Osama Bin Laden, Al Jazeera and the Muslim Brotherhood

Secret dealings. A file picture shows a translated copy of an application to join Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network in Washington. (AP)

2017/11/12 Issue: 131 Page: 13

The Arab Weekly
Sami Moubayed

Saudi media have been beaming following the release of docu­ments found at the compound in Pakistan of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden when he was killed in 2011. About 500,000 documents were made public by the CIA and are being reviewed by historians and jour­nalists around the world.

The documents reveal plenty about bin Laden’s life and inner thoughts — jotted-down entries in blue and red ink, often through his wives and sisters. A 228-page journal reveals that his native Saudi Arabia has been right all along when it repeatedly stressed that bin Laden was linked, one way or another, with three sworn enemies of the kingdom: Iran, Qa­tar and the Muslim Brotherhood. Links to all three were found in his journal.

In a letter from bin Laden to al-Qaeda’s media committee, he calls for better coordination with Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Pakistan to respond to “false information” being spread about his organisation. Right after the September 11 attacks, bin Laden chose the Doha-based channel, out of all other media outlets in the world, to broadcast his infa­mous address laying claim to the attacks on the United States.

He relied heavily on Al Jazeera during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since his death in 2011, bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al- Zawhahiri, has appeared regularly on its broadcasts. In one letter, bin Laden said the channel “rec­ommends that we take precau­tions,” adding that satellite chan­nels are “stronger than the heroic poems of the pre-Islamic era.”

In June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt suspended ties with Qatar, accusing it of aiding groups linked to terrorism and Al Jazeera of being a front for al-Qaeda. Qatari authorities strongly denied the charges.

In the leaked documents, how­ever, bin Laden writes: “Most of the channels have been against us but Al Jazeera’s interests inter­sected with ours and it is useful not to make it our enemy. It has little against us and, if we oppose it, it would take a hostile stand.”

In another letter, bin Laden names Qatar as a suggested des­tination for al-Qaeda members and their families. “In the case of the widows,” he wrote, “the option of going to Qatar might not suit them” without explain­ing why. In a letter to his younger wife, Khayria Saber, he asks if she would be willing to live in Qatar and in another he commands his son and political heir, Hamza: “Go to Qatar!”

When speaking to one of his wives about their children, their command of Arabic and sharia, bin Laden writes: “It is good if you brought us the Qatari cur­riculum, if possible, or through the internet, and better if you can bring the printed books; three copies each one. Bring as much as possible of the supporting mate­rial as well.”

On only one occasion does bin Laden criticise Al Jazeera and that was for airing gruesome images from Yemen. He said a warning should have been issued for sensitive viewers and children and then quickly returns to prais­ing the channel for “working on toppling regimes and carrying the banner of revolution.”

Bin Laden also said: “I am upset by the timing of the revolutions. We told them to step down,” again without specifying which countries he approached.

Interestingly, bin Laden seems to admire Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the 91-year-old Egyptian cleric who stands as spiritual godfather of the Muslim Brotherhood and Qa­tar’s present emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

Living in Doha since the early 1960s, Qaradawi trained and indoctrinated four generations of jihadist activists, ideologues and military commanders, not only in Qatar but throughout the Arab world. He is a wanted man in Cairo. The UAE and Saudi Arabia see him as the source of all evil in the Arab Gulf.

Despite great pressure to have Qaradawi extradited, Sheikh Tamim has refused to budge, re­ceiving Qaradawi at the royal pal­ace last summer and distributing a photo of him kissing Qaradawi’s hand.

Seemingly, Sheikh Tamim and bin Laden share similar affection for Qaradawi, with the former al-Qaeda leader saying: “If he talks (Qaradawi), that will help boost popular confidence that the (Libyan) rebels are right. Qaradawi’s shift (means that) [former Libyan dictator Muam­mar] Qaddafi is over!”

The admiration, it seems, dates to bin Laden’s youthful days, when he confesses he briefly joined the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which would have put him, organisationally, under Qaradawi’s command.

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian historian and author of Under the Black Flag (IB Tauris, 2015). He is a former Carnegie scholar and founding chairman of the Damascus History Foundation.

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