Former Al-Qaeda leader interviewed on group`s affairs, September attacks
BBC Monitoring Middle East
October 18, 2012
“Special Encounter” programme, featuring part one of an interview with Mahfouz Ould al-Walid, also known as Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, formerly the third-in-command in the Al-Qaeda Organization, by Ahmad Val Ould Eddin; the exact place and date of interview, conducted in Mauritania, are not given – recorded.
[Ould Eddin] Shaykh Mahfouz, during the past years, the United Statesoffered a $25 million reward for information about you. Today, you are free here in Mauritania. What exactly happened?
[Ould al-Walid] In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. It is well known that after the September events and as a result of the impact of the shock caused by these events in the United States, the administration of Bush, Jr., quickly made a list of people, institutions, organizations, associations, and all those who had any relationship with Islam or Islamic work, especially jihadist work. It added these names on the list and offered to pay millions of dollars for information about any of these names, especially the ones known in the arena of jihad. It accused them of involvement in the September events. A congressional commission was then formed to investigate the reasons and implications of the September events. The commission concluded in its own ways that I was among the staunchest opponents of the September events.
[Ould Eddin] Yes, this commission issued a report on the 11 September events. It said on page 251 that you objected to attacks on the United States, but noted that you were present at the deliberations held by the Al-Qaeda Shura Council, which made the decision to carry out the attacks.
[Ould al-Walid] Yes, I was present, but I will first complete my answer to the first question. During the administration of the new President, the United States might have wanted to correct some of the mistakes the previous administration made in classifying people. Accordingly, it announced the names of persons previously accused of involvement in these events and said they were innocent and they objected to the attacks. My name was among them. Moreover, the Mauritanian Government made appreciated efforts with the USside in this regard. These resulted in my presence in Mauritania today.
[Ould Eddin] Were you questioned by foreign quarters in Mauritania after the Mauritanian Government`s efforts were made and after your arrival inMauritania?
[Ould al-Walid] Well, before I answer this question, I want to thank everyone who worked for my return to the country. I specifically mention here the president. In fact, I met with some Westerners who came here.
[Ould Eddin, interrupting] Were they American?
[Ould al-Walid] They included Americans. Their questions or rather the dialogue that went on with them – because that was not really an investigation – focused on the reasons for the Muslims` hatred of the United States and the Western countries.
[Ould Eddin, interrupting] They wanted to know why Muslims antagonize them.
[Ould al-Walid] Yes, they asked: Why do Muslims hate us so much? I answered them frankly and honestly because if I told them otherwise, I would not be honest with myself or others. I told them: Muslims do not hate you for the reasons given by your politicians. Bush tells you that the Muslims hate and attack you because they envy your democracy, pattern of life, equality between the two sexes, and freedom to drink alcohol and practice what you want. The one who tells you this will be lying to you. Muslims do not fight you only because you are kuffar [nonbelievers]. There are the Chinese, who are more so than you but they are closer to us. Muslims do not antagonize them the way they antagonize you. They then asked: Why are Muslims then antagonizing us? I told them: They antagonize you because you have declared war on them. The issue of Palestine is the Muslims` biggest and most sacred one.
[Ould Eddin] I have heard that they told you the US President was waiting for an answer. Is that right?
[Ould al-Walid] Yes. Their next question was: What is the way out? They even said: President Obama is waiting for your answer to this question. We want to get out of this situation. I told them: Getting out of it is simple. They asked: What do you advise us? I told them: I as a Muslim advise you to become Muslims and enter Islam. But if you do not enter Islam, Muslims will not cross the oceans to fight you and force you to do so.
[Ould Eddin] What was the way out?
[Ould al-Walid] I told them: Change the past policies that were the reason for this enmity. Get out of the Muslims` land that you are occupying, stop looting the Muslims` wealth, stop backing the corrupt regimes in the region, and stop supporting Israel. We do not want you to help us in resisting the occupation of Palestine or restoring Palestine. It will be sufficient to stop your support for this usurper and abide by the international laws in which you believe. They told me: We have one last question. How can we get out of Afghanistan so that it will no longer be a source of threat to us? I told them: The only way out is reaching agreement with the Taleban before leaving Afghanistan. I think that if the Taleban movement promises something, it will fulfil it. I even think that it will compel Al-Qaeda if it is still there to abide by this. I think Al-Qaeda this time will abide by what the Taleban movement decides.
[Ould Eddin] Is this due to your revision of the jihadist ideology you used to embrace and perhaps you still embrace, or to a retreat?
[Ould al-Walid] In fact, there is no revision. All the ideas in which I believe today are the same ideas I used to believe in. For example, at least 20 years ago, I was one of the staunchest opponents of the phenomenon of takfir [holding other Muslims to be infidels] during the Islamic awakening.
[Ould Eddin] Now that 10 years have passed on the 11 September attacks and after having presided over the Shari`ah Committee [Al-Hay`ah al-Shar`iyah] of Al-Qaeda, what is your position on violence?
[Ould al-Walid] During talk about revision, we will talk about the position on violence. I have no revision in this regard. I am a staunch opponent of the despotic regimes that ruled the Islamic world. I had first-hand knowledge of the bad role played by these regimes in plotting with the global forces of blasphemy against this nation and against its peoples and religion and everything in it. Nevertheless, I was a staunch opponent of armed action against these regimes in an attempt to topple them for the simple reason that history has taught us that a group that is small in number and equipment cannot defeat a regime that is equipped with the strongest weapons and largest armies and supported by the global forces of blasphemy from all directions. Any such action will only lead to new atrocities. The regimes will get stronger or seek the support of foreign powers to harass the people. This is in addition to the fact that there will be no security or stability and Muslims from both sides will be killed. Therefore, I objected to any armed action to topple these regimes. Take for example the armed action carried out by some Islamist groups like the Al-Jama`ah al-Islamiyah or Jama`at al-Jihad in Egypt. When I joined Al-Qaeda, I found it preoccupied in supporting this action.
[Ould Eddin] When exactly did you join Al-Qaeda?
[Ould al-Walid] I joined Al-Qaeda in the early 1990`s. It was in 1991. When I came, my priority was persuading Al-Qaeda that its support for such actions was not feasible and such actions would not lead to the overthrow of these regimes. I think I was largely successful in that. When the brothers in the Libyan Al-Jama`ah al-Islamiyah wanted to wage jihad against Al-Qadhafi`s regime in the early 1990`s – and this idea was floated in the field of jihad – I was one of the strong opponents of that because the laws of God apply to all and they do not favour anyone. Besides, a small number of people with simple capabilities cannot topple a regime.
[Ould Eddin] But it is known to those who study Al-Qaeda that when Ayman al-Zawahiri and Jama`at al-Jihad in Egypt joined Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda became more extremist or more violent because it performed jihad on the basis of a universal or global vision. What was your influence there?
[Ould al-Walid] It might be useful to recall the most important stages through which Al-Qaeda has passed. The first was the stage of foundation and establishment. That was in Afghanistan at the end of the 1980`s and the beginning of the 1990`s. Most of Al-Qaeda activities were jihad in Afghanistanin the form of supporting the jihadist parties militarily and supporting the Afghan society financially, socially, culturally, and religiously. When Kabul fell in the hands of the mujahidin and when the communist regime fell and fighting began among the Afghan mujahidin parties at that time, we decided to leaveAfghanistan and Pakistan because we viewed that fighting…
[Ould Eddin, interrupting] And you went to Sudan.
[Ould al-Walid] We went to Sudan and that was the second stage in the history of Al-Qaeda. During that stage, most of the Al-Qaeda activities were geared towards investment, charity, and da`wah [Islamic call to submit to God] but on a limited scale. Al-Qaeda also had contacts with some Islamic groups and movements in the Islamic world. As for its political activities at that stage, Shaykh Usamah [Bin Ladin], may God have mercy on him, established the Advice and Reform Committee [Hay`at al-Nasihah wa al-Islah], which was opposed to the Saudi regime at that time. This committee`s activities were one of the reasons for the pressure the Saudi Government put on the Sudanese Government to get Al-Qaeda out of Sudan. The Sudanese Government exercised pressure and Al-Qaeda left once again and returned toAfghanistan. That was the third stage in the history of Al-Qaeda. That, of course, was the stage of confrontation with the United States. I, of course, did not go out during that stage.
[Ould Eddin] But throughout that stage you were the head of Al-Qaeda`s Shari`ah Committee.
[Ould al-Walid] No, I was head of the Shari`ah Committee during the Sudanstage and the second Afghanistan stage. When Al-Qaeda left Sudan forAfghanistan, it began a new stage. It came to a country in which there was no strong central government and there was nothing to lose. That was the most suitable place for anyone who wanted to threaten any side in the world. During that stage, Al-Qaeda issued its famous statement declaring jihad against the United States. I was not present during that stage. When Al-Qaeda got out of Sudan, I stayed in Sudan to pursue my higher studies and my status was legal and normal. During that stage, Al-Qaeda planned for theNairobi and Dar es Salaam incidents and for the [bombing of] destroyer Cole inYemen. Al-Qaeda also planned for the September events. I was not present during the early incidents because I was in Sudan. I attended the meeting only to discuss the September events.
[Ould Eddin] Could you briefly describe to us – as the subject is exciting – how the 11 September attacks were discussed and how attendance was, if possible?
[Ould al-Walid] Actually, the September events were not discussed in detail. It was not said that planes would be hijacked, towers would be destroyed, or the Pentagon would be bombed by hijacked planes. This was not discussed. What was discussed was the idea that a violent action would be taken against the United States and that thousands of victims would fall. All those who attended the meeting believed that the United States` response to such an action would not be firing missiles remotely as happened when it responded to the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam incidents, but would normally be invading Afghanistan and toppling the Islamic emirate there. I, of course, was at the head of those who objected to such an action. I objected to it on religious grounds. Jihad is not only that you kill and destroy.
[Ould Eddin, interrupting] Who else objected to such an action?
[Ould al-Walid] Some other brothers objected to it. Some of them are still living while others were martyred.
[Ould Eddin] Like who?
[Ould al-Walid] Among the opponents who are still living is Shaykh Abu-al-Khayr al-Masri and Shaykh Abu-Muhammad al-Masri. Shaykh Abu-Hafs, the second in command in the organization at that time, was among the opponents, too. There were other opponents but they were later martyred.
[Ould Eddin] If this group objected and if you, head of the Shari`ah Committee, also objected, why were the strikes approved?
[Ould al-Walid] I just want to continue and say why we objected – and we are perhaps not accused in this regard. We objected on religious grounds. Jihad is the crest of the summit of Islam and it is one of the best actions, but jihad is not just killing and destroying without considering the consequences. Islam considers the results of such actions. The one who views the consequences of the September events will realize that their disadvantages were more than their advantages.
[Ould Eddin] But is this not the logical result of the thinking you have embraced for years?
[Ould al-Walid] I only want to continue to talk about the reasons which made us object to these events, and I will then come to your question, God willing. The other reason which made us object to these operations was that such things are forbidden as civilians were going to be killed. Our religion bans us from killing civilians. A civilian in Islam is the one who has nothing to do with fighting. Civilians include women, children, elderly, and ordinary people who have nothing to do with fighting. Our religion bans us from killing these. The Prophet, God`s peace and blessings be upon him, once saw a killed woman [from the enemy side]. He inquired about her and was told she was killed. He then said this woman would never fight. There is another reason. Such operations violate a pledge of safety and existence. People enter the United States with visas, for example, and we from the religious point of view consider these visas a pledge of security. As is well known in Islamic jurisprudence, the one secured by an enemy should not harm that enemy. Accordingly, he should not violate the rules of this security. The other thing that made us object to these events was that we were the guests of the Taleban emirate and they repeatedly told us: Do not undertake any such action. Our situation does not tolerate a reaction to such an action. Unfortunately, Al-Qaeda ignored all this.
[Ould Eddin] Why was the action approved during that meeting although you and others objected to it?
[Ould al-Walid] Actually, it was not approved. Shaykh Usamah, may God have mercy on him, had many very good qualities. These included good manners, magnanimity, good companionship, and extreme modesty. He had another merit. If he was convinced of something and insisted on it, none would be able to change his mind. Shaykh Usamah decided that the action would take place as planned. That was the reason for the separation between me and the organization after Shaykh Usamah had insisted on that at many sessions and dialogues.
[Ould Eddin] And you tendered your resignation.
[Ould al-Walid] I first resigned from my responsibilities in the organization and that happened during my last meeting with the Shaykh [Usamah Bin-Ladin] a few weeks before the September events. I insisted on my resignation. He, may God reward him well and have mercy on him, told me: I do not consider this to be your final decision. I told him: But I consider it so. I also told him: I will not announce this in order not to negatively affect your position or weaken the Islamic position, especially since the first signs of war began to approach at that time. I fulfilled the promise and I did not leave Afghanistan except after the fall of the emirate of the Taleban. The Taleban themselves ordered us to get out because they decided to abandon their defence of cities as it became costly. They decided to move on to the stage of guerrilla war.
[Ould Eddin] Before moving to the next point on where you went after your resignation, allow me to ask about an important issue. The latest Al-Qaeda action is related to what is happening in Mali now . What is your opinion about what is happening in Mali?
[Ould al-Walid] If I were an expert on the affairs of the mother Al-Qaeda, I would say you are right [to ask me]. Actually, I do not have enough experience about Al-Qaeda branches. As a matter of fact, I do not know much about these branches in order to judge them or take a final position on them. But my interpretation is that they are part of the Islamic rejection of the Western policy adopted in the Islamic world and the regimes linked to this policy. Hence, I can expect some of the positions these groups adopt or accept if presented to them. In principle, I do not approve of the method used by the Islamic groups in northern Mali. I do not, of course, know their motives, but I do not think this is the right way to establish an Islamic state. I believe that jihad will be jihad only if those specialized and experienced in it believe that it will firmly establish the Islamic religion so that there will be no [words indistinct]. Any jihad that does not lead to this result will not be the legitimate jihad that is required.
[Ould Eddin] They are convinced that it will lead to that.
[Ould al-Walid] Yes, they are convinced, but I believe that many of them have sincere intentions and good motives. They might act on the basis of lack of knowledge about some matters or failure to realize some facts or insufficient experience. If the people who can convey to them such ideas and experience are found and if these people`s religion and knowledge are trusted…
[Ould Eddin, interrupting] Are you thinking of giving them a piece of advice or taking an initiative in this regard?
[Ould al-Walid] I am willing to do whatever I am asked to do in this regard. These are my brothers in religion and many of them have good intentions. By the way, I followed up the statements made by some of their officials in recent times, during which signs of war in the region began to appear. I hope that these statements would be picked up and answered within the limits of what is possible. For example, and with regard to Mauritania, I have heard them say: We have no objection to neutralizing Mauritania. I have heard them say: We are ready for negotiation even with the Americans and not only other Muslims. Such offers were made and these should not be ignored. Also we should not listen to those who beat the drums of war. If war breaks out – and we hope this will not happen because we do not wish to see Mali turn into a new Somalia or Afghanistan – its fire will spread to all near and far countries and the shrapnel will reach all near and far countries. Some of those who are beating the drums of war are fortified across the oceans and will not be directly harmed. These must give precedence to the voice of logic and wisdom and before that the voice of the Shari`ah. God Almighty says “If two parties among the Believers fall into a quarrel, make ye peace between them.” [Part of a Koranic verse, Al-Hujurat, 49:9] Making peace is a duty and I think there is an opportunity to achieve it. If we do not make peace, let each party leave the other party where it is. In Mauritania, for example, they should abide by the borders and not cross them. The other party should also be committed to not crossing these borders. I think there is a propitious opportunity now to accept such ideas if intentions are sincere.
[Ould Eddin] Shaykh Mahfouz, we will be satisfied with this first part of the interview in the hope of returning in another part. In the second part, God willing, we will discuss issues related to the Arab Spring, the position on democracy, and other issues. We will meet in the second part of “Today`s Encounter.” Peace be upon you.
Source: Al-Jazeera TV, Doha, in Arabic 1405 gmt 17 Oct 12
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