Massari denies condoning bomb

JOHN LICHFIELD

The Government's least favourite Saudi dissident was yesterday embroiled in a new dispute about his presence in Britain. Conservative politicians accused the exiled Islamist leader Mohamed al-Massari of, in effect, condoning the bombing in Dhahran in which 19 American servicemen died.

But Mr Massari, who successfully appealed against attempts to deport him to the Caribbean last year, said that extracts from a BBC radio interview had been quoted out of context by his Conservative critics. In an interview with the Independent, Mr Massari said that he rejected political violence of all kinds, including the Dhahran bombing. He said the attack on the US barracks was a "very disquieting" sign that Saudi Arabia might rapidly descend into the kind of pitiless tit-for-tat violence between Islamic militants and the authorities already seen in Algeria.

Earlier, the Prime Minister, and back-bench Tory MPs, had responded furiously to remarks made by the London-based dissident in an interview on BBC Radio Four's Today.

Mr Massari said the bombers had an "intellectually very strong case" to regard the presence of American forces in Saudi Arabia as an infringement of Islamic law and, therefore, an invitation to holy war. But he also went on to say that this was a wrong interpretation and he did not condone the attack.

Dame Jill Knight, a leading member of the House of Commons home affairs select committee, said Mr Massari had come "dangerously close to condoning, if not congratulating, the Dhahran bombers". She said his remarks "sharpened" the arguments for his ejection from the UK. John Major said he failed to see how any intellectual case could be made for the bombing.

But Mr Massari accused his critics of wilfully misinterpreting his remarks. Under Islamic law, he said, it was forbidden for foreign forces to be based in Saudi Arabia under their own flag. But in this case the US forces had been invited by the Saudi authorities. However illegitimate the invitation, and however illegitimate the authorities, he said, it was absolutely wrong to attack US soldiers, who were present in good faith. This was the only fair reading of his comments to the BBC.

His organisation was committed, he said, to the overthrow of the Saudi royal family by non-violent means. The bombing was a sign that opposition movements within the country were losing patience. "Attacks of this kind could lead to a spiral of violence, God forbid, like in Algeria. I am extremely worried at that."

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