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Archive for Sunday, October 7, 2001

Arab allies unconvinced by evidence against bin Laden

October 7, 2001

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— Washington's NATO partners listened to the evidence and responded by lending military hardware. British Prime Minister Tony Blair listened and declared unequivocally that America had identified those responsible for the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

But in the Mideast, allies listened and, at least publicly, remained unconvinced America had enough proof to launch the war on terrorism begun Sunday with strikes on largely Muslim Afghanistan.

The Arab stance has been clear in recent days in the silence in several key Arab capitals where officials have received briefings on U.S. evidence against Osama bin Laden. The Saudi dissident living in Afghanistan is believed to have masterminded the suicide hijacking attacks on New York and Washington.

With no official guidance, ordinary Arabs continue to speculate wildly _ one popular rumor has it that Israel was behind the attacks as part of a plot to defame Muslims. There is little sentiment for helping the United States strike at bin Laden or his Afghan hosts.

"America rushed into this. There is no evidence," Mohammed Fathi, a 20-year-old student, said as he gathered with friends around a television in a Cairo cafe to watch news of the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan Sunday.

Most Arab states are autocracies in which the masses have little influence over policy. Nonetheless, widespread opposition to joining a U.S. anti-terror coalition has made leaders in the region wary of publicly and wholeheartedly aligning themselves with Washington.

Again and again since Sept. 11, protesters on the streets and politicians in parliaments have linked the attacks on New York and Washington to anger at America's Mideast policy. Among other complaints, the United States is seen as favoring Israel in the Jewish state's conflict with the Palestinians and trying to destroy Iraq through sanctions dating from the 1991 Gulf War.

An Arab leader would be taking a risk if he tried to make a public case against bin Laden paralleling British Prime Minister Major's announcement to his parliament last week that "Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, the terrorist network which he heads, planned and carried out the atrocities on Sept. 11, 2001."

Walid Kazziha, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo, said that if an Arab leader made such a statement, "people will say, `Look, he's been bought by the Americans.'"

In Egypt, which helped the United States persuade other Arab states to join the Gulf War coalition against Iraq, newspapers have reported only briefly that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld briefed officials on the evidence against bin Laden during a visit to Cairo last week.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal was quoted by the U.S. magazine Time Sunday as saying Saudi Arabia believes U.S. evidence shows bin Laden was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. But the Saudi media had not conveyed that to the Saudi people.

Saudi Arabia, which hosts a large U.S. air base, has said no troops would be allowed to use its bases to launch attacks on Arabs or Muslims. Prince Saud reiterated that to Time.

NATO members, in contrast, granted the United States access to their airfields and seaports and agreed to deploy ships and early-warning radar planes in Washington's war against terrorism.

In Kuwait, which owes its liberation from Iraq to a U.S.-led coalition, the first comment by an official about evidence against bin Laden was in Sunday's papers, and it was brief.

Jordanian security officials say the chief of Jordan's intelligence, Gen. Saad Kheir, had a briefing from the Americans when he visited Washington with King Abdullah last week. If he was presented with any evidence against bin Laden, it has yet to be made public in the kingdom, where little on the issue has been discussed in the media.

Nayef Mawla, a member of Jordan's parliament, said he doubted bin Laden was capable of the complex planning behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mawla, nonetheless, backed his government's pro-U.S. stance, saying terrorism must be confronted. But he said a strike on bin Laden must be followed by attempts to determine who may have been working with him, and he called for a change in U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"It breaks my heart that the United States is not doing anything for the Palestinians," Mawla said.

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