A leading Arab journalist expressed sympathy with former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, considering him only “half a terrorist,” in a television interview published by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). He then apparently realized the potential controversy of his comments, and indicated he now feared he would banned from re-entering his base in the UK.
Asked whether he believed Bin Laden was a terrorist, Abdel Bari Atwan, editor in chief of the London-based daily al-Quds al-Arabi, told Egypt’s ONtv TV channel June 2 that the Saudi terrorist leader was “half a terrorist,” since his organization’s attacks against American forces in Saudi Arabia could not be considered terrorism.
“If you support the Palestinian resistance, you do not consider [Bin Laden’s attacks] terrorism. But if you are with America, Europe, and Israel, you do consider it terrorism,” Atwan said at first when asked the question. “It depends on your definition of terrorism.”
In 1996, Gaza-born Atwan became the first and only Arab journalist to interview Bin Laden, who was hiding in Afghanistan; Atwan later recounted the meeting in his 2006 book The Secret History of Al-Qa’ida. On the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, he wrote that the worst terrorist attacks in US history will be remembered as the end of the US empire, since “all empires collapse when they pursue the arrogance of power.”
Atwan repeated his positive assessment of Bin Laden later in the ONtv interview, when he said that “whoever fights America and its enterprise in the region, and whoever fights Israel and the American occupation, is not considered a terrorist by me.” He then expressed concern that his comments would see him banned from returning to the United Kingdom, after having been banned from entering the United States.
“Are you trying to destroy me?” Atwan asked the interviewer. “Absolutely not,” came the reply. Atwan responded: “Isn’t it enough that they have prevented me from entering the US?”
Five years ago, defending a terrorist attack on Jerusalem’s Merkaz Harav Yeshiva, where eight students were killed in March 2008, Atwan said the attack against the religious seminary was justified, since it was responsible for “hatching Israeli extremists and fundamentalists.”
A speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in which he condemned the abduction of Israeli soldiers, was denounced by Atwan in an op-ed May 28, where he praised Hamas for its achievement in releasing over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails as part of a deal to release abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.