Archive for Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Saudi cleric recants calls for militancy

November 19, 2003


— 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."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.