Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Al-Majd TV Program Discusses Saudi, Arab Young Men Joining 'Jihad' in Iraq Saudi Arabia

Tuesday, September 20, 2005 T09:50:04Z

The Dubai-based, Saudi-owned Islamic satellite television channel Al-Majd TV-1 in Arabic at 1830 GMT on 17 September carries a special 150-minute live program entitled "A Return to Senses," moderated by Muhammad al-Dukhayni.

The program discusses the issue of Saudi and Arab young men going to join "Jihad" in Iraq from the religious, security, and psychological perspectives.

Today's studio guests include Dr. Sa'd Bin-Abdallah al-Burayk; Major General Dr. Sa'd Bin-Ali al-Shahrani, director of higher education at Nayif Arab University for security sciences; and Dr. Abdallah Bin-Sultan al-Subay'i, consultant and psychology professor at the medical department at King Sa'ud University. Al-Dukhayni invites viewers to contribute to the program with their comments and views via phone, text messages, and email.

The program begins by showing a recorded video of a 30-minute interview with Ahmad al-Shayi, a Saudi young man who has returned from Iraq and is being held by the Saudi authorities after engaging in a "bloody experience," by Muhammad al-Dukhayni, at a "major hospital in Riyadh."

Al-Dukhayni begins by asking Al-Shayi about his health, who answers he is in good health, however, the video shows his badly burned face and disfigured hands and fingers. Asked about his injuries, he says: "It was caused by an explosion in Iraq. A tanker used for transporting gas exploded. It was a miracle that I have survived, may God be praised."

Asked about the reason for going to Iraq, Al-Shayi says: "As everybody knows. It is well known and we hear that Iraq has been invaded and that there is war there, as we hear in the news. At the beginning, it was out of a desire to support and defend our religion. This was the main reason for this sentiment. Sometimes you see images of the US bombardment of houses in Iraq. You see bodies. All this creates some sort of a motive. This was the basic reason."

Asked whether he had been brought up as a religious person, he answers: "Not really. I have become religious recently... some three years ago."
Asked what influenced his and how he came up with the idea of joining in the fighting in Iraq, Al-Shayi says: "Several factors contributed to this, including the desire to defend my religion as well as images of the dead and injured among our Muslim brethren in Iraq." He adds the images and videos of operations and bombings from Iraq had provoked him.

Asked how he left for Iraq, he says: "With the help of one of my friends. We talked about it... I used to know him before. He was not religious before. We shared the same feelings... He told me: I will find my way to Iraq. I am going in a while, will you come with me or not? So I said I was prepared to go. He asked me to collect some money to take care of myself there. I had some money. When the time came, I left."

He adds this friend of his left with him to an unspecified Arab country, then to Iraq. He continues: "Then, we met the groups in Iraq and moved from one place to another." He adds: "Movement there is of course done in secret. It is guerilla war. You do not appear before the Iraqi and US forces. All movements are done in secret. We stayed in hiding, indoors. We never went out in public. When the troops came near, we would leave, and so on... this lasted for some six weeks."

Asked about his passport and money, he says "they" kept them, giving him a small amount and keeping the rest, in exchange for a fake Iraqi identity card.

Asked about the movement of these groups in Iraq, Al-Shayi says: "It depends on the duties of the person there. Some people were used in combatant teams. For example, they would be asked to carry out a certain task, so they would go out, carry it out, and come back, such as planting explosives, carrying out bombings, and so on. There are specialized teams made up of both Arabs and Iraqis."

Asked whether he found what he was expecting when he arrived there, Al-Shayi says: "It was completely different. I had never imagined this. I imagined there would be lines of US troops, Muslims, and infidels. I thought there would be war and the wounded would be lifted and so on. This is what I was expecting but the reality was completely different. We stayed indoors all the time. It was just sectarian-based guerilla war. It was not a pleasant situation."

Asked whether he was aware of the role expected of him or not at the time, he says: "No. The minute you enter the Iraqi territories, you are no longer in charge. You do not make any decisions. The groups there and their leaders take care of everything. You cannot say I want to take a stroll or leave the house or go anywhere. You cannot decide. When you are asked to do something, you carry out the orders."

He says most of the time they had stayed home was spent discussing many issues, arguing, engaging in heated debate, and praying.

Asked to recount what had happened to him, Al-Shayi says: "I was in Baghdad. I met an Iraqi person. I had come from Al-Ramadi in Al-Anbar to Baghdad where I met this person who took me to the place where the explosion was going to occur, but I was unaware of that. He told me: Your first mission is to drive this tanker from here to this place, which was less than one kilometer away. He took me to some other house and told me: This is your group. I was attached to this group, most of whom were Iraqis. I spent the day with them. Then at 2100, they took me to a place to take the tanker." He says he was unaware it was an operation.

He adds: "I had honest intentions. I was going to do as told, to move the tanker. I had no idea what was going on. I took the tanker at approximately 2100. Two people who were riding with me descended, climbed into another car, and left. I was left alone. I was to drive the tanker from this place to another." He adds: "This made me suspicious. I was thinking how come they not take it themselves since they were Iraqis and I was not. It was strange for a first job. I went along with it driven by my good intentions. I drove all alone. When I came near the location, some 100 meters ahead, the tanker exploded. Suddenly, something weird happened. The noise was very strong. There was an explosion, followed by yellow fire. I could see this moving fire. I was screaming inside this fire. I recited the declaration of faith and was wondering what happened. Then it was all over. There was no more fire. I looked but saw nothing. I could hear a heavy exchange of fire so I quickly descended from the tanker to dodge the bullets. I still do not know what happened. My brain does not comprehend what happened. I was in a state between consciousness and unconsciousness, then I fell... Then I was taken to an Iraqi hospital."

Asked whether he had considered carrying out a suicide operation when he decided to go to Iraq, he says: "Never... I thought they would give me a weapon to fight in a combatant situation. Suicide operations were categorically rejected as far as I was concerned." He continues: "They asked me at the beginning: Do you want to become a suicide bomber, or what they call a martyrdom bomber? I said no. Some might like to, but not me... They asked me: Do you want to or not. I said no and that was it. The issue was never raised again."

Asked whether he thinks they wanted to get rid of him, he says: "The question raises itself. This is what happened. My father was called and told: Your son has been killed. He has been martyred. My father was not aware I had went to Iraq at the beginning."

Asked who had called his father, he says: "They did. They had my father's phone number... They said so that we can call your family and tell them so and so in case you are killed or something happened to you."

He recalls how he stayed at an Iraqi hospital for over a month until he was handed over to the US forces then transferred to Abu-Ghurayb prison, where he stayed in the intensive care unit for approximately three months in Iraq. During this time, he says his family was receiving condolences for his death. He goes on to describe how he was questioned by a Saudi team and promised to be taken home. Then he described the warm reception he was given in Riyadh and how he was reunited with his family. The video shows his return to the Kingdom and meeting his father.

Asked whey he did heed the advice of Saudi and Iraqi scholars and figures warning against taking part in these operations, Al-Shayi says: "I did, but certain quarters preached the opposite exactly, citing for example a hadith by the Prophet saying one can leave the house without the permission of one's guardian or parents." He adds: "The images we saw were a great source of provocation. There are videos. Some young men here, God guide them to the right way, see videos here and believe it is the reality there, which is not."

Asked what his fate would have been had he refused to carry out this mission, he says: "I believe it is clear what my fate would have been since you are not in a position to make any decisions over there. Also, you cannot refuse anything. You just do as you are told. You are driven, not given a choice."

Asked whether he had considered returning before this operation, he says: "It crossed my mind when I saw the situation there, however, I did not see anything until what happened to me, which made me want to come back."

Asked whether other Saudi and Arab young men also rejected suicide operations but were forced into a similar situation and were killed before they could make themselves heard, he says: "It is possible. It is very likely. What happened to me is live testimony. I am talking about something that happened to me personally, not someone else's story. I asked the officials to talk to the media to warn the young men against taking this path. I do not want what happened to me to happen to anyone else."

Asked whether he regretted what happened, he says: "Important question. I am very sorry. What is gone cannot be brought back."

Asked to address young people who might be considering traveling to Iraq, he says: "Making a decision in such matters must be after long consideration, deliberation, and consultation with those who are more knowledgeable."

He adds: "Once you get there, you will no longer be able to make your own decisions. Do not be fooled by the images of the situation there. It is completely the opposite of what you think. Fear God, abide by your religion, and listen to well known figures and scholars. Be good citizens."

The interview ends at 1910 GMT.

This is followed by a discussion of the issue.

Asked whether the enthusiasm expressed by the likes of Al-Shayi in defense of their religion was wrong, Shaykh Al-Burayk says Al-Shayi has served as an example to others by surviving this ordeal.

He adds: "The US occupation has caused the Arab nation disasters and calamities both locally and abroad. America is suffering as a result of its practices against Muslims in Iraq and is in pain as a result... This occupation of Iraq has caused problems that have exhausted problem-solvers, advisors, and the sound-minded in an attempt to control the consequences and its ramifications."

He adds in response to Al-Shayi's remarks about his desire to defend religion: "We are both proud and pained. We are proud we have young men who have the courage, ability, and strength that would have been a great gain for us had it been employed in defending the homeland." He adds: "At the same time, we are pained that this zeal has been directed in unknown paths." He concludes: "Zeal is not enough as basis for making a decision."

Asked about the reason for calls warning young men against traveling to Iraq in the Kingdom and the rest of the Arab world, Al-Shahrani says: "The occupation of Iraq has caused the whole world, not only Iraq, the Arabs, and Muslims, even the United States, the only superpower, a lot of problems. We can see evidence of this. It might have even affected their local affairs, for example, they were not able to accomplish anything during the Katrina hurricane."

He adds: "In these troubled times, each country is responsible for its borders, nationals, and laws. This is not an age of individuals since they will only be the victims in international relations in view of this troubled international situation and the imbalance of power."

He stresses: "Zeal and goodwill are not enough. You have to use your brain and apply religious rulings. Who wants to discuss jihad outside the known religious framework?... In this age, there are international borders. You are breaking the laws of countries, overriding armies and intelligence agencies to prove you are the defender of Islam and Muslims." He adds: "It is our duty to protect our entity, our affairs, our young men. This is the least we could do. This is the responsibility of the state."

Asked about the age group of young men killed in Iraq, which is between 18-30, Al-Subay'i attributes this to their inexperience, zeal, recklessness, and good intentions. He adds: "These young men need a leader. As the brothers here have said, taking fatwa from the Internet or other young men is not enough..."

He adds that young men who fall under this category are often uneducated, impressionable, unskilled, jobless, and have no responsibilities.

At this point, Al-Dukayni says: "We will try to find positive solutions to convince those who are already there to return and those who are here and considering traveling to change their minds. This is the objective of this episode and program."

At this point, Shaykh Abd-al-Aziz Bin-Abdallah Al al-Shaykh, Saudi Arabia's grand mufti, joins the program on the phone. Asked about Saudi men who join so-called "jihad" in Iraq, Al-Shaykh says: "It is a given that every Muslim is passionate about his faith and the Muslim nations. However, we must pay attention to the fact that only those living there might know the reality of the situation... Some of our young men, may God help them and guide them to the good, imagine that going there is easy and that it amounts to jihad. They believe making sacrifices there is required and so on. We tell our sons: May God guide you. You must look at the situation realistically and think before you get involved. It is the wise who consider the consequences of their acts before taking action."

He adds: "You go there without any knowledge of what the situation is like and which group you will belong to. There are conflicts and discord. You will not know the affiliation of these groups. You do not have the full picture. You have Islamic and good sentiments, however, over there, you will not know which groups are good. You are ignorant of all of this." He says: "Therefore, I do not advise you to go. I stress it is wrong to go. If you do, you will be risking your life and getting involved in something the consequences of which are unknown to you."

Asked why fighting in Afghanistan was permissible whereas fighting in Iraq is not, Al-Burayk says: "The situation in Afghanistan is completely different for many reasons. First of all, the mujahidin in Afghanistan at the time, before they disagreed among themselves, had a united objective; namely, to expel the Russian occupiers from their country. Similarly, we are now saying the Iraqi people have the right to resist by all means available to expel the occupier from their country." He adds: "We also apply this to the situation in Palestine, in expelling the occupier."

He continues: "It is not prohibited or unacceptable for me to join forces with another, even non-Muslims, to foil the plans of a third party that is planning to harm me." He stresses: "It is prohibited to embark on the unknown. One might be considered sinful in God's eyes. Are young people aware that at present there are 13 armed groups in Iraq."

He adds: "Above all, the situation in Afghanistan cannot be applied in Iraq because scholars, led by imam Shaykh Abd-al-Aziz Bin-Abdallah Bin-Baz and a group of scholars, ruled that fighting alongside the Afghani people against the Russians amounted to jihad. In this matter, however, there is consensus, except for those who kept quiet..."

At this point, Shaykh Salman Bin-Fahd al-Awdah, the general supervisor of Islam Today website, joins the program on the phone. Asked about the statement he issued warning young people against going to Iraq, he says: "I was in Najran, Sharurah, and other areas in the north last week, I found tribal leaders, scholars, judges, and others complaining bitterly about the infiltration of some young men into Iraq... It is true some men perhaps go at an early stage of their commitment to Islam as they feel they must carry out a special deed... Some of them believe it is the end of time and we must stop thinking logically since these are exceptional times."

He adds: "Let me be frank, the quarters that receive them there in Iraq are extremist and believe in the takfiri thought (the ideas embraced by those who hold other Muslims to be infidels) to some extent. They also do not hesitate to spill the blood of those who disagree with them. We are now hearing threats being made against the Shiites and others, even the Sunnis who vote for the constitution or carry out certain things."

He continues: "I have met Iraqis in Mecca in Ramadan and during Hajj who told me in pain: Your young men are being sold there at a price, for a lot of money or none at all sometimes, in Iraq and its neighboring countries. God be my witness, a well known and trustworthy Iraqi person told me he saw the bodies of Saudi men lying in the streets. He said the most they could do was cover these bodies with bags."

He says: "This great suffering require vigilance and calls on fathers to pay attention to their young sons and any changes in them. It also requires us to look after them well. It also requires us students and scholars to welcome these young men instead of isolating them and being angry with them when we find out what their believes are. We should, instead, give them a chance to talk and divulge their feelings."

He adds: "Some young men are influenced by phone calls they receive from their friends who had been there, urging them to join them, particularly as soon as they arrive there. These calls, albeit limited, are circulated. At the same time, other stories are not circulated and young men do not hear about them, stories in which these men are victims."

He explains: "This does not mean we are abandoning the Iraqi people and their resistance of the occupation."

He concludes: "As far as I know, I do not know of any highly regarded scholar who urged young men to go to Iraq. At the same time, there has not been a great effort to warn against this and explain its consequences and dissuade young men."

Asked about the fate that awaits those who return from Iraq, Al-Shahrani says: "I am certain anyone who comes back will find a warm welcome from all of us. Here we are celebrating with you in Al-Majd the return of Ahmad al-Shayi... We hope they return in one piece before they are bought and sold, maimed, killed, or wasted."

Discussing the reasons that compel young men to behave this way, Al-Subay'i says: "These young men have lost any sense of identity. When you suddenly become religious there is nothing to control this transformation. You are willing to do anything. Therefore, some have gone to Iraq, some tried to carry out things locally, some even go to extremes in their religiousness both on themselves and their families. It is in this state of weightlessness if you like that these young men fall into certain hands that begin by teaching them to ignore religious figures such as scholars and the Higher Ulema Council as well as intellectual and political figures. They instill doubt in the minds of these young men so they can absorb these new ideas until they can no longer distinguish between right and wrong."

Asked whether the society and the respectful way it treats religious people was to blame, Al-Subay'i says: "I am afraid we might move from this exaggerated manner of worshipping religiousness, unaware of the kind of education behind it, to the other extreme of branding any religious person as terrorist, which is a key cultural objective of the enemies of the nation."

Commenting about returning from Iraq, Al-Burayk says as soon as these young men arrive in Iraq, they are made to believe there is no going back. He adds they are told even if they try to return home, they will not survive the intelligence services, the police, the questioning, and torture that await them. He urges young men to return and reassures them they will be welcomed and assisted even if they were not carrying any identification papers or money.

Asked about the frustration and pain young people are feeling because of these images they see on the Internet and television about the suffering taking place in Iraq, which makes them willing to do anything that can be construed as a service to Islam, Al-Subay'i says: "The bloody images we see on television about our brothers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, or Palestine undoubtedly stir hatred and anger at the enemy... If this is accompanied by a degree of religiousness, if not harnessed, it might lead to serious issues. It might also have simple outlets in terms of behavioral problems such as drugs, writing on walls, smoking, disobedience, and leaving the country for dishonest purposes. Before we leave the young people, as parents and educators, we are required to play our role by opening the door for dialogue... If we do not establish dialogue with these young men, we will never find out what is going on inside their heads. I believe there is a missing chain between parents and young men."

Asked about an email message blaming the scholars for encouraging young men to fight in Afghanistan, which they are applying in Iraq now, Al-Burayk says: "In Afghanistan, there was a permission from the leaders, for the ministry used to give discounted tickets. Also, there was a fatwa sanctioning it by the president of the Higher Ulema Council with the consensus of the Ulema. The slogan, interests, and strategy were clear."

He adds: "Now, in Iraq, we applied the insight of our scholars and warned our young men against it. However, they chose to listen to individuals and solitary views over the masses of scholars."

As for claims the people of Iraq were not asking people to stay away, an excerpt of a video of 16 September Friday sermon at Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad by a Sunni preacher is shown. Preacher Shaykh Mahmud al-Sumayda'i, the imam and preacher of Umm al-Qura mosque, calls for an expanded meeting of scholars, intellectuals, and highly educated people as well as religious, intellectual, tribal, and political authorities to say a word about the bloodshed taking place in Iraq.

The preacher adds: "We have all been sentenced to death. The Sunnis and Shiites have been sentenced to death. This is a great responsibility. We do not need anyone to come from across the border to appoint themselves our guardians and kill our sons and kill us on the pretext of defending us. We say: We are the sons of one country. We are brothers in one country. We will handle our own affairs. We will rule our country. We can achieve something with dialogue and words."

He concludes: "Killing only serves our enemies. Anarchy only serves our enemies. It only serves the interests of the occupier. We want to hear words of conciliation and support for the authorities and brotherhood from the others to calm down the situation."

Asked a question, Al-Shahrani says: "I doubt our message will reach those in Iraq. I doubt they would watch such programs or that they have heard that a member of the Association of Muslim Clerics in Iraq and other Iraqi scholars and leaders have spoken like this because they are isolated." He adds: "However, other groups in Islamic countries, including the Kingdom, are considering going to Iraq, which I hope the message will go across to them loud and clear."

At this point, Dr. Ali Bin-Abdallah al-Afnan, dean of the teachers' college in Riyadh, joins the program on the phone. He stresses young men between 14-24 are driven by emotions that could lead to recklessness, which makes it easier to recruit them to carry out suicide operations. He calls for trying to understand these young men and be aware of attempts to influence them.

Asked whether the repentance of those who perpetrated terrorist attacks in Iraq will be accepted, Al-Burayk cites Koranic verses and Hadith promising forgiveness to those who repent and commit good deeds instead.

He says: "Unless he repents, believes, and works righteous deeds, for Allah will change the evil of such persons into good, and Allah i s Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful, And whoever repents and does good has truly turned to Allah with an (acceptable) conversion." (Koranic verse)

Al-Burayk adds Al-Shayi did not seem to him to believe in takfiri thought, adding that many young men go to Iraq not believing in the takfiri though but are often injected with these thoughts, only to return fully embracing it.

He adds many of these victims are young, uneducated, and agree to join these secretive groups and engage in secretive activities, which is unacceptable in Islam.

He also raises the issue of financing these groups and warns against inadvertently supporting them when making donations to the poor and needy. He warns the young men against fully surrendering to these groups and handing over their passports and money.

Al-Shahrani then calls for seeking the reasons that entice these young men to commit terrorist acts in the Kingdom, Iraq, or elsewhere. He also calls for seeking the masterminds behind these groups that are recruiting young men.

Al-Subay'i adds that the only heroic act Al-Shayi perpetrated was to appear on television to warn and advice other young men who are contemplating traveling to Iraq.

Al-Burayk urges young men fighting in Iraq to return and reminds them of the warm welcome Al-Shayi fouund. He also warns them against the treachery of these groups.

Al-Dukhayni concludes the program by urging any young men contemplating traveling to Iraq to reconsider. He also urges official authorities to establish dialogue with these young men.

The program ends at 2100 GMT.

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