Al-Qaeda group threatens “crusader and Zionist” Sarkozy (& “Was Osama Right?”)

May 22, 2007

* Western media misreports situation in Israel, Gaza & Lebanon
* Syria imprisons democracy activists
* Saudi Arabia on beheading spree
* Christians attacked in Egypt
* Kuwaiti helps renovate Las Vegas synagogue

This dispatch mainly concerns events in the Arab world, and includes several news items that have been all but ignored by the mainstream western media.

 

CONTENTS

1. A fierce adversary
2. Is Syria behind the violence in Lebanon?
3. Syrian dissident imprisoned for twelve years
4. Saudi Arabia on beheading spree
5. Kuwaiti education minister resists calls to wear veil
6. Egypt arrests Muslim Brotherhood members
7. Muslims attack Copts in Egypt
8. Al-Qaeda group threatens “crusader and Zionist” Sarkozy
9. Hospital in Milan removes crucifixes “to please Muslims”
10. Kuwaiti businessman helps renovate Las Vegas synagogue
11. “Why might Syria wish to sow chaos in Lebanon now?” (J. Post, May 20, 2007)
12. “Was Osama Right?” (By Bernard Lewis, Wall St. Journal, May 16, 2007)



[Note by Tom Gross]

A FIERCE ADVERSARY

The reporting by the western media on the ongoing violence in Lebanon (against Fatah al-Islam, an offshoot of the PLO) has been very different from the reporting on the violence in Gaza and southern Israel.

In Lebanon, the deaths of many Palestinian civilians since Sunday at the hands of the Lebanese army has been barely mentioned in the coverage. A typical headline is, for example, this one in today’s Washington Post: “Lebanon Confronts A Fierce Adversary: Shelling Targets Well-Armed Force.” (By contrast, Al Jazeera claims this morning that the civilian death toll is “well over 100” that “there are children under the rubble of damaged buildings.” UNRWA says the Lebanese army has stopped six UN trucks, including a water tanker, from entering the camp.)

In Gaza by contrast, many international media are failing to mention the incredible care taken by Israel to avoid civilian deaths, and some media, particularly in Europe, are all but ignoring the fact that over 150 rockets have been fired at Israeli civilians in the last week in unprovoked attacks by Hamas and other groups. This after Israel had completely withdrawn from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Yesterday, for example, 18 rockets hit Israel, resulting in many injuries and the death of a 32-year-old Israeli woman, Shirel Friedman, who was driving in her car to bring her mother, who was in a bomb shelter, a sweater, after she asked for one. (She was the 17th Israeli to die from Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza in recent years.) The barrage continued this morning with further rockets landing in Israel.

The following letter, printed in today’s New York Times-owned International Herald Tribune, could equally well apply to coverage in many western media:

Balancing Gaza coverage

While your newspaper has been covering the fighting between Fatah and Hamas and Israel’s strikes against Hamas targets, there has been essentially no coverage of the continuing Hamas rocket attacks on Sderot.

Thanks to other sources, I have learned that in the last few days, Hamas has fired over 50 rockets – and is continuing rocket fire – at Sderot. At least two Israelis have been seriously injured, dozens of other Israelis have suffered injury, countless residents of Sderot are suffering from shock, the terrorists scored a direct hit on a synagogue, approximately 10 percent of the population has been forced to flee, schools are closed and the Israeli government is doing very little to protect its citizens from these terror attacks.

I have always felt that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the most over-reported story in the world. Yet, if one is going to report on it, one should at least report the entire story and not only report from the Arab perspective.

Josh Baker, Bangkok

IS SYRIA BEHIND THE VIOLENCE IN LEBANON?

The first article attached below, by Jonathan Spyer, a research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs center, IDC Herzliya, explains some of the causes of the ongoing violence in Lebanon and why it is likely that the Syrians are behind it.

Fatah-Intifada, the group from which Fatah al-Islam derives (and which itself is a breakaway from the PLO), was used by Hafez Assad for various bombings, and assassinations in a power struggle with Yasser Arafat in Lebanon in the 1980s.

Spyer (who is a longtime subscriber to this email list) writes that “The Assad regime has a long history of utilizing terrorist and paramilitary groups for such a purpose... Could it be that the regime in Damascus might see an escalation of tension in Lebanon as currently helpful – as a tacit reminder to the international community of what Damascus is capable of when put in a corner?”

SYRIAN DISSIDENT IMPRISONED FOR TWELVE YEARS

Kamal Labwani, a Syrian pro-democracy activist who was arrested two years ago after meeting with White House officials, has been sentenced to twelve years in prison.

He was convicted of “contacting a foreign country, passing on messages and encouraging attacks against Syria.” The Judge told Labwani that he was lucky to “only” receive twelve years in prison.

Labwani, a physician, is one of several human rights critics of the Syrian regime who are currently on trial in Syria. A few days ago, Anwar al-Bunni, a human rights lawyer, received a five-year prison sentence. He is a pro-democracy activist and ex-political prisoner and a founder of the Democratic Liberal movement.

Labwani was detained at Damascus airport in November 2005 after returning from a visit to the U.S. The White House and the State Department have called on Syria to release Labwani.

Western human rights groups, more interested in attacking the governments of the U.S. and Israel, have, as usual, barely taken note of what the Syrian regime is doing.

SAUDI ARABIA ON BEHEADING SPREE

Four Saudis, an Iraqi and a Pakistani have been beheaded for rape, murder and drug trafficking in Saudi Arabia. The six beheadings – which all happened on one day, and were all carried out by sword – brought the number of executions announced by the Saudi authorities so far this year to 72. This is almost double the figure for 2006.

At least 37 people were executed in 2006, while 83 were put to death in 2005 and 35 the year before, according to tallies based on official Saudi statements. In the Saudi kingdom, beheadings are carried out with a sword in a public square.

For more on punishment in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world, see So busy attacking Israel, they forgot about these beheadings (Nov. 21, 2006).

KUWAITI EDUCATION MINISTER RESISTS CALLS TO WEAR VEIL

The newly elected Kuwaiti education minister, Dr. Nouriya Al-Subeeh, has angered Islamist MPs by refusing to wear a veil.

Dr. Al-Subeeh told the Egyptian weekly Roz Al-Yousuf that “A woman who wears a veil does so out of belief, and this belief must be respected – just as the belief of a woman who does not want to wear a veil must be respected. This is the essence of democracy, in my opinion, which is, inter alia, to respect and accept the opinion of the other.”

While many in an increasingly open Kuwaiti media have argued that no one has the right to impose a dress code on anyone, Islamist MPs claimed that she was required by law to wear a veil. An amendment to Article 1 of the 2005 Election Law, states that women had political rights but that they had to commit to the principles of Islamic law.

For more Kuwaiti media debate on this subject, see I. Rapaport’s report for MEMRI here.

EGYPT ARRESTS MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD MEMBERS

Egyptian police have arrested fourteen members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood in an ongoing campaign against the country’s strongest opposition group. The Egyptian interior ministry said the members were arrested for holding a secret meeting in Sharqiyya Province, 50 miles from Cairo.

The Muslim Brotherhood claimed on its official website that they had been participating in a course on how to make shampoo. (!)

Although the group has been banned since 1954, its lawmakers, who run as independents, hold 88 seats in the 454-seat parliament. Over 300 members, including leading figures, students and bloggers, have been arrested in a crackdown since December, when Muslim Brotherhood students carried out a military-like parade.

A military trial of 40 top Brotherhood figures on terrorism and money laundering charges began late last month. The Muslim Brotherhood is the parent party of the Palestinian group, Hamas.

In a separate development today, Egypt announced it has released some 135 other Islamic extremists, who had spent more than a decade in prison, after they signed statements renouncing violence. The prisoners all belonged to al-Jihad, a group once headed by al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, Ayman Al-Zawahri. Over a thousand militants from al-Jihad are still believed to be in Egyptian prisons.

MUSLIMS ATTACK COPTS IN EGYPT

Nearly 60 Muslims were arrested this month by Egyptian security forces, accused of setting fire to Christian homes and shops in the village of Behma, about 40 miles south of Cairo.

The Muslims and Copts had clashed over the construction of a church. Rumors that Christians did not have a permit to build a church sparked anger among Muslims which turned to violence after Friday prayers when about 500 Muslims attacked about 200 Christians.

At least 27 Christian-owned houses and shops were damaged by fire, including 10 homes that were completely gutted.

Christians, who comprise about 10 percent of Egypt’s 75 million people (the remainder being primarily Sunni Muslim) complain of discrimination and harassment by the authorities. (Western journalists and human rights groups of Christian origin seem to care little about their plight.)

In 1999, 20 Christians were killed, dozens wounded and scores of shops destroyed when attacked by Muslims in the southern village of Kosheh.

In February this year, Muslims set fire to Christian-owned shops in southern Egypt after hearing rumors of a love affair between a Muslim woman and a Coptic Christian man.

Last year, a 45-year-old Muslim man stabbed a Coptic Christian man to death and wounded five others in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.

AL-QAEDA GROUP THREATENS “CRUSADER AND ZIONIST” SARKOZY

A group linked with al-Qaeda has threatened to launch attacks in France against the “crusader and Zionist” Nicolas Sarkozy.

In an internet statement, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades said “As you have chosen the crusader and Zionist Sarkozy as a leader... we in the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades warn you that the coming days will see a bloody jihadist campaign ... in the capital of Sarkozy.”

The group previously claimed responsibility for the July 2005 terror attacks in London, as well those in Madrid in March 2004 and in Istanbul in November 2003. The Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades is named after an al-Qaeda commander killed during the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001.

For more on the new French president, see Sarkozy: The Palestinians deserve a homeland, but the security of Israel is not negotiable (May 8, 2007).

HOSPITAL IN MILAN REMOVES CRUCIFIXES “TO PLEASE MUSLIMS”

Milan’s leading obstetric hospital has removed its crucifixes in order to avoid offending a growing number of Muslim patients, reports the Italian daily La Repubblica. (Italian speakers can read it here.)

The director of the Mangiagalli hospital said “Our wards have become multiethnic. We want to respect all religions and avoid any form of discrimination. That is why we have decided to replace the crucifix with the image of the Madonna, which is also appreciated by Muslim women.”

Officials at the hospital hope to replace all crucifixes within the next few months. However, patients will still be able to have a crucifix hanging in their room if they request one.

KUWAITI BUSINESSMAN HELPS RENOVATE LAS VEGAS SYNAGOGUE

An American Muslim businessman born to a Kuwaiti father and a Lebanese mother, has donated $35,000 to Temple Beth Sholom, Las Vegas’ largest Conservative synagogue.

Mike Abul said he made his donation due to a friendship he had struck with Jeff Michelman, one of Las Vegas’ Jewish residents.

Abul said, “As open-minded as my family is, the Kuwaiti perception of Israel isn’t the most positive one... I guess the joint interests Jeff and I have in real estate, and our similar family background has resulted in our business relations turning into a friendship. Our friendship has opened many doors for me, and I’ve met some wonderful people. I am grateful, and the most natural place for me to show this gratitude was the temple.”

Temple Beth Sholom is honoring Abul by naming one of the classes after his daughter, Sophia.

It is unusual for Muslims to donate to Jewish causes, though quite a number of Jewish businessmen donate to Muslim charities.

***

The second and final article below is by the esteemed scholar Bernard Lewis, who asks whether “Osama was right?”

“Islamists always believed the U.S. was weak. Recent political trends won’t change their view,” says Professor Lewis, who is arguably the greatest authority on Islam in the world today.

He concludes that “more recent developments, and notably the public discourse inside the U.S., are persuading increasing numbers of Islamist radicals that their first assessment was correct after all, and that they need only to press a little harder to achieve final victory. It is not yet clear whether they are right or wrong in this view. If they are right, the consequences – both for Islam and for America – will be deep, wide and lasting.”

-- Tom Gross



FULL ARTICLES

“A CLIENT OF THE SYRIAN AUTHORITIES… FOMENTING DISORDER”

Analysis: Why might Syria wish to sow chaos in Lebanon now?
By Jonathan Spyer
The Jerusalem Post
May 20, 2007

www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1178708647313&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

Thirty eight people lost their lives on Sunday in fierce fighting between the Lebanese military and Sunni jihadist operatives near the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, close to the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. This outbreak of violence represents the heaviest toll in intra-Lebanese violence since the conclusion of the Lebanese civil war of 1975-90. The events in Nahr al-Bared cast light on a side of the Lebanese crisis which has until now been largely ignored by the international media. This is the emergence in recent months of an organization of armed Sunni Islamist operatives in the largely-Sunni north of the country. So far, much of the coverage has suggested that the group in question, known as Fatah al-Islam, may be linked to the al-Qaida network. Nevertheless, informed opinion suggests caution before drawing the simple conclusion that Fatah al-Islam is merely Osama bin-Laden’s latest local franchise.

Fatah al-Islam is a breakaway of a Syrian-backed Palestinian organization called Fatah-intifada, which itself split from the mainstream Palestinian Fatah group in 1983. Fatah-intifada has little presence outside of the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon and Syria, and is widely regarded as a tool of the Syrian regime with little popular support. The group, led by a Palestinian called Shakir al-Abssi, surfaced in the Nahr al-Bared camp last November and is thought to contain around 100 fighters from the camp. The group includes Sunni Islamists of a variety of nationalities, about half of whom are drawn from the Sunni Lebanese community. Apart from Palestinians, there are also said to be Syrian and Saudi citizens among its ranks.

While Syrian officials have been keen from the outset to describe al-Abssi and his group as operating “in favor of al-Qaida,” Lebanese authorities suspect that the group may in fact be a client of the Syrian authorities themselves, established to act as an instrument of policy in Lebanon, fomenting disorder. The Assad regime has a long history of utilizing terrorist and paramilitary groups for such a purpose. Fatah-intifada itself was used by Hafez Assad in a power struggle with Yassir Arafat in the Lebanon refugee camps between 1985-88. The regime is known also to have engaged operatives of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party to carry out assassinations in Lebanon during the civil war period.

Suspicions regarding Fatah al-Islam center on the fact that Shakir al-Abssi was sentenced in 2003 to three years in prison in Syria after being convicted of plotting attacks inside the country. This was an unusually lenient sentence. By comparison, for example, Syrians suspected of involvement in the Muslim Brotherhood are routinely given 12-year terms. Al-Abssi, after his release, turned up among pro-Syrian Fatah-intifada circles in Nahr al-Bared and shortly afterward emerged as the leader of the new group, Fatah al-Islam. These facts have led General Ashraf Rifi, head of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (FSI), to conclude that “this is a Syrian creation to sow chaos.” Which raises the question, why might the Syrians wish to sow chaos in Lebanon, and why now?

A draft resolution for the unilateral establishment of an international tribunal on the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was circulated in the UN Security Council by the US, France and Britain last week. It is known that the Syrian regime is determined to prevent this tribunal at all costs, since it is believed that senior Syrian officials may be found to have been involved in the Hariri killing. Could it be that the regime in Damascus might see an escalation of tension in Lebanon as currently helpful – as a tacit reminder to the international community of what Damascus is capable of when put in a corner? This is the view of senior officials in Lebanese government, and is in keeping with earlier practices of the Damascus regime.

 

“WAS OSAMA RIGHT?”

Was Osama Right?
Islamists always believed the U.S. was weak. Recent political trends won’t change their view
By Bernard Lewis
The Wall Street Journal
May 16, 2007

www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110010080

During the Cold War, two things came to be known and generally recognized in the Middle East concerning the two rival superpowers. If you did anything to annoy the Russians, punishment would be swift and dire. If you said or did anything against the Americans, not only would there be no punishment; there might even be some possibility of reward, as the usual anxious procession of diplomats and politicians, journalists and scholars and miscellaneous others came with their usual pleading inquiries: “What have we done to offend you? What can we do to put it right?”

A few examples may suffice. During the troubles in Lebanon in the 1970s and ’80s, there were many attacks on American installations and individuals – notably the attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, followed by a prompt withdrawal, and a whole series of kidnappings of Americans, both official and private, as well as of Europeans. There was only one attack on Soviet citizens, when one diplomat was killed and several others kidnapped. The Soviet response through their local agents was swift, and directed against the family of the leader of the kidnappers. The kidnapped Russians were promptly released, and after that there were no attacks on Soviet citizens or installations throughout the period of the Lebanese troubles.

These different responses evoked different treatment. While American policies, institutions and individuals were subject to unremitting criticism and sometimes deadly attack, the Soviets were immune. Their retention of the vast, largely Muslim colonial empire accumulated by the czars in Asia passed unnoticed, as did their propaganda and sometimes action against Muslim beliefs and institutions.

Most remarkable of all was the response of the Arab and other Muslim countries to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. Washington’s handling of the Tehran hostage crisis assured the Soviets that they had nothing to fear from the U.S. They already knew that they need not worry about the Arab and other Muslim governments. The Soviets already ruled – or misruled – half a dozen Muslim countries in Asia, without arousing any opposition or criticism. Initially, their decision and action to invade and conquer Afghanistan and install a puppet regime in Kabul went almost unresisted. After weeks of debate, the U.N. General Assembly finally was persuaded to pass a resolution “strongly deploring the recent armed intervention in Afghanistan.” The words “condemn” and “aggression” were not used, and the source of the “intervention” was not named. Even this anodyne resolution was too much for some of the Arab states. South Yemen voted no; Algeria and Syria abstained; Libya was absent; the nonvoting PLO observer to the Assembly even made a speech defending the Soviets.

One might have expected that the recently established Organization of the Islamic Conference would take a tougher line. It did not. After a month of negotiation and manipulation, the organization finally held a meeting in Pakistan to discuss the Afghan question. Two of the Arab states, South Yemen and Syria, boycotted the meeting. The representative of the PLO, a full member of this organization, was present, but abstained from voting on a resolution critical of the Soviet action; the Libyan delegate went further, and used this occasion to denounce the U.S.

The Muslim willingness to submit to Soviet authority, though widespread, was not unanimous. The Afghan people, who had successfully defied the British Empire in its prime, found a way to resist the Soviet invaders. An organization known as the Taliban (literally, “the students”) began to organize resistance and even guerilla warfare against the Soviet occupiers and their puppets. For this, they were able to attract some support from the Muslim world – some grants of money, and growing numbers of volunteers to fight in the Holy War against the infidel conqueror. Notable among these was a group led by a Saudi of Yemeni origin called Osama bin Laden.

To accomplish their purpose, they did not disdain to turn to the U.S. for help, which they got. In the Muslim perception there has been, since the time of the Prophet, an ongoing struggle between the two world religions, Christendom and Islam, for the privilege and opportunity to bring salvation to the rest of humankind, removing whatever obstacles there might be in their path. For a long time, the main enemy was seen, with some plausibility, as being the West, and some Muslims were, naturally enough, willing to accept what help they could get against that enemy. This explains the widespread support in the Arab countries and in some other places first for the Third Reich and, after its collapse, for the Soviet Union. These were the main enemies of the West, and therefore natural allies.

Now the situation had changed. The more immediate, more dangerous enemy was the Soviet Union, already ruling a number of Muslim countries, and daily increasing its influence and presence in others. It was therefore natural to seek and accept American help. As Osama bin Laden explained, in this final phase of the millennial struggle, the world of the unbelievers was divided between two superpowers. The first task was to deal with the more deadly and more dangerous of the two, the Soviet Union. After that, dealing with the pampered and degenerate Americans would be easy.

We in the Western world see the defeat and collapse of the Soviet Union as a Western, more specifically an American, victory in the Cold War. For Osama bin Laden and his followers, it was a Muslim victory in a jihad, and, given the circumstances, this perception does not lack plausibility.

From the writings and the speeches of Osama bin Laden and his colleagues, it is clear that they expected this second task, dealing with America, would be comparatively simple and easy. This perception was certainly encouraged and so it seemed, confirmed by the American response to a whole series of attacks – on the World Trade Center in New York and on U.S. troops in Mogadishu in 1993, on the U.S. military office in Riyadh in 1995, on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 – all of which evoked only angry words, sometimes accompanied by the dispatch of expensive missiles to remote and uninhabited places.

Stage One of the jihad was to drive the infidels from the lands of Islam; Stage Two – to bring the war into the enemy camp, and the attacks of 9/11 were clearly intended to be the opening salvo of this stage. The response to 9/11, so completely out of accord with previous American practice, came as a shock, and it is noteworthy that there has been no successful attack on American soil since then. The U.S. actions in Afghanistan and in Iraq indicated that there had been a major change in the U.S., and that some revision of their assessment, and of the policies based on that assessment, was necessary.

More recent developments, and notably the public discourse inside the U.S., are persuading increasing numbers of Islamist radicals that their first assessment was correct after all, and that they need only to press a little harder to achieve final victory. It is not yet clear whether they are right or wrong in this view. If they are right, the consequences – both for Islam and for America – will be deep, wide and lasting.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.