SAUDI SHAYKH SALMAN AL-AWDAH WARNS TERRORISM WILL FOLLOW MILITARY STRIKE ON IRAN
In an interview with the pan-Arab Quds Press news agency, Shaykh Salman bin Fahd al-Awdah warned that a wave of terrorism will follow any military attacks on Iran while also calling on Tehran to end attempts to expand its influence in the Sunni world (Quds Press, August 2).
Shaykh al-Awdah is one of the most popular religious scholars in Saudi Arabia. After making his mark through the once-popular use of cassette tapes to distribute sermons, al-Awdah has since moved on to more modern methods of communication as the director of the Islam Today website. He also makes frequent appearances on television and in the commentary sections of Arabic language newspapers.
Born in Qaseem Province from a Najdi family, Shaykh al-Awdah was one in a new generation of “political preachers” that emerged after the 1990-1991 Gulf War and the establishment of American bases in the Arabian Peninsula. Al-Awdah became associated with the religious opposition to the Saudi regime and suffered a five-year prison term as a result of his challenges to official fatwas permitting the regime to invite American troops to the Kingdom and his criticism of the expensive but ineffective Saudi military. Bin Laden was a supporter of al-Awdah in the 1990s and has quoted al-Awdah’s work in various communications. However, after his release al-Awdah devoted himself to a Ph.D. study of the Sunnah and transformed into a paragon of clerical respectability. He is now considered to be under the protection of the regime.
Al-Awdah rejects the “stereotype” that ties the da’wah (“call,” i.e. to God) of the 18th century reformer Shaykh Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab to terrorism. The shaykh’s followers are best known as Wahhabists, though Salafists in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere do not use this term themselves. According to al-Awdah, al-Wahhab’s insistence on Koranic authenticity in life and worship provided stability in a region where disunity and tribal fighting were previously common. “When the events of September took place in the United States [i.e. 9/11], people started saying that these acts were the product of the da’wah of Shaykh Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab. The truth is that this da’wah is totally innocent of these acts…,” stated al-Awdah.
The preacher goes on to note that “misinterpretations happen, even in Islam.” In an apparent reference to those militants who insist jihad is an individual obligation for Muslims, al-Awdah says, “Some people rely on the Koran to say that Islam wants to send the whole world to the battlefield. Those people have a twisted understanding of those acts [of terrorism]. The countries of the Islamic world in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Somalia and others are victims of these acts.” He insists 99% of Muslims are “removed from extremism and violence.” The militant remainder should be engaged in an Islamic discourse based on religious texts, but one that also considers the reasons behind the creation of a climate of terrorism, such as foreign aggression against Muslim countries.
The Saudi preacher warns that any escalation of military activity targeting Iran will result in the expansion of terrorism in the region. He notes that Israel possesses hundreds of nuclear warheads, adding that “nuclear weapons could be possessed by correct methods and through international supervision. I think that the dialogue with Iran has not yet reached a dead end.” At the same time, however, al-Awdah calls on Tehran to stop “Shi’i penetration of the Sunni world:”
"I fear Shi’i Iran. All those who are loyal to Iran should tell it that its expansionist approach will hurt it. Iran has the right to live peacefully and to obtain the latest technologies. However, it does not have to have the desire for expansion, as is the case in Africa and the so-called Shi’i penetration of the Sunni world. This does not serve the Iranian people."
Turning to Gaza, al-Awdah says the ongoing siege is an “international scandal.” The preacher is a member of the International Union for Muslim Scholars (led by Egyptian Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi), which sent a ship to Gaza as part of the “freedom convoys.” Al-Awdah insists that all factions of the political spectrum in Palestine, including groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, should be part of the effort to find a resolution for Palestine. The shaykh stated that “it is difficult to deal with the Palestinian people while ignoring the forces of the resistance.”
FORMER INTELLIGENCE CHIEF ACCUSED OF TERRORISM CALLS FOR RWANDAN UPRISING
As Rwandan President Paul Kagame enjoys an easy triumph at the polls this week with 93% of the vote, he is sure to be casting a wary eye at a possible alliance between his former army chief-of-staff, Lieutenant-General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, and Rwanda’s former intelligence director, Colonel Patrick Karegeya. Both men fled Rwanda this year for Johannesburg, from where Kagame’s government claims they are involved in organizing grenade attacks in Rwanda’s capital of Kigali.
Despite police reports that suspects apprehended in the grenade attacks belong to the Hutu-based Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), Rwandan prosecutors claimed General Nyamwasa and Colonel Karegeya were behind the violence. Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga said the men had linked up in South Africa, where they are alleged to have “planned and started implementing acts aimed at creating state insecurity… these acts include hurling grenades in Kigali city and other places” (Rwandan News Agency, July 2).
Karegeya is one of many Tutsis born in exile to have become allied with Yoweri Museveni’s Ugandan National Resistance Army (NRA) before he played an important role in sweeping the Hutu out of power in Rwanda in 1994. After studying law at Kampala’s Makerere University, Karegeya became a member of Museveni’s NRA in 1982. He was arrested by Ugandan intelligence while trying to go to Libya for military training and remained in the Luzira Maximum Security Prison until he was released following the overthrow of Milton Obote in 1985. Karegeya rejoined Museveni’s forces as they toppled Obote’s successor, General Tito Okello.
Karegeya then served as director of Rwanda’s External Service Organization (ESO), the national intelligence service, from 1994 to 2004. Karegeya played an important part in intelligence operations against his former Ugandan patrons in clashes with the Forces Rwandaises de Défense (FRD – the national defense force) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) between 1998 and 2003. According to Karegeya, “Fighting the enemy you know [the Ugandan People’s Defense Force – UPDF} was especially very challenging” (The Observer [Kampala], August 2). In 2005 Karegeya was brought up on charges of insubordination and desertion. He was stripped of his rank in 2006 and spent 18 months in jail, mostly in solitary confinement in Kigali’s Mulindi Military Prison.
Some sources claim Karegeya fled to Uganda and then South Africa after learning of plans to have him killed (Radio Katwe [Kampala], November 28, 20007). Only days before the election Karegeya issued a call for Rwandans to bring down Kagame’s government:
"We fought for the liberation of Rwanda so that Rwandans can enjoy peace and be delivered from dictatorship, but we have not seen that. A dictator can never step down, they are brought down. It’s only Rwandans who can stand up now and fight for their freedom. Kagame will have his breaking point and I think it will be very soon” (Observer [Kampala], August 2).
General Nyamwasa was also a veteran of Museveni’s NRA before joining the Rwanda Patriotic Army in its post-genocide conquest of Rwanda in 1994. He served as army chief-of-staff until 2002 and then became national security chief. After reportedly being tied to a failed coup attempt in 2003, Nyamwasa went into a comfortable exile as ambassador to India.
Since fleeing to Johannesburg after his return to Rwanda earlier this year, Nyamwasa has been accused by the regime of financial improprieties, military incompetence and abandoning his comrades on the battlefield, though the intense criticism has led some to wonder how such a man could have been chief-of-staff for so many years.
In May General Nyamwasa told a Ugandan daily that Kagame’s focus was no longer on the Party and the country, but on Kagame himself. He stated, “[Our] disagreements are centered on governance, tolerance, insensitivity, intrigue and betrayal of our colleagues… I saved President Kagame’s life twice during the struggle when everyone else had abandoned him in Nkana and Kanyantanga. Where were all those who are telling him that I am a traitor?” Nyamwasa says he and Karegeya are both lawyers and are fully aware that Kigali has no extradition treaty with South Africa, and that “there is no evidence whatsoever that links us to the bombing in Kigali” (Daily Monitor [Kampala], May 30).
General Nyamwasa was shot twice in Johannesburg on June 19. Though shot in the stomach, he survived by grabbing the gunman when the third round jammed in the assailant’s weapon (Daily Monitor, June 19). South African prosecutors arrested five men in the assassination attempt but have refused to identify their nationality. Kigali has demanded their extradition while denying any role in the assault, but South Africa instead recalled its ambassador in Kigali on August 5 to express its displeasure over the incident (AFP, August 5; al-Jazeera, August 10).