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Abu Hamza al Masri

He is an Egyptian cleric who preaches at the Finsbury Park Mosque in Central London. Among those who attended his mosque were Zacarias Moussaoui, whom the U.S. has accused as being the intended 20th hijacker on Sept. 11, Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe bomber," and James Ujaama, who was arrested in Seattle and accused of attempting to set up Al Qaeda training camps in the U.S. Abu Hamza is wanted in Yemen on terrorism charges relating to the bombing of the USS Cole. He tells FRONTLINE that Al Qaeda is structurally dismantled but that U.S. action in Afghanistan has created a "time bomb" among sympathetic Muslims. This interview was conducted on Aug. 14, 2002.


Abu Hamza al Masri photo
Abu Hamza al Masri photo

... What is your attitude towards Al Qaeda? Are they a terrorist organization?

Well it depends what you call terrorism. Now certainly I would call it from the Islamic point of view -- it's a little bit immaturity, and you could say, in a way, abusing the hospitality of Taliban, because they should have allegiance with Mullah Omar. That was not certainly his policy towards the West. He wanted to rebuild his country and reeducate his people. He didn't have the means or the resources for it.

Everybody, every sincere Muslim really think that, at that time, Taliban should be left alone -- if not helped -- without actually going into external policies or beyond the boundaries of the country in a manner such as some of Al Qaeda have suggested. But on the other hand, there are some people who are helped by the American policies. Some of them are from the ex-mujahedeen. Some have joined the mujahedeen just basically to retaliate from some of the American policies. These people are actually scattered all over the place. ...

You're saying that these people want to attack the West? They want to attack the United States?

Say "the United States," not "the West," because basically the American policy makers are actually moving and aiming towards the logic of power. Not like everybody else who was moving and aiming towards the power of logic. So they're basically saying to everybody, "Don't worry about what our policies were not making sense. But we are the strongest. We can do whatever we like."

You have gained millions of Al Qaeda sympathizers. ä Every one of them is a time bomb.

The Americans, that image, and some of their statements which have been announced, some of their work for the external policies have actually shown nothing but that. "We are the strongest, and we're going to do whatever we like, and we're going to call anybody any names." So there are people, and many people among us Muslims who would like actually to stop this kind of attitude and arrogance.

You're among those people?

Yes.

Your attitude towards the United States is that it should be brought down?

No. Why should we have the whole state brought down if only a handful of politicians are actually slaving their own people by terror and tell them, "If you don't give us a free hand in your money, if you don't give us a free hand in the external policies, then you're going to be dealt with by the Muslims?"

Muslims are not against any certain nations, and certainly not the Americans, because they are a nation which is you know made of many other nations. So you can't say Muslims are against Americans. That's too crude. But we are against some policy makers, who actually, we do believe, are slaving their own nations, and they're using them as a shield for some personal motives, who only very few individuals benefited from.

What are you talking about? What personal benefits are you talking about?

Politicians whipping company owners and financial big giants. Financial people who are actually designing the globalization can see the Western capitalism falling down, and they want to hide their blunder by going into war and employ everybody in the army. These kind of people are actually slaving and wasting American resources for their own benefit.

You've had great interest in Yemen. Why?

Well, the people of Yemen, they actually been deceived by their leadership when the two parts of Yemen were unified. They were promised to have Islamic sharia. I've never lived in Yemen, but I had some contacts where people said, "Look. We are very poor in resources. You're living in the West. We want to raise our voice. We want an Islamic state. We're being promised an Islamic state." Many of us fought in Afghanistan, in Bosnia, in Kashmir. Basically we want to solve this problem politically, and by actually putting some political pressure on our leaders." ...

There was some statements coming from Yemen, and I did try my best to announce these statements to tell the people about the problem of Yemen, and what the Yemeni people want and expect from their governments to do to fill the promise. Basically, that was not desirable by the government of Yemen.

At the time, also I was helping anybody to go who wants to emigrate from the West to learn Arabic, to ask them to go in learn Arabic there. Stay there and educate the people, basically to rise up peacefully against the government. Tell them we want Islamic law and Islamic sharia. ...

You say you were asking the people of Yemen to rise up peacefully and establish an Islamic state?

Yes.

The government of Yemen believes that you were supporting a terrorist organization.

No, no. The government of Yemen, all they wanted is to stop the voices of the oppositions, whether they are Islamic or not Islamic. ...

Let me state it again. The government, President Saleh, believes, and wants you back in the country to put you on trial. [He] believes that you have aided and abetted terrorists in the country. You're saying that you were asking for a peaceful uprising? I'm not sure what that means.

I'm still asking. A peaceful uprising. People to come and say, "Well, look. Enough is enough. We want to try the Islamic law in our country, and basically, we don't want tyranny any more."

We don't know the difference now between a monarchy or presidential state. They all want to rule for as long as they live, and then after they go, they give it to their children and to their sons and all that. So people are afraid of all that, and they want to see a proper change in this government in regard to the main policy stream, to Islamize it, and also to get rid of this tyranny states.

So this is the main enmity and reason for enmity between myself and the President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and he's taken it too personal. Basically, he should go. Twenty-five years is enough for him in power, and he keeping you for himself; he keep putting his son like Hosni Mubarak do, like Qaddafi do. I mean, you people wouldn't take any of that in your countries. And when we say, "Well, enough is enough," for us, we waited so long, [and] you're calling us terrorists. ...

I believe that you said in a previous interview with another journalist that the attacks of 9/11 were justified.

You have to distinguish yourself. [I] started this in the interview -- I'm not sure if you recall -- did not I say that we Muslims who are sincere to the Islamic law, we focus on the Islamic law?

We don't want to extend our war anywhere else. We believe to clear and make sure that our homeland, our good, suitable to invite others to show them a proper Islam. So nobody from the sincere and mature Islamic groups are actually interested to open front with America with the worst of anybody.

But there are some of these groups who are actually concentrating in that cause to overthrow the tyrants and to start to be involved by the Islamic sharia. And some of them are hunted by the American policy makers, and they are hunted by some intelligence, who do not want Islam to emerge as proper. ...

We're a very peaceful nation. Muslim nation are a very peaceful nation. Even if we don't have Islam in our own countries, we still go to places like Afghanistan, just to live Islam. So if this is also prohibited for us, and American policy makers are fighting that to the limit, basically what they're doing is actually sealing the only valve in the pressure cooker. ...

What has happened to Al Qaeda?

Dismantled.

Al Qaeda's dismantled? The war on terrorism made progress?

Of course. It's already seen, you know, that you can't fight a county in the size of America and you survive, with that little resources, with no land of your own.

So structurally, the Al Qaeda has been dismantled. But morally it has been rebuilt. You have gained millions of Al Qaeda sympathizers. ... Every one of them is a time bomb. ...

"We're very weak, but we will do what we can?" Everyone is a time bomb?

That's it. Exactly.

Al Qaeda has been dismantled structurally. So where have all the fighters gone?

They've gone in the mountains. They've gone into other countries. They've changed their names. They've shaved their beard. Some they have lost their families. Some are waiting to retaliate, and some are just going to be hiding somewhere. ... They got to go to the area around -- somebody go to Iran, somebody stay in Afghanistan, somebody will go to Pakistan.

It's very simple to conclude. And this is what happened -- they've gone everywhere.

You've got your ear to the ground in Yemen, so I wanted to ask you what you've heard about them returning to Yemen.

Nothing.

The United States has sent troops or trainers to Yemen.

Yes, well, nothing will happen, because you are not fighting a state. You are fighting people whom you have abused, and they just waiting in the pigeonholes to defend themselves, or to get their attacker if he comes near. ...

James Ujaama, or James Ernest Thompson? Did you know him?

I hear that name on the newspapers. When I asked my colleagues, they said, "Yes, ... he was actually in charge of our [Web] site for about six months or so." I think because we have many people in charge of our [Web] site. ...

But you remember him?

Oh, yes. I do remember him.

The United States alleges that Ujaama and two other men from London scouted this ranch in Oregon under your instructions. This is what the U.S. is alleging. Correct? The U.S. is alleging that you sent Ujaama and two other men to go scout a ranch to be used as a possible Al Qaeda training camp.

Well, why should I go to [Oregon]? I mean, what you expect from a training camp in America? Just John Wayne sort of training? You know, a horse and a man and a gun. I mean, wouldn't it be easier to do in Afghanistan -- cheaper and more advanced? And I mean this. It's nonsense, with particularly the time you mentioned, 1999, where you can see a camp in Afghanistan for 5,000 pounds? What can you do with these sort of camps? What ammunition you going to achieve there? And what range are you going to be trained? What tanks you going to fight?

Come on. I mean, it's a good for the media. But [in] reality, these kind of things and this kind of logic doesn't stand in court. It doesn't stand for any intelligent person.

So you didn't send Bilal or Ujaama?

I sent him to his own country. He lives there. Why should I send him? He's an American, and he's a convert. And he's got his family there.

Were you involved in sending him on a mission?

I send nobody. People come for me and they talk to me from all over the place. They ring me. ... (Laughs) Everybody's monitored my phone. Everybody asked the British government kind of military specs. I know that for sure. So basically, let's talk logic.

The U.S. Treasury Department has classified you as a terrorist -- says that they've frozen your assets in fact, because they say you're a terrorist.

Where's the evidence? ... The American policy makers are moving from the logic of power, not the power of logic. If you check my account, you wouldn't find anything. I don't receive money from anybody. It's all my schoolchildren fees. ...

So let me just ask you again. What has happened? Al Qaeda has dispersed. They've been structurally damaged. Bin Laden perhaps is dead. You agree?

Will it make any different? You know, if he's dead or if he's alive, the damage he has done as a person is finished now. You are now left with the heritage of him, more than his personal--

And that heritage presents a greater threat then he did himself?

For as long as the American policy makers are picking own individuals and insulting Muslims by these verses, which is coming all the time -- " Islam isn't even a religion," "an American comes first," "we're going to allow some dirty work," -- these kind of things are very [insulting]. And as I say, it's not helping anybody.

So that will fuel the heritage of bin Laden, and you have made a monster out of him, basically. Unfortunately, the people who are going to be damaged more than anybody else are the American people themselves, because they are paying for these foolish policies. They are not used for many years to these kind of uncertainty.

Muslims are being killed for over the years; for the last 58 years they are being killed. They are used to that, although it's a continuous agony. But they are used to that. But many of the Western people are not used to that. They never thought, when [they] elected governments, that they're going to take them to that trend. So it's a very immature kind of policies which will make even a child born with the desire to retaliate. ...

Do you think that Al Qaeda members are hiding in Yemen?

... Oh, they must be because there are 300 people from Al Qaeda, and you have killed about 200. Still, 100 will go and be redistributed all over the world. (Laughs) What do you expect? So you're going to find five, six over here, six here.

But, you know, again, don't slave your people again and make a war. Don't try to crack a nut with a sledgehammer. This is what the Americans always do -- try to crack a nut with a sledgehammer. And they end up paying too much and being very successful and leave a horrible scene at the end, which tarnished their history and to risk their future.

Is there a difference between a jihadist and a terrorist?

Well, in a sense it depends how you define terrorism, you see. We've been ordered in the Quran to terrorize tyrants, to terrorize even policy makers, to terrorize those who are abusing Earth and abusing the people of Earth. There's an order in the Quran. Nobody can tell you, "Oh, we're not terrorists."

So if somebody tell you, "We are terrorists," absolute then he's a joker. He doesn't know what Islam is about. He doesn't know what terrorism is about. If somebody tell you, "Well no, no, no, no. We are not a terrorist," again, he's a joker. He doesn't know what Islam is about, and he doesn't know what jihad is about. Jihad is very specific. It's actually to terrorize those who hinder the path of God. ...

Our definition of holy war is totally different from the definition of holy war, although words are the same. Our holy war is basically the only war we can go. We don't go and fight for democracy. We don't go out and fight for a land. We don't go out and fight for a certain group. This kind of fight doesn't bring your soul back to you. We fight for God and for the message of God and for the messages of God and for the return to God -- nothing else. ...

It seems though people are very frightened of you, because you're speaking as if those people who you say have justified grievances have done nothing but spill the blood of innocents -- the Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam bombings, the Luxor massacre, the World Trade Center attacks and the Pentagon attack. This has all resulted in many people, clerks, secretaries, ordinary civilian workers, Muslims among them.

Well, you got to get your terms right as well. A civilian term doesn't exist in Islam. What exists in Islam and what matters in Islam, a harming body or harmless body; whoever is not harming, he's protected. ...

The idea of civilians not being a clearly defined group in Islam is very worrisome, too.

Is very worry, yes. Because you can have a woman, for example, who actually wearing a miniskirt and she's not military, but she's actually confiscating people's money and the computer and she's working as a spy. You can never call her a civilian. ...

So it's a form of collateral damage?

It's basically, "You pick on us, and we retaliate back." This is exactly what the message was given. I told you in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam was never an action. It was only a reaction for the handing over and snatching of people who are minding their own business and living in a country like Albania peacefully. They have families. You made the children orphans. And you have undermined their reputation, their struggled and their religion.

So, you know, if you want to see the real analogy, it's to tell your people the whole picture. Don't blame the nail who goes through the wall. First see what hammers the nail.

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