- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Saudis deny radical link

Saudi Arabia has no link to a radical Muslim group in London that is planning a militant conference on tomorrow's anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Saudi Embassy said.

The embassy, in a statement this week, referred to news reports that said Saudi-based businessmen finance the conference sponsor, al-Muhajiroun, which praises Osama bin Laden and claims the West is waging war against Islam, not terrorism.

"It is important to clarify that al-Muhajiroun is a British-based extremist Islamic group whose views are contrary to those of Saudi Arabia, [which] has been a target of the group's rhetoric," the embassy said.

Saudi Arabia expelled the group's leader, Syrian-born Omar Bakri Mohammed, in 1986 and has monitored al-Muhajiroun's activities in several countries since then.

"For years, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly alerted Western nations where these groups have operated freely of the hateful speech coming from such extremists in their territories and has been actively seeking international support to prevent the funding for such groups," the embassy said.

The Saudi government has been embarrassed by other recent news reports that link Saudi money to terrorism and claim Saudi Arabia has not been cooperative in the war against terrorism. The Saudis have repeatedly denied those reports, and the Bush administration has praised Saudi Arabia as an ally.

Al-Muhajiroun hopes to attract "followers of militant groups" and radical Islamic clerics in Britain to its conference, according to the London Sunday Telegraph. The conference aims to create an Islamic Council of Britain to support the imposition of Islamic law in Britain and create a worldwide Islamic state.

The group's Web site (www.almuhajiroun.com/pr/uk/12-07-02.php) denounces the war on terrorism as a "war against Islam and Muslims, initiated by the U.S. and [Britain], legitimized by the United Nations, supported by the corrupt leaders of Muslim countries."

The Web site praises bin Laden, his al Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban leaders whom the United States toppled in Afghanistan.

They are "fighting on behalf of Muslims worldwide [and] deserve the support of all Muslims," al-Muhajiroun said.

Hezbollah terrorism

The U.S. ambassador to Lebanon yesterday defended the inclusion of Hezbollah militants on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations, despite criticism from Foreign Minister Mahmud Hammud.

"Let us be very clear that the U.S. government views Hezbollah as a focal point in its campaign against many terrorist organizations operating around the world," Ambassador Vincent Battle told reporters.

Mr. Hammud complained about "threats" last week by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who called Hezbollah the "A team" of terrorism and pledged that the United States will get the group "in good time," Agence France-Press reported.

"We do not accept threats, and we do not submit to them," Mr. Hammud said, adding that the United States knows that the Lebanese government considered Hezbollah a legitimate resistance group against Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon. Israel withdrew its forces in May 2000.

"This does not help the good relations that we want between Lebanon and the United States, and we do not see the justification," he said.

Lebanese government spokesman Ghazi Aridi was even more outraged about U.S. criticism of the closure of the MTV television station that reflected Lebanese Christian opposition to Syria's influence over Lebanon.

"We do not accept lessons from those who terrorize Arabs and Muslims in the United States," he said yesterday.

The U.S. Embassy said the government's action "calls into question Lebanon's commitment to freedom of the press."

Questioning Egypt

State Department human rights envoy Scott Carpenter will travel to Egypt tomorrow to talk with government officials about the case of a jailed Egyptian-American human rights advocate.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim was convicted in July of "tarnishing" Egypt's image abroad and illegally accepting foreign funding for his human rights organization. President Bush says he will oppose any new aid for Egypt to protest the conviction.

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