Al-Hittar: “US and western states supported sending mujahideen youth” [Archives:2004/703/Reportage]

January 15 2004

Mohammed bin Sallam
Judge Hamoud Abdulhameed Mohammed Al-Hittar, a prominent Yemeni Islamic figure now a member of the Supreme Court of Yemen. He is one of the Judiciary Higher Institute graduates and holds Masters Degree in Islamic sciences. He's been working in judiciary since his graduation.
There have been many explanations and definitions given to the meaning of terror. Each side or party defines it in its own way. America and some western countries for instance are prejudiced against Islam in general and the Wahabi, the Sunni and al-Jama' sect in particular. They visualize them as if they have sown terror all over the world and threatening mankind.
Since terror has been for some years a controversial issue especially in determining its definition and meaning recognizable internationally and to end the never-ending argument about it, we find it very significant to sound out ideas and viewpoints of experts in various scientific fields including religious and legalist. The main aim is to reach a definition for terror acceptable and agreed upon by various political, social and legal spectra. To this end the Yemen Times reporter Mohammed Bin sallam has interviewed one of the renowned Yemeni Islamic jurists Judge al-Hittar to get acquainted with Yemeni jurisconsults' definition of terror and who could be described as terrorists.
We have asked him first to respond to the prejudice launched against Islam and Muslims, to which his answers were rather characterised by a diplomatic style, avoiding many of queries but he promised to give detailed answers in proper time. On our part we figured out that he is right in his stance if we take into consideration that all the Islamic leaderships abstain from replying to America and he west statements in this regard for one reason or another.

Q: There has been much talk about terrorism, and as Muslims we have not yet given a specific explanation to it, we may not agree with the western definition, could you give us your definition?
A: Definition of terror is still an object of dispute between Arab and Islamic countries on the one hand and others on the other. There are serious differences on the concept of terror and the kind of acts that could be described as terrorist or to form an act of terror. Arab interior and justice ministers have to reach at a concept of terror in compatibility with the agreement on combating terror despite that the concept mentioned in the agreement does not agree with definitions mentioned in Arab countries laws.
There is in fact a Yemeni call for holding an international conference to discuss the issues of terror and to come out with a clear-cut explanation for it. At all events all acts of aggression are terror according to the Islamic law viewpoint.

Q: Who is the terrorist?
A: He is the one who perpetrates aggression on others and causes with his acts horror to those living peaceful life.

Q: Could those who used to work under the umbrella of Jihad and dissemination of Islam in many countries such as Afghanistan, Bosnia Herzegovina and Chechnya be categorized as aggressors and terrorists?
A: This title cannot be given to them all. Some people have a mistaken understanding of Islam and as a result they adopt an extremist or exaggerated religious stands and out of this come the terrorist acts. Terrorism and extremism can result from ideological origins and consequently some people carry out such acts for achieving religious ends without perceiving reality of those acts that may form contravention of Islam. Some individuals or groups that perpetrated some terrorist acts in some Arab, Islamic and other world countries may have thought their acts as being jihad for the sake of God but in fact they are crimes punishable according to the Islamic law.

Q: Since when have you begun to realize there is terrorism in Yemen? You haven't mentioned that a long time ago.
A: Terrorism is not a modern phenomenon; it has a long history, before Islam and after it. There has been recently much talk about terror, especially in the nineties and beginning of the third millennium. Mentioning and talking about terror gained higher pitch and increased the world over in the wake of September 11 events. The talk on terror in Yemen has been coming to surface between every now and then. But since terrorist act have begun to pose danger to security and safety of the society particularly since the incident of Abyan governorate where aggression took place against foreign tourist there has been the loud cry that said no to terror in Yemen.

Q: What groups can be pronounced as terrorists? What do you think of such group of the society?
A: Terrorism has no religion or certain land. There are terrorists affiliated to various religions, not only Muslims. There are polytheist and Jew terrorists committing terrorist acts. But it seems that in Yemen terrorist acts are connected to specific groups formerly affiliated to al-Qaeda, Jihad and Aden-Abyan army organisations. Thank God most of those groups who had affiliation with those organisations before the dialogue held with them have abandoned their affiliation after the dialogue.

Q: The total number of Yemenis and non-Yemenis who were calling themselves “Afghan Arabs'' and came to Yemen till the beginning of 1994 is estimated at 32 thousands, how many of them are still in Yemen? Have they all become terrorists whereas, you used to call them mujahideen?
A: Not all who came from Afghanistan are terrorists or extremists. Many of them went to Afghanistan in response to call by Muslim scholars for jihad against the Soviet Union while it was occupying the Afghan territories. They had obeyed calls by Arab and Islamic governments and supported by America and western governments. They maintained their holy war till the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union. All have then abandoned them thereafter. After they used to be welcomed as guests in any Arab, Islamic or non-Islamic capital, they are now hunted down wherever they hide. The only problem lies in those who harbour ideas of al-Qaeda organisation.

Q: But most or all of those who were in Afghanistan or Chechnya or Bosnia Herzegovina are being arrested and doomed as terrorists.
A: It is not like that for those who went to Afghanistan at the time of the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union. Arrests included those who went to Afghanistan after dismantle of the Soviet Union and end of the cold War. Religious scholars say judgment changes according to time, venue and situation. That has been declared as legal opinion by Muslim jurisconsults and none has disagreed with them, even the Christian religious scholars or others. They have all been in agreement on the imperativeness of confronting the Soviet Union during its occupation of Afghanistan. After withdrawal of the soviet forces and collapse of the Soviet Union the dispute developed among the Afghan factions and jihad had no longer been a legal duty as before.

Q: We perceive what had been going on under the cover of jihad was rather a conflict between the communism and capitalism and its arena was Afghanistan and other areas, were the Arabs and Muslims used as tools for those wars by their own will or were forced?
A: Perhaps interests of Muslims and the west concurred in ending the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. No doubt America played a big role in that war and was the major supporter for the Afghan war then and it is the greatest beneficiary from collapse of the Soviet Union. The conflict was then going on between the capitalist pole led by America and the communist pole led by the Soviet Union. The war in Afghanistan and many other areas was an extension of the conflict between the two world superpowers for settling their accounts.

Q: do you affirm that the American dictates to some Arab and Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries that used to send the mujahideen to side with it against communism?
A: Possibly the American influence on some Arab and Islamic regimes was evident and consequently made those regime influence their religious scholars who gave legal advice for jihad.

Q: Who then could be responsible for that and could be accountable for those numbers of Yemenis to Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia Herzegovina under cloak of jhad? Who were the countries that were supporting them at that time?
A: We are here not in respect of discussing this question. To deal with each of the cases we can determine the responsibility for each. I'd like to say those youth went to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in obedience to legal opinion the scholars under demand of their respective Arab and Islamic governments with support of the United States and other western states.

Q: Why don't you cal in the first place to the accountability of those who imperiled the life of those Yemeni youth under naming now you think it is terror?
A: No Muslim scholar has called on any person to commit terrorist acts. Maybe some of the youth have carried with them the idea of the imperativeness of jihad in Afghanistan and that mobilization continued during the Cold War period and the legal opinions of jihad been used by some people who wish to achieve personal interests at the expense of Islam and Muslims.

Q: You have talked much in press and television interviews about religious tolerance moderateness, why was this not mentioned before?
A: I admit that the religious moderate address was absent over periods of time and now it has become an urgent necessity for the embodiment of the spirit of Islam. Islam is the religion of moderateness and extremism has nothing to do with Islam.
After the successive events in the Islamic world and the world in general it has become so important for the Muslim scholars to reconsider the he religious address and to proceed in their address from the religious precepts and to return to the bases stipulated in the Koran and the prophet tradition governing relations with non-Muslims. The essence is that the Muslims relations with others are based on security and peace. It has prohibited the killing the soul that God prohibited to kill and should not be there any aggression on people despite of the religion, or colour or gender, origin or because of an economic or political or social position.

Q: You mentioned about the release by Yemen authorities of tens of those suspected of having links to al-Qaeda organisation after religious dialogue with them, how many of theme remained and did you meet all those prisoners?
A: The dialogue included all the persons detained since the events of 11 September and the crisis of terror. The decision taken by the government of Yemen stipulated those accused by criminal issues to court and release others who are not accused of such cases. After the first round of dialogue 36 persons were released and were put under observation for a year. Reports have proved the good commitment of the released as a result of dialogue. That step encouraged the Yemeni government to take a bigger step and so another group of 92 persons were also released in addition to promising another 54 persons who have voluntarily surrendered themselves to security authorities and committed themselves to results of dialogue.

Q: Where all the groups depicted as terrorist almost affiliated to the Wahabi sect as the American and the west describe them? How can you convince them while you are not a Wahabi?
A: Dialogue was based on evidence and sound logic and ideology of the Sunni and Jama'a is known to us. We discuss out of the evidence that their ideology is based on and we can not hold a certain creed the responsibility of what has happened.

Q: Have those got convinced to abandon the Wahabi doctrine and join another faith?
A: Our mission is not for making them discard a certain faith but rather convincing them to the good conduct represented by abandoning violence, extremism and terror as well as commitment to the constitution and valid laws. They have to abide by preserving security and stability, respect non-Muslims rights, not to attack embassies or interests of sisterly and friendly countries, not to interfere with any person entering Yemen under permission of concerned authorities even if he were carrying nationality of country with which we are at war or not having relations with it as long as he was guaranteed safety by the state, even if he is carrying the Israeli nationality, he should not be exposed to aggression.

Q: Many of those have spent years in Yemeni prisons without trial or certain charges and then you say charges on many of were not proved but you do not apologize from them criticize the authorities that imprisoned them, is not that contradicting the Yemeni laws or human rights and heavenly laws? Or was that just a policy for appeasing America and the west?
A: our task was ideological and had no relation to investigations or judicial security aspects. Out of this we held dialogue with them.
We are not concerned with legitimacy of capturing or imprisonment, ours is an ideological one. Since the events of 11 September and the world is living into a state of emergency and Yemen is part of this world. what happened in Yemenis the same that did in other Islamic and Arab countries and in countries known as more advanced in the question of human rights such as the United States, France, Germany, and Britain and others. It can be said that the events of September are like the straw that broke the camel's back with regard to human rights.

Q: During your dialogue with those youth, have not they offered grievances, didn't they complain that they were unjustly imprisoned and haven't they asked you to convey their grievances to international organisations?
A: The persons with whom we held dialogue have requested legitimate demands concerning the constitutional and legal aspects. Most of those requests were for sending the defendants with criminal issues to judiciary or to release others who are not accused of such issues. They also asked for stopping illegal pursuits against them as well as studying the issue of an amnesty for the persons who were convicted and committed to results of the dialogue. We have conveyed all those demands to the concerned authorities and a decision was taken to release all those persons arrested without a legal justification.

Q: Some media reported of American and Western objections to the release of more than 54 of the group of Aden-Abyan army after their arrest for a short time though some of the intercepted a military convoy last year resulting in killing and wounding many Yemenis, was their release for a deal or some power centres that protect them mediated for their release?
A: That news was groundless. American objections were to the suspects of the incident of Cole. Those people for sure were not included in the release process and would be sent to court after finishing legal procedures. As for other persons their imprisonment was not in response to American demands and there were no American objections to their release. Yemen is a sovereign country and there is no deal as some would like to mention. The amnesty for them was issued in embodiment of the Koran texts. They have declared their repentance before their capture and took the initiative to turn down themselves and according to law they are pardoned.

Q: What of the blood shed in the incident?
A: This will be considered according to the law.

Q: Have you dialogued those accused of blasting destroyer Cole and Limburg tanker?
A: We have conversed with all persons detained after the 11 September events and certainly they were included in that but the ideas in their minds are still as they were for some still think that these acts are considered jihad. Measures to be taken against them would be according to the law.

Q: Commercial guarantees were demanded from the persons who had been released, why specifically commercial not others? Was that for making it too difficult for them to keep them in prison?
A: We recommended the setting free of persons not wanted for criminal issues or those detained without legal justifications. The guarantees were asked by security authorities and were justifiable. The guarantees do not form any hindrance any way. The first released group has brought the requested guarantees and also those who were decided to be released among the second group. Those who could not bring a commercial guarantee could bring a guarantor.

Q: On what bases the detained were released while some were kept behind though they were accused of the same issues?
A: Those released persons were not accused of criminal issues but were detained for precautionary reasons after the events of 11 September and security authorities were unable do something about them. After we ended dialogue with them and the results we had reached they were released. As for the criteria they were results of the dialogue, security danger and extent of commitment to those results.

Q: There are still in Yemen many religious institutes, like the Salafi responsible for mobilization for terror, why the state does not work for closing them down or put them under its control?
A: As a committee we have laid a dialogue foundation an have raised a recommendation to the president of the republic and in turn he had sent it to those institutes calling on them to depend moderateness in preaches, and programs and curricula especially in important questions. It is not necessary for the state to close down these establishments but the important thing is moderateness and discarding extremism and all forms of terror. I think there are many in these institutes who are in charge and he had told them to commit to the curricula of education. They are now under the nose of the authority. If they would not change or rectify their conditions now they would do that in future. I think you have observed the president's address at Hudeida University as it was addressed to those universities and institutes to abide by stabilizing moderateness.

Q: What are the main short and long-run goals the authority has drawn for dialogue with hardliners?
A: There are certain and clear aims for the dialogue, they are in brief; the embodiment of Islam's moderateness and tolerance, fighting all forms of extremism and terror, rights of the ruler and obeying him, abiding by the constitution, enhancement of protection of rights guaranteed by Islam for non-Muslims in the Islamic community, respect of agreements between the Yemeni republic and non-Islamic states and protection of their embassies, keeping promises, stabilization of security and stability of the republic of Yemen and giving safety guarantees to persons entering its territories under permission of the state concerned authorities.

Q: What's the American and the west's stances regarding the Yemeni government approach with the extremists?
A: Dialogue is a Yemeni idea that has received American and western support and welcome because what is the product of thought could not be solved but by thought. Problems originated from thought could be resolved by dialogue because force would increase the idea and strengthen it. Would you accept an idea imposed on you by someone else, can you accept it by force? Dialogue is the ideal means to solve ideological problems. It is not in interest of the United States to continue in military confrontation that might not result in the impact entailed.
Frankly speaking, the wrong ideas about Islam that have been inflicted on Islam and Muslims due conspiracies and intrigues he severest damage. Some reckless acts and behaviour gave America justifications. Were it not for those act America would not have reached to Iraq and would not be able to tighten its military grip on the entire world.

Q: Are you with the American stand in invading Iraq and Afghanistan?
A: I am against practices not having any relationship with Islam and against pretexts giving others the justification to impinge on t position or sovereignty or independence of our nation.

Q: Do you think many of those youth were deceived by some power centers claiming jihad for Islam?
A: I am with the dialogue for rectifying the wrong concepts the some is trying to fix in their souls. They have felt the importance of the results we reached through dialogue. They represent ideological convictions rather than a mistake imposed by one party on another. When those people announced their commitment to the constitution and valid laws, including the law for political parties and political organisations that bans any party formed on military formations basis or includes in its membership such formations and prohibits joining it, that means they have discarded any affiliation to any armed organisation.

Q: When do you think the trial would be for those condemned of criminal issues, why the delay?
A: The two big incidents deemed as the most significant acts of terror in the Yemen; the incidents of Cole and Limburg have their justification and some persons were captured inside Yemen and others abroad. Some of them Yemen received from sisterly countries and others Yemen is still hoping to have them repatriated so that the trial can begin. Moreover, a number of those accused of in the incident of Cole like Abu Asem al-Ahdal have not bee directly dialogued by me so far, though there were some indirect dialogues. There is nothing preventing the holding of direct dialogue with him.

Q: Any final comment?
A: I'd like to thank you for the opportunity of this interview and God's mercy for my brother and colleague Dr Abdulaziz al-Saqqaf. I send a call to all Arab governments, telling them that dialogue is the best means for solving ideological problems from which terror stems. Sooner or later they would have to have dialogue and it is better to begin it before it is too late. It is a call for all Arab and Islamic regimes. I think the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has begun to take dialogue steps and it may yield god results. Everything can face difficulties at the beginning but I don't believe merely thinking of dialogue could be an important step, let alone that embarking on implementing dialogue is considered another step.