Editors note: below and reproduced in full with the author’s permission is an open letter written by Noman Benotman, a former commander in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and a former associate of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. In al Qaeda strategy meetings in Kandahar in 2000, Benotman warned the al-Qaeda leadership of ‘total failure’ to realise their aims and called on bin Laden and al-Zawahiri to abandon violence. Soon after the 9/11 attacks, he distanced himself from al-Qaeda and later resigned from his own jihadist organisation. He has more recently been instrumental in negotiations with Libya’s government to free former LIFG leaders, and in persuading these leaders to formally renounce terrorism. He also recently joined the London-based Quilliam Foundation as a Senior Analyst.
Is it not time for believers to humble their hearts to the remembrance of
God and the Truth that has been revealed. Quran, 57:16
Dear Osama bin Laden Abu Abdullah,
I greet you with the peace of Islam and ask you to reflect on the following. Do so for the sake of Allah, his Prophet, and the safety of all humans worldwide.
I write to you as a former comrade-in-arms. We fought together. We were ready to die together. Under the banner of Islam, we came to the aid of fellow Muslims in Afghanistan. To this day, I take pride in having fought against the Soviets and communists. We were in the right and no enemy could have stood in our way.
This is no longer the case.
After our victory, we became a curse for the very people we sought to help. Afghans, including Mullah Omar and his supporters, asked us to protect their country and its people. Instead, you wanted to use their country as a launch-pad for war against America, Israel, the West and the Arab regimes. What benefit has this brought the Afghan people?
Separately, when Mullah Omar asked you on several occasions to stop provoking and inviting American attacks on his country, you ignored him. How can you claim to fight for an "Islamic State" and then so flagrantly disobey the ruler you helped put in place? Do you not remember Sheikh Abu Hafs al-Mauritani’s religious opinion that by defying Mullah Omar, al-Qaeda was making a mockery of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and that building Afghanistan was the call of the hour and the duty of those Muslims who lived there – not "jihad" abroad?
I also remind you (and disclose here for the first time publicly) that in this meeting Abu Muhammad al-Zayyat, the head of your own organisation’s security committee (later appointed head of the military committee in 2000), vehemently objected to your "final" planned operation, the 11th September suicide bombings. Abu Muhammad al-Zayyat believed these missions were illegitimate without Mullah Omar’s permission. The question asked by many, even among the closed group, was: by what right did al-Qaeda by-pass and ignore Mullah Omar? And, of course, even if Mullah Omar had given his permission this would not change the fact that such attacks are completely unjustifiable.
Osama, you were kind enough to invite me to breakfast at your simple mud house in Kandahar in summer of 2000. I still remember your children playing barefoot near us. In our meetings, I represented the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and in the presence of Dr. Zawahiri as well as other key figures, I argued for an immediate cessation of violence and an end to al-Qaeda’s attacks outside Afghanistan. You asked me to provide you with access to LIFG’s global logistic network to bolster your "Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders", as you termed your ongoing war. I refused point-blank, without even seeing the need to consult my group on this decision. You saw many truths in my argument: that al-Qaeda and its violent acts had been an abject failure. However, you said that one more operation was under way, and that you could not stop it.
On the morning of 11th September 2001, the world discovered the unstoppable chain of events both you and al-Qaeda had put in place. Why was this operation carried out? What has the 11th September brought to the world except mass killings, occupations, destruction, hatred of Muslims, humiliation of Islam, and a tighter grip on the lives of ordinary Muslims by the authoritarian regimes that control Arab and Muslim states? I warned you then, in summer 2000, of how your actions would bring US forces into the Middle East and into Afghanistan, leading to mass unrest and loss of life. You believed I was wrong. Time has proved me right. Your actions have harmed millions of innocent Muslims and non-Muslims alike. How is this Islam or jihad? For how much longer will al-Qaeda continue to bring shame on Islam, disrupt ordinary Muslims’ lives, and be the cause of global unrest?
Muslims across the world have rejected your calls for wrongful jihad and the establishment of your so-called "Islamic state" when they witnessed the form this has taken in Iraq. Even the Palestinians consider your "help" to have had negative repercussions on their cause. Indeed Israel’s control over Gaza has never been stronger and yet some of your supporters have even declared Hamas to be an apostate organisation! What then of the rest of the Palestinian population and other Muslims? Most Muslim communities wish to embrace and engage in democracy; they seek justice, peace, freedom, human rights and peaceful coexistence with the rest of the world. Instead, where there was harmony, you brought discord.
In New York, your un-Islamic actions have caused hurt, loss, pain and anguish to thousands of innocent people and their families. One consequence is that those Muslims seeking to build a House of God in New York are today being compared to Nazis. And now we hear that on the anniversary of your attack an American preacher is even planning to burn the Quran in revenge! Indeed Muslims living in democratic and free societies around the world are now experiencing the consequences of your irresponsible acts. In Switzerland and France, countries in which Muslims were able to freely and openly practise their religion, they have been forced to abandon symbols of their faith. In China, our brothers and sisters face daily oppression by the Communist government on account of al-Qaeda’s actions elsewhere. In Iraq, a proud and noble nation, an entirepopulation lives in fear of takfir (excommunication) and daily suicide bombings. In Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries, people live in fear of men who believe they are allowed to commit murder in the name of Islam and take lives in exchange for their own shahada (martyrdom). Is this really the path to paradise? On this issue, I strongly advise you to seek the guidance of authentic scholars for "a Muslim can still be saved as long as he does not spill inviolable blood" (Sahih Bukhari).
I know you to be a humble man, one who has given up a luxurious lifestyle to dedicate yourself to the cause you believe in. However, your jihad should now ensure al-Qaeda reverts back to the path of ahl al sunnawal jama‘a (the people who follow the example of the Prophet and the majority) and realigns its acts and policies with authentic Islamic rulings.
Your duty is to prevent your organisation from going further down the
road of extremism (ghuluw), ex-communication (takfir) and the shedding
of innocent blood that was forbidden by God.
In light of all these points, I recommend that al-Qaeda announce a unilateral halt to its military operations for a period of six months, for the following three purposes:
– To take a step back from fighting to study and consider the organization’s vision, approach and strategy; for instance by attempting to answer the following questions: How would a suspension of al-Qaeda’s milita
ry activity affect Islam and Muslims around the world? Will it hurt their interests or will it allow them to make greater progress towards achieving peace and the freedom to practice and preach their religion? What would Islam lose if al-Qaeda were to end its violence?
– To explore public opinion in Muslim communities around the world and their position vis- à-vis al-Qaeda, in terms of support or rejection on both the ideological and operational levels.
– To seek the guidance of those scholars such as Sheikh Salman al- Auda who have rejected your approach and concept of jihad, as well as others who are ‘accepted as speaking with the voice of the Ummah’ (Talaqqathum al-umma bil qabul).
I believe that adopting this strategy will also be the first step towards ending the occupation of Afghanistan and establishing peace and securityin the region.
In urging you to halt your violence and re-consider your aims and strategy, I believe I am merely expressing the views of the vast majorityof Muslims who wish to see their religion regain the respect it has lost and who long to carry the name of "Muslim" with pride.
Abu Muhammed Al-Libi
10 September 2010
1 Shawwal 1431 AH