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Such terrorists “clearly consider themselves jihadists,” he said. “They consider themselves the mujahideen. They are the ones who believe they are engaged in this very holy struggle that is rooted in Islam.”

“I am a believer in not according these individuals any religious legitimacy,” Mr. Brennan said, adding that he thinks the majority of the Muslim world agrees with him.

Mr. Brennan said most Muslims think extremists hijacked the religion and are providing a false impression of Islam to the world.

He said his recent comments in a speech on jihad were either misunderstood or purposely misrepresented by critics.

Mr. Brennan was criticized by some counterterrorism specialists after he told the Center for Strategic and International Studies in March that jihad, or holy war, was a “legitimate tenet of Islam,” meaning to “purify one’s self.”

A key Islamic text used by terrorists, “Reliance of the Traveler,” however, states that jihad “means to war against non-Muslims.”

“Clearly, [Osama] bin Laden and al Qaeda believe that they are on this very holy agenda and this jihad,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that that’s what they believe.”

“However, my view and in the view of most Muslims of the world and others, is that what we cannot do is allow them to think, and to allow the rest of the world to think, the future terrorists of the world to believe, that al Qaeda is a legitimate representation of Islam and jihad,” he said.

Mr. Brennan said the terrorists “have truly just distorted the whole concept in terms of murder — murdering innocent men, women and children, murdering fellow Muslims on something that they cast as jihad.”

“But I don’t believe that they deserve that legitimacy whatsoever,” he said.

Mr. Brennan said the Obama administration is working in two ways to counter the al Qaeda “ideological narrative.” One is by seeking to promote a “counternarrative” from the Muslim world that condemns the extremists, and the second is by countering lies spread by terrorists about the United States and the West

“Al Qaeda has been able to gain recruits and to propagandize by misrepresenting what the United States and the West is about, and I think what we need to do is ensure that as we present ourselves to the Middle East and to the rest of the world, we have to make sure that people understand that we are not out to conquer countries and to suppress Islam, and to suppress their culture and their people,” he said.

Andrew G. Bostom, author of a book on jihad based on primary Islamic sources, said he strongly disagrees with Mr. Brennan.

Since 2001, Muslims have carried out more than 15,350 attacks. Mr. Bostom said Mr. Brennan’s view is “a dangerous concatenation of hard-left, Islamophile cultural relativism and the relentless, successful ‘Islamic dawa’ effort of generations of jihadists.”

In his 2007 book, “The Legacy of Jihad,” Mr. Bostom stated that the deaths caused by Muslim attacks “should remind us that there is just one historically relevant meaning of jihad, despite contemporary apologetics … Jahada, the root of the word jihad, appears 40 times in the Koran … meant and means ‘he fought, warred or waged war against unbelievers and the like.’”

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