- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

CHICAGO, Feb. 24 (UPI) — Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan stunned many this weekend when he told a packed auditorium this annual Saviors' Day speech could be his last.

In the address commemorating the birth of Master Fard Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam, Farrakhan warned the U.S. rush to war in Iraq would lead the nation "to a fall."

The speech, "America at the Crossroads: War is not the Answer," was seen by tens of thousands via satellite at more than 100 locations in the United States, Canada, England and the Caribbean. Farrakhan, 69, condemned the Bush administration, telling more than 10,000 inside the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion Bush was leading America to its downfall by seeking to militarily oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"Once the bombs stop falling, America will start rolling down the hill toward destruction," he said. "The America you now know, you'll never know again."

Farrakhan said the president of the United States is "spiritually blind."

"I don't care how bad Saddam Hussein is. That's Iraq's problem," he said. "Bush is our problem."

Farrakhan indicated his critique of U.S. policy would trigger retaliation and the government might target Nation of Islam assets under the guise of Homeland Security.

"I know they're coming after me," he said. "But they can kill me. They can arrest me. But I know there's a God who will answer. …

"Repent, or you will be destroyed. America, you've got a choice," he said. "Get your house in order, your family in order, your life in order. Maybe we'll be lucky enough to ride this storm out."

His dire warning about the unintended consequences of waging war was followed by announcement of his apparent decision to leave the public eye.

"Mark my words, when I am finished today, I am through," said Farrakhan, who has battled prostate cancer for 12 years. "My talk today is a final call."

Farrakhan, recovering from a surgery-related bladder infection and inflamed lower bowel, previously said the Feb. 23 speech might be his last before the United States attacked Iraq.

He spent eight days in a hospital earlier this year but did not give a reason for silencing his public persona after more than a quarter century as outspoken leader of the Chicago-based group once led by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. A Nation of Islam minister told the Chicago Sun-Times Farrakhan's announcement on Sunday was not health-related, and that the group would name a new spokesman.

"I will not be talking publicly anymore, but I will be in-house working to strengthen the nation," Farrakhan said.

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