Arab League officials agree: Radical clerics have to go

Friday, July 4, 2003

CAIRO Arab security chiefs have agreed that any counter-insurgency campaign must include significant restrictions on Islamic clerics and institutions.

Security chiefs of Arab League members have examined proposed limitations on Islamic courses and sermons during a counter-terrorism conference in Tunis. The conference was held this week in wake of Islamic suicide strikes in Rabat, Morocco and Riyad, Saudi Arabia

. Both of the attacks have been attributed to Al Qaida.

Mohammed Bin Al Kuman, secretary-general of the Arab League Interior Ministers Council, urged security chiefs to reach agreement on regulations that would govern the teaching and promulgation of Islam. Al Kuman told the conference that Arab countries require more than ever clerics who can distinguish between what he termed terrorism and the fight for self-determination.

"This conference is being convened under the continuing influence of the terrorism bombings that took place in Riyad and Casablanca and is representative of the monstrous extent of their activities and the disdain of those who planned and implemented [the attacks] in religious education and morality," Kuman said.

The Arab League official said the success of the war against terrorism in Morocco and Saudi Arabia has been largely based on the efforts of the security agencies of those two countries in rooting out radical clerics who promulgate a distorted version of Islam. He said the Arab and Islamic media have a huge role to play in condemning Islamic terrorism and those who justify it.

In both open and closed sessions, the officials have determined a link between Islamic attacks and a clergy that promotes jihad, or holy war, in mosques, schools and other institutions. A range of Arab regimes have launched crackdowns on Islamic clerics and institutions deemed as supporting insurgency attacks. So far this year, crackdowns by security services have been reported in Algeria, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Yemen.

The conference included panels that discussed such issues as insurgency sleeper cells and the need to improve intelligence exchange. The Kuwaiti envoy to the conference, Abdullah Al Issa, urged league members to cooperate and coordinate in the effort to expose Al Qaida sleeper cells in the Middle East. Al Issa, a senior Interior Ministry official, said the discussion on sleeper cells was the most important part of the conference.

The conference also discussed the need to compensate victims of insurgency attacks. The conference did not include Iraq, whose regime was overthrown by the United States in April.

Unlike previous conferences, the Tunis parley did not contain serious differences regarding the threat of Islamic insurgency. Even Lebanon, which along with Syria has termed insurgency attacks against Israel as those being conducted by freedom fighters, agreed that the number one threat in the Arab world is what Beirut termed Islamic terrorism.

Simon Haddad, head of the Lebanese delegation, told the conference that terrorism constitutes the most frightening trend in the international community. Haddad said the terrorist threat does not distinguish between nations and called for a collective effort to combat the phenomenon.

Hadad said a definition is required to distinguish between terrorism and what he termed legitimate national liberation. He did not elaborate.

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