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Divisions evident in Islamic Mideast, N. Africa

Osama bin Laden
Bin Laden: Islamic countries differ on how to deal with him.  


By Graham Jones
CNN London Bureau

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Nearly all Islamic countries of the Middle East and North Africa have condemned the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington -- but key differences have emerged.

Foreign ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council States -- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman -- pledged at a meeting in Jeddah on Sunday "complete cooperation" with moves to bring the perpetrators to justice.

They did not say how much military support they would give Washington in hitting back at the attackers, and at the same time they urged the international community to halt "terror acts" by Israel against Palestinians.

This qualified support for the United States has highlighted that even among close neighbors subtle but firm disagreements exist -- especially from those governments embarrassed by the existence of popular support in their countries for Osama bin Laden.

Algeria

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's regime has been fighting Islamic militants for 10 years and swiftly seized the chance to cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorism -- while insisting it must be a war against individuals and not countries, religions or peoples.

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State media reported that Algerians had handed over a list of 350 Islamic militants overseas whom Algerian intelligence had linked to bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

Bahrain

Crown prince Sheik Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa denounced the attacks on the United States as "unjustifiable under any conditions." The island nation is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet and is seen as a key ally.

Sheik Salman said Bahrain had received no requests for help from the United States, "but in a time of need, we stand by our friends." Prominent clerics, while expressing deep sorrow for the terrorist atrocities, have criticized the prospect of attacks within Afghanistan.

Egypt

President Hosni Mubarak is seen as a key figure in rallying Arab support for Western-led initiatives. He denounced the attacks on the United States as "horrible and unimaginable" and pledged his intelligence and security services would help in tracking down those responsible.

But a newspaper publisher close to Mubarak urged caution by the United States on how it responded to the attacks and wrote that Israel's actions in the Middle East had created "an atmosphere that is encouraging terrorism."

This week Mubarak's foreign minister will deliver an appeal to President Bush for a U.N.-sponsored international conference on terrorism -- a Mubarak initiative he has pushed for 10 years.

Iran

A noted opponent of the Taliban, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami responded to the attacks by denouncing terrorism as an ugly and horrifying phenomenon which had to be rooted out and saying he felt "deep regret and sympathy with the victims."

This softened line towards the west had even before the attacks on the United States cleared the way for a groundbreaking visit by UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, the first by a British leader since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

But although Iran could benefit internationally from supporting action against the terrorists, Islamic fundamentalism remains strong in the country and support is unlikely to be unequivocal.

Foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi said Iran would join a U.N.-led anti terrorist coalition but Tehran would not allow its airspace to be used to launch attacks against Afghanistan. Iran also closed its 562-mile border to prevent refugees crossing from Afghanistan in the wake of U.S. attacks.

Iraq

President Saddam Hussein said the attacks were the result of aggressive U.S. policies and Americans should feel and learn from the pain they had inflicted on other peoples, including Iraqis and Palestinians. "The American cowboys are reaping the fruit of their crimes against humanity," an official statement said.

Hussein urged the United States to use wisdom rather than "a futile war of revenge" in responding to the attacks. He said Iraq was not afraid of a U.S. military buildup.

Jordan

A firm backer of U.S. action, King Abdullah and his ministers were among the first to condemn the attacks and Abdullah said he believed "the steps undertaken by the American armed forces will have the full support of the international community."

Jordan pledged intelligence help in locating terrorist cells "working closely with the United States." Abdullah is due to visit Washington later this week and his foreign minister traveled to Damascus with a message for Syria's President Assad urging coordinated international efforts "to eliminate the sources of tension in the region."

The Council of Religious Scholars, the religious authority in Jordan, have issued a fatwa saying it could not condone any party's effort to "terrorize or attack any people on Earth" and considered doing so "a heinous crime."

Kuwait

A leading supporter of the United States, not least for its help in liberating the country from the Iraq invasion in 1990. Defense Minister Sheik Jaber Mubarak Al Sabah pledged to work "hand in hand with the United States against terrorism" though officials said Washington had not requested any extra facilities.

Muslim fundamentalist groups -- influential in Kuwait -- also condemned the attacks but said the world should not forget "the suffering of our Palestinian brothers from Jewish terrorism."

Lebanon

President Emile Lahoud condemned the attacks. Prime Minister Rafik Hariri said the tragic actions "contradicted all human and religious values" and said he would support U.S. action against those proved to be behind them.

The Hezbollah guerrilla group also expressed regret for the killings but warned against "taking advantage of the attacks to practice aggression and terrorism against those who have committed aggression and terrorism."

Libya

President Moammar Gadhafi -- his country once on the receiving end of a U.S. anti-terrorism attack -- surprised many for his readiness to condemn the U.S. attacks.

Gadhafi called the attacks "horrifying" and urged international Muslim aid groups to join other international aid agencies in offering assistance to the United States "regardless of political considerations or differences between America and the peoples of the world."

Libyan officials hinted later they were disappointed their softened stance had not been as publicly appreciated in the West as in the case of Iran.

Oman

Sultan Qaboos condemned the attacks and said the country would stand "side by side" with the United States in its fight against terrorism. A foreign ministry statement said Oman was ready to cooperate with the United States, although it was not specific on what form this help would take.

Qatar

Foreign Minister Sheik Hamand bin Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani said in a phone call to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that his country condemned the attacks and would cooperate in the fight against terrorism.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday it had cut all relations with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban movement for continuing to harbour "terrorists," according to Saudi Press Agency reports.

The move further isolates the Taliban after the United Arab Emirates severed ties with the movement on Saturday, and leaves Pakistan as the only nation recognizing the Taliban regime.

After the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, Saudi Arabia had downgraded diplomatic links to charge d'affaires level.

While condemning the attacks, Saudi officials told The Associated Press that Riyadh would refuse to allow the United States to use its Prince Sultan air base near the capital for an offensive against Osama bin Laden -- a marked difference from the Gulf War and the operation against Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

Day-to-day ruler Prince Abdullah also warned against blaming all Arabs for the attacks. Bin Laden has strong links with Saudi Arabia; 80 percent of his recruits come from there. The Saudis said the attacks were partly the result of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

For its part, the U.S. State Department continued to praise Saudi military cooperation and said it looked forward to continued assistance. Diplomats told Reuters that negotiations were continuing.

Sudan

Named by the United States as one of the seven state sponsors of terrorism (with Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Cuba, and North Korea). Bin Laden lived there for five years in the 1990s before being asked to leave in 1996. The Sudanese government said he was an investor, but a former associate told a U.S. court he was involved in training terrorists and even tired to buy material for a nuclear bomb.

Sudan was hit by a U.S, missile strike in 1998 on an suspected bin Laden chemical weapons factory after the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa in which he was implicated.

President Omar al-Bashir's government was quick to condemn the attacks, a foreign ministry statement saying Sudan rejected "all kinds of violence." It was made plain that bin Laden would not be welcome back, although el-Bashir said the attacks showed that no nation, even the powerful United States, was completely secure.

The president said he had assured the United States that no one connected with the September 11 terrorist attacks was on Sudanese soil and he was relatively confident Sudan would not be a target of retaliation.

Syria

One of the seven state sponsors of terrorism, according to the United States, but President Bashar al-Assad was one of the first to denounce the attacks -- although he noted the attack was as bad as attacks he said Israel had carried out against Palestinians.

According to the Iranian Press Agency IRNA, Assad told Iran's President Khatami in a phone call, "If the U.S. attacks Afghanistan, the crisis will grow." Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa was in Damascus on Monday to discuss the possibility of calling for a meeting of Arab foreign ministers to discuss an anti-terrorist coalition.

United Arab Emirates

In the first diplomatic victory for the United States since the attacks, the UAE withdrew its recognition of the Taliban over the weekend. It damned the attacks and offered to help the United States fight terrorism, although President Sheik Zayed bin Sultan warned in a letter to NATO ambassadors that terrorism could not be eradicated without Middle East peace.

The country has bin Laden sympathizers, but its media have emphasized the potential financial losses to the UAE from the U.S. attacks.

Yemen

Foreign Minister Abubakr al Qirbi said his country rejected terrorism and would fight against it. Yemen is home to many Arabs who fought in the war in Afghanistan and some set up guerrilla training camps there, but the government promised a crackdown and said it had arrested 21 suspected militants.

Yemen said it will join an international coalition against terrorism but that it must be led by the United Nations. On Sunday Yemen said it would allow U.S. warships to refuel in the southern port of Aden where 17 U.S. sailors died in an attack on the USS Cole last year -- an incident widely blamed on bin Laden.






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