The three–day conference on terrorism that brought over 20 heads of government to Madrid on the anniversary of the March 11, 2004 train bombings by al-Qaeda that killed 191 people, excited some interest from the mujahideen. A statement attributed to Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, the “Media Coordinator” for the Organization of al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers [Iraq] led by Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, dismissed the exercise as one more meeting of infidels and apostates acting “to war against Islam and impede the jihad … who have fears and concerns even beyond warring against Muslims and abusing them.” It warned those it termed ‘the enemies of God’ that: “whatever you do, you will be defeated, for Almighty God has promised us the victory” [Mufakkirat al-Islam/www.islammemo.cc].
Potentially more significant was the fatwa against bin Laden delivered by the Federación Española de Entidades Religiosas Islámicas, the main body representing Spain’s one million strong Muslim community. The condemnation of bin Laden was based on what the Federación termed al-Qaeda’s attempt to invent legal justifications from Qur’anic and Hadith sources in order to defend terrorism, and that by so doing they had “made themselves apostates” [www.elpais.es]. The fatwa was touted as the first overt condemnation of bin Laden in person, and a possible precursor to subsequent declarations across the Muslim world.
Commentaries on the jihad forum al-Ma’sada were dismissive, noting that the Federación’s secretary general, Mansur Escudero, (dubbed [Prime Minister] “Zapatero’s mufti”) had admitted that it had more ‘moral’ than legal authority, and that [the Shaykh of al-Azhar] “Al-Tantawi had preceded him by issuing a fatwa for his master [French President] Chirac on removing the veil.” Participants also affixed a photograph of Escudero among the Spanish infidels, challenging the readers to notice the difference [www.alm2sda.net].
The target audience, however, is scarcely the bin Laden constituency, since their takfir (anathematizing rejectionism) of mainstream Islam already places them, willingly, outside the fold. While sceptics see Escudero’s move as designed principally to improve the image of Muslims in Spain, the precedent set by the fatwa, which was drafted with the tacit approval of a number of Muslim leaders in North Africa, may influence a more overt condemnation further afield and contribute to the counter-propaganda war.