- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12 (UPI) — Many U.S. Muslims told United Press International on Wednesday they believe the newest al Jazeera tape doesn’t link Osama bin Laden to Iraq, but others said Saddam Hussein has been helping the al Qaida leader since the early 1990s.

Many complained that both the media and the Bush administration were allowing “this pretender to act as a major Muslim leader.”

“Who gave bin Laden the right to address the entire Muslim nation? And why are the media and the Bush administration presenting this pretender as a major Muslim leader,” asked Aslam Abdullah of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council.

“The tape establishes no link between Iraq and al Qaida but bin Laden has no authority to address Muslims like this,” Abdullah said.

“Bin Laden and his group represent only a tiny but dangerous minority,” said Aziz al Tai of the Iraqi American Council, a group opposed to Saddam Hussein. “As the Iraqis would reclaim Iraq from Saddam, the Muslims will reclaim Islam from bin Laden and his ilk.”

He added, “The tape does not link bin Laden to Iraq, but there’s a link and this coordination has been going on throughout the 1990s.”

Faiz Rehman, director of communications for the American Muslim Council, an umbrella organization of more than a dozen Muslim groups from around North America, warns that rather than focusing on Iraq, the media and the U.S. administration should be “focusing on the impact of bin Laden’s message on the Muslim masses.

“We feel that he is one desperate individual out there who is trying to get attention and can do anything in desperation,” he said.

A spokesman for the Council for American-Islamic Relations, another Washington-based Muslim advocacy group, said the bin Laden tape was “a big deal for the media while ordinary people do not pay much attention to it.”

“That is a very valid point,” says Ali Faroshian, a Virginia shopkeeper who came from Iran more than 20 years ago. “The tape is not why American wants to invade Iraq. So why make so much fuss over it? Attack, if you want to do so. You are the superpower, who can stop you?”

Tai also downplayed the importance of the tape, although for different reasons. He believes that there’s already enough evidence to establish the link between bin Laden and Saddam.

Saddam, he said, started as a secular Arab nationalist but he didn’t stick with any ideology. “While he was killing and torturing Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Iraq, he was backing the same group in Syria. He has a history of supporting terrorists to achieve political goals and to eliminate opponents.”

In the ‘80s, Tai said, terrorists hired by Saddam assassinated a prominent Iraqi scholar Mehdi al Hakim in Sudan.

And Munif Abdul Razaz, who headed Iraq’s ruling Ba’ath nationalist party before Saddam, was assassinated in London in the 1970s.

Tai said that Saddam also backed Abu Nidal and other Arab terrorist organizations. “After he lost the Gulf war, Saddam opened the door very wide to a particular group of Wahabi Muslims linked to bin Laden. This group capitalized on the poverty the Iraqis had to face due to the Gulf war. With Saddam’s help, it built mosques throughout the country and recruited poor Iraqis.

“They were particularly hostile to the Shia Muslims and killed many Shias in Iraq and desecrated their shrines. This group has organization and religious links to al Qaida.”

Tai said Saddam started to woo Muslim religious groups after the Gulf War, put “Allah ho Akbar” on the Iraqi flag, built mosques and allowed the Wahabis to kill his opponents.

He said that in Iraq, al Qaida had two front organizations — Ansarul Islam and Jandul Islam — based in the mountains of Kurdistan.

Quoting Iraqi opposition leader Shaikh Mohammed Mohammed Ali, Tai said Iraqi officials also had links to the Sept. 11 hijackers and one of them, Mohammed Atta, met Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague.

Tai said that the Iraqi infidels bin Laden referred to in his tape are Iraqi Shias, because bin Laden and the Wahabis regard Shias as infidels and have never hesitated to kill them.

“In the tape, when bin Laden urges Muslims to kill infidels, he is actually asking the Wahabis to kill the Shias.”

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