30 volumes which began to appear in 1952 and was completed in prison. Apart from its length, two things are striking about the commentary: first, Qutb's unfailing sensitivity to the Koran's literary qualities; secondly, Qutb's relentless insistence on the unconditional demands made upon those believers. From his reading of the Koran, he deduced that the Christians are all destined for hell and in other, shorter, later works he polemicised against Christians, Jews and the western way of life.

Orientalism was another engine of the Jewish conspiracy: "It would be extremely short-sighted of us to fall into the illusion that when the Jews and Christians discuss Islamic beliefs or Islamic history or when they make proposals concerning Muslim society or Muslim politics or economics, they will be doing it with good intentions."

However, Qutb's fiercest polemics were reserved for those who were Muslims - or rather, those who claimed that they were Muslims. Neither Egypt under Nasser's dictatorship nor Arabia under the Saudi monarchy had made any serious attempt to implement the Shari'a, or religious law. More generally, the territories of Islam were governed by corrupt, westernised dictators and princes whose spiritually heedless and ignorant ways could only be compared to those of the Jahili Arabs - that is to say, to the pagan ways of the Arabs prior to the coming of Mohammed and the revelation of the Koran.

The corrupt regimes had to be resisted and overthrown. In order to find a hallowed precedent and legitimisation for such resistance Qutb had to go back to the era of the Mameluke Sultans of Egypt and to the writings of Ibn Taymiyya (1268-1328). Taymiyya, a somewhat curmudgeonly Islamic purist, had been outspoken in his opposition to almost everything that was not explicitly sanctioned by the Koran and the Prophet and his intransigence several times led him into conflict with the Mamelukes and, consequently, imprisonment.

However, when they found themselves at war with the Muslim Mongol Ilkhans of Iran, the Mamelukes asked him for a judgment sanctioning the holiness of their cause and, surprisingly, he obliged. He declared that, though the Mongols might have professed Islam, they did not follow absolutely all the prescriptions of the religion and that therefore they were Jahili pagans against whom jihad had to be waged. Taymiyya's verdict has underwritten Islamic resistance movements from the 1950s onwards. It was cited by the assassins of Sadat in 1981 and it is also used to justify the struggle against the Saudi monarchy.

Qutb seems to have rejected all kinds of government, secular and theocratic, and, on one reading at least, he seems to advocate a kind of anarcho-Islam. On the one hand his writings have exercised a formative influence on the Taliban, who, under the leadership of the shy, rustic Mullah Omar seem to have been concentrating on implementating the Shari'a in one country under the governance of the Mullahs. On the other hand, Qutb's works have also influenced al-Qaida, which, under the leadership of the flamboyant and camera-loving Bin Laden, seems to aim at a global jihad that will end with all men under direct, unmediated rule of Allah.

In the context of that global programme, the destruction of the twin towers, spectacular atrocity though it was, is merely a by-blow in al-Qaida's current campaign. Neither the US nor Israel is Bin Laden's primary target - rather it is Bin Laden's homeland, Saudi Arabia. The corrupt and repressive royal house, like the Mongol Ilkhanate of the 14th century, is damned as a Jahili scandal. Therefore, al-Qaida's primary task is to liberate the holy cities of Mecca and Medina from their rule. Though the current policy of the princes of the Arabian peninsula seems to be to sit on their hands and hope that al-Qaida and its allies will pick on someone else first, it is unlikely that they will be so lucky.

ยท Robert Irwin is Middle East editor of the Times Literary Supplement"