Muslim nations defend use of suicide bombers

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A meeting of Islamic nations ended in disagreement yesterday after Arab governments rejected a proposal to include Palestinian suicide bombers in a condemnation of terrorism.

In its final declaration, the meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, said: "We unequivocally condemn acts of international terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including state terrorism, irrespective of motives, perp- etrators and victims." But it went on: "We reject any attempt to link terrorism to the struggle of the Palestinian people in the exercise of their inalienable right to establish their independent state."

The host of the meeting, the Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamed, had suggested in his opening speech that Palestinian suicide bomb-ers be included in a condemn-ation of all who use violence against civilians. "According to this definition of terrorism, the attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11 September, the human bomb attacks by Palestinians and Tamil Tigers [of Sri Lanka], the attacks against civilians by Israeli forces ... must be considered as acts of terror," he said. But the OIC rejected the proposal, and supported the Palestinian delegation's argument that the suicide attacks can be seen a legitimate tool of national liberation.

The final statement promised in the future to reach a definition that would distinguish between terrorism and "legitimate struggles ... against foreign occupation".

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister, Mohamad Zarif, said: "It is not for us to define international terrorism for the international community. It is for us to ask the international community to start a process of defining terrorism. That process has started."

The foreign ministers and representatives of the 57-member OIC also rejected "any unilateral action against any Islamic country under the pretext of combating international terrorism" – an obvious reference to American and British hints of a future attack against Iraq.

Dr Mohamed, although well known as a critic of Western, and especially American, arrogance, is equally opposed to Islamic fundamentalism within his own country and abroad. Malaysia has consistently denounced Israel for its actions in the West Bank, but has also been one of the most active non-Western supporters of the war against terror.

"The US is doing all right in terms of getting the world to act against terrorists," Dr Mohamed said in his opening speech. "I think the whole world supports [it], but unfortunately the US has supported the action by the Israeli government which amounts to terrorism."

He added: "These people may be misguided, they may be wrong in believing they are fighting a jihad, a holy war ... [but] the world must deal with these misguided people not just by hunting them down but also by removing the causes of their anger and frustration."

Several dozen Muslims, suspected of involvement in al-Qa'ida, are being held without charge in Malaysia, under "security" legislation which allows detention without charge.

It was reported yesterday that Dr Mohamed has been invited by President Bush to visit the White House in May.

* Abu Zubeida, the captured al-Qa'ida leader, could be the first prisoner to be dealt with by America's military tribunals, established under an executive order by President George Bush last year, although officials in Washington said no decision had been taken on how to deal with him. Mr Zubeida, 30, is in US custody at an undisclosed location. He is likely to be transferred to Camp X-Ray at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.