Sheikh Ali al-Khodeir is the spiritual mentor of al Qaeda firebrands in Saudi Arabia and of some of the15 Saudi nationals who took part in the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
He also provided “spiritual” guidance for the Saudis who detonated car bombs outside three compounds housing foreigners in Riyadh on May 12, attacks that killed 35 people.
A week after those explosions, Khodeir was captured in a fierce gun battle in Medina between Saudi security forces and al Qaeda fighters.
Yet the see-no-evil Saudi government released the sheikh earlier this month on condition that he make a number of public appearances admitting he had erred in his ways when he abetted attacks on the House of Saud and promise to assist the princes in their truce negotiations with al Qaeda (See “Saudi Rulers Seek ceasefire with al Qaeda, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 133, November 14).
Unconfirmed reports say the Saudi royals offered Khodeir a huge bribe for his services.
Following here is an interview Khodeir gave to Saudi television on Thursday, November 20.
Q. Is it permissible for our young people to wage jihad in Iraq?
A. We do not issue a fatwa (religious ruling) permitting travel to Iraq without the consent of the supreme authority (Ed. Khodeir probably meant Osama bin Laden).
Q. But fatwas have been issued calling on them to go to Iraq.
A. Those are old fatwas that need to be reviewed. Some may possibly have been issued. Jihad is allowed only in accordance with the rulings of religious scholars (Ed. Khodeir does not deny such fatwas exist or that they should be obeyed if issued by religious figures).
In reply to another question, Khodeir said: “He who blows himself up among believers is a suicide bomber not a martyr.” His comments stopped short of a complete ban on the sort of suicide attacks carried out in Iraq, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, even though they killed Muslims.
Khodeir’s underlying message: If you want to reach the pinnacle of martyrdom, go blow yourself to bits next to infidels like the Americans in Iraq or the Israelis.
This broadcast over Saudi national TV turned Americans livid. A furious Washington sent a query to Riyadh in this vein: Pardon us, but are you telling these youngsters that they may not attack the royal family, but Americans are fair game? Is that how you fight terror – at our expense?
There was no Saudi response to this verbal rocket.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources have learned that, despite the Saudi Arabian commitment to speak only with guns and swords to Islamic extremists dedicated to overthrowing the royal house, its leaders are heavily engaged in truce negotiations with local elements of al Qaeda. This does not stop those same elements going forward with their own plans to bedevil the kingdom with still more terrorist attacks.
Riyadh may pretend to spurn the initiatives of three Muslim clerics, sheikh Abdullah Nasser al-Sobeihi, sheikh Mohsen al-Awaji and sheikh Suleiman Darwish, to promote dialogue with al Qaeda and other Muslim radicals – but it’s all a show. The Saudi rulers desperately want a ceasefire and are secretly egging the clerical trio on to keep on talking.
They realize that their attempts to use television interviews to show Saudi youngsters how wrong it is to join extremist organizations and shelter terrorists are only a first tentative step towards re-educating their youth and pacifying the kingdom. After all, young Muslim zealots do not watch television. So the Saudis are trying to persuade the three sheikhs to lend their names to a book compiled by Saudi military intelligence entitled “The River of Memories”. Its main theme is denunciation of the “error” of attacking the Saudi royal family when the real enemy of the realm is outside the country.