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Some Saudis Still Support Extremism

by Donna Abu-Nasr Thursday, May. 22, 2003 at 9:51 PM

"I would be ready to protect (militants) the way I protect my wife and children. I have the right to protect a fellow Muslim," said Abdullah, an ultraconservative who prefers home-schooling and shops for his wife's clothes.

Some Saudis Still Support Extremism

Donna Abu-Nasr, AP Writer, May 22, 2003

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - A merchant and former mosque preacher who identified himself only as Sheik Abdullah threw a kiss to a television screen showing a picture of al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri.

"His words are sweet," the merchant said after a speaker on a tape purported to be al-Zawahri called on Muslims Wednesday to attack the United States and rise up against Arab countries that support it. "They only promise us good things."

Saudi Arabia's government has come out strongly against the Muslim extremism believed behind the May 12 Riyadh suicide bombings. But among ordinary Saudis, it's possible to find support for militancy - even after the violence struck home and Muslims were killed.

It's impossible to measure the kind of support Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, whose al-Qaida network is blamed for the attacks, and other militants have. Those against terror acts say 90 percent of Saudis are with them, while those who back such attacks claim the same percentage of support.

"It's hard to gauge what Saudis feel from the first contact," said Mohsen al-Awajy, an Islamist lawyer who maintains contact with more extremist Saudis. "There's no freedom of expression and many are too afraid to express their opinions."

"These opinions, however, will be translated in another way that will be harmful to the United States," al-Awajy added.

Al-Awajy said his Web site was swamped with angry messages responding to an article he wrote in which he "softly" criticized the May 12 attacks as a crime. At least 34 people, including nine attackers, were killed and almost 200 injured.

"The messages accused me of being Westernized, told me not to criticize the mujahedeen and advised me to remain silent," he said.

Sheik Abdul-Rahman al-Matroudi, undersecretary at the Islamic Affairs Ministry, told The Associated Press his ministry is doing everything it can to spread the message about "good Islam" in mosques, schools and the media.

"I cannot imagine that a person of sound mind would condone such acts or feel the slightest sympathy toward the attackers," he said.

Condemnation of the attacks came from a bin Laden relative Wednesday - his brother-in-law Jamal Khalifa.

"I ask you to come out and say a word that would extinguish the fire of turmoil that has erupted," Khalifa said in a letter published Wednesday by Al-Watan daily.

"Tell those youths, my brother, that the damage suffered by Muslims is large and great, and these massacres, which have spilled Muslim blood and led to the arrest of thousands of pious young men ... must stop," the letter added.

Khalifa told The Associated Press he felt it was his duty to write the letter. He said bin Laden was a symbol for militants, and that anything he says to them would have an affect on his followers.

"If he speaks out against such actions, they would, if not stop, then decrease," Khalifa said.

Khalifa's letter and comments were the first made by someone related to bin Laden since the bombings.

Supporters of the attacks, the first involving suicide-bombers in Saudi Arabia, list several grievances that they say justify their position: America's war in Afghanistan and Iraq, its support for Israel, and the Saudi government's close ties to Washington and its practice of what Abdullah and others call "fake Islam."

Those people say the possibility that Muslims may be killed in the violence should not deter the militants.

"Their aim is to frighten Americans, and if a Saudi is killed, well, that's not their intention," said Abdullah al-Fahd, 37, a businessman.

"American blood is legitimate because the Americans have legitimized Arab blood everywhere," added al-Fahd. "They have declared war on Islam. Why should we sympathize with them?"

His friend, Sultan al-Khuthaila, 26, strongly disagreed.

"Islam cannot condone such actions," said al-Khuthaila. "I, as a Saudis, am upset at what happened."

Al-Khuthaila said he would report any man he suspects of being a militant, adding: "We want the government to strike them with a fist of iron."

Abdullah, the merchant, insisted he would give shelter to any militant who seeks it.

"I would be ready to protect them the way I protect my wife and children. I have the right to protect a fellow Muslim," said Abdullah, an ultraconservative who prefers home-schooling and shops for his wife's clothes.

"How can you expect me to hand over a Muslim, the killer of nonbelievers, for the sake of those who have killed many of us?" he said, stroking his long, black beard.

Abdullah said people like him admire the militants because "they represent the true Islam."

Asked why such attacks have not happened in the past, Abdullah said: "Because the government's collusion with the United States to kill Islam was hidden in the past. Now it's on the surface."

Would he be upset if there were more attacks?

"Why should I be?" he said

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