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Archive for Monday, October 8, 2001

Iraq calls airstrikes ‘treacherous’

October 8, 2001

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— Iraq's Saddam Hussein on Sunday called the airstrikes on Afghanistan "treacherous aggression," while in Egypt the U.S. Embassy, fearing reprisals against Americans, shut down some operations and warned U.S. citizens to lie low.

Iraqi TV took the unusual step of linking up with the popular Arabic satellite station Al Jazeera to show live coverage of the strikes on the Afghan capital. The link was abruptly severed when video of President Bush appeared in Al Jazeera's report.

Relatively few Arab countries offered any official comment Sunday, but out in the streets, there were some who were clearly sympathetic to Afghanistan's Taliban rulers.

"No way the U.S. military should do this, for their own sake," said a Cairene shopkeeper of Afghan descent. "I know my people. Afghans can live for days on a cup of water and a piece of bread.

"This will make Muslims everywhere hate America but also, they will be very happy, because America will now learn lessons in defeat. It will be much worse than Vietnam."

On Tal'at Harb Street, in the heart of downtown Cairo, large numbers of people were milling around at midnight on their way home from movie houses, cafes and restaurants. But few appeared to have paid much attention to the attacks.

"In killing this one man, bin Laden, can you justify what will happen to men, women and children in Afghanistan?" asked one man, leaning against a car. "What he has done to America is a violation of Islam. But what of the harm that America has done to innocent people here?"

In the Syrian capital of Damascus, Rola al-Bosh, a 39-year-old homemaker watching the news in a cafe, called the strikes "unjust."

America should show us proof against Osama bin Laden before hitting Afghanistan," al-Bosh said. "And even if bin Laden is guilty, it's not fair that a whole people are being punished for the mistake of one man."

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was among those with no immediate comment.

But anti-American protests have erupted at college campuses here recently, in anticipation of the strikes, over what some Egyptians say is a U.S. double standard that coddles Israel while vowing to hit at bin Laden and Afghanistan's Taliban militia for sheltering the Saudi fugitive.

So Ambassador David Welch, just weeks on post, announced that only essential operations would be conducted today at the downtown embassy in Cairo and the U.S. Consulate in Alexandria.

"We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens in Egypt minimize all nonessential movement for the next twenty-four hours, avoid public places and large gatherings and keep a low profile," said an embassy announcement issued within hours of the attack.

U.S. diplomats were also told to keep their children home from school today, a sign of unease over both how the Egyptian public might react and where the bin Laden network might retaliate.

State-run Egyptian television interrupted regular programming to broadcast statements from President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the attacks but did not rebroadcast footage that showed bin Laden railing against the United States.

Egypt is the Arab world's most populous country and a key U.S. ally. The two countries are slated to open joint military exercises called Bright Star planned for the past two years this week in the Egyptian desert near El Alamein.

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