Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Using prime-time TV in their campaign against extremism, Saudi officials interrupted a popular comedy show to air footage of a jailed Muslim cleric renouncing his calls for militants to attack the West.
Saudis have heard similar calls from princes and government-approved clerics in recent months. But Monday's broadcast appeared to be a new tactic -- though some extremists may question whether the cleric was forced to recant.
Appearing on Saudi state television, cleric Ali al-Khudair said of his previous fatwas, or religious edicts, calling for attacks on the West: "If I had the choice I would not have said them. I hope that, God willing, I have time to correct them."
Al-Khudair, who has a following among militants, also said the Nov. 8 suicide bombing of a residential compound housing foreign workers -- most of them Arabs -- in Riyadh was "the work of criminals." Saudi and U.S. officials have said al-Qaida, the Muslim militant terror network accused in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, may have been behind this month's Riyadh bombing and a similar attack in the capital in May.
Al-Khudair, looking relaxed in a traditional white Saudi robe and red-checked headdress, was interviewed in a television studio for about 50 minutes by another cleric, Ayed al-Qarni. Three times during the interview, al-Khudair swore to God he had not been coerced into recanting.
Abdullah al-Otaibi, a political scientist at King Saud University, said al-Khudair's appearance may at first cause "bewilderment and confusion" among his followers, but they will have to reconsider "his previous radical ideas."
Abdulghani Abdullah, a 34-year-old Saudi businessman who watched Monday's broadcast, said if the appearance had come earlier "it would have probably saved us all this destruction. But better late than never."