7 February 2005
Talked Out of Terrorism
Saleh Al-Asheikh speaks to the media at the Counterterrorism
International Conference in Riyadh.
Arabia has been successful in changing the idological thinking
of more than 250 Al-Qaeda
sympathizers, the Kingdom’s Islamic Affairs Minister
Saleh Al-Asheikh said yesterday.
have reached out to them and have succeeded in convincing
more than 250 to change their ways,” he
said, speaking of his ministry’s counterterrorism program
conducted over the Internet. The program includes direct
counseling as well as a hotline for families who are worried
that their sons may be drawn toward the Al-Qaeda terror network.
conducted a dialogue with 800 of them and more than a
quarter were convinced. We are continuing our efforts
with the rest,” he told delegates attending an international
counterterrorism conference. “The Internet
is a fertile field. We have used many Islamic and cultural
sites to increase
awareness of the dangers of terrorism.”
Since a triple suicide bombing in Riyadh in May 2003, the
Kingdom has cracked down on Al-Qaeda militants and the religious
scholars who have publicly supported them. It has also waged
a media campaign to turn Saudis against violence and to persuade
parents to be more aware of signs that their sons are being
drawn to militants, either in Saudi Arabia or in Iraq.
Militants have also made extensive use of the Internet and
there are at least two Al-Qaeda-affiliated web magazines
which have prompted alarm among some security experts who
say militants are turning the web into a virtual classroom.
Saudi Arabia is currently hosting an antiterrorism conference
including security and intelligence experts from more than
50 countries who have been asked to set out strategies for
combating terrorism. Crown Prince Abdullah, who opened the
conference on Saturday, has called for the establishment
of an antiterrorism center.
crown prince’s proposal has been warmly welcomed
by most delegates at the conference. However, US Homeland
Security adviser Frances Townsend told reporters that “the
center would not end the need for bilateral exchange of information.” But
anything done to increase intelligence sharing in the fight
against terrorism is a “net gain,” she added.
said his ministry operates a hotline for anyone who wants
there is a father who does not know how to solve a problem
with his son, there is a
direct line to the ministry.”
minister said his ministry had instructed preachers 25
times over the past three years
to devote entire sermons
to condemning terrorism. Over the past year, religious scholars
from the ministry have held several weeks of contacts with “terrorists” in
order to show them their errors, he said. “Most
have wanted to continue (the contact) because we do not approach
this in a condescending way,” he said, describing the
contact as “one-to-one.” It was not clear if
he was referring to face-to-face meetings or only exchanges
over the Internet.
Al-Asheikh, who was one of the main speakers on the second
day of the conference, also emphasized the need to solve
Middle Eastern problems as a way to reduce the appeal of
cannot ignore what is going on in Iraq and Palestine
as these issues arouse the feelings and emotions
of Muslims around the world,” he pointed out.
said that convincing extremists not to cross the line into
terrorism is not an easy task. “There are
two ways of dealing with them; one is by opening a dialogue
trying to reason with them and the other is by using force,” he
said the true Islam, which Saudi Arabia promotes, is a
from what the extremists believe in. “Islam
is a religion of peace and prosperity; it teaches us ethics
and morality,” he said, adding that a Muslim must be
loyal to his country and his country must be able to trust
minister noted that when Osama Bin Laden was in Saudi Arabia
prior to 1998, he cooperated
with the Saudi government
as well as with the Americans. “When Osama
announced his war against Saudi Arabia and the humanity at
government decided to withdraw his Saudi nationality,” Al-Asheikh
said, describing Bin Laden as the head of terrorism.
scholars have issued statements and edicts defining and
condemning terrorism. “The Prophet said that
those who injure non-Muslims in a Muslim land will not
have a chance
of coming close to Heaven,” Al-Asheikh said.
said his ministry planned to continue its dialogue with
extremists. “We do
not intend to discuss their beliefs with them since we
find them completely wrong. On the other
hand, we try to dissuade them from involving themselves in
denied allegations that the Kingdom’s religious
establishment was against reform. “That is
not true. The religious establishment agrees with many of
the reforms,” he
said, adding that reform must be implemented gradually. “We
will not accept any pressure from outside,” he said.
here for further fataawa regarding terrorism