Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

A Sheikh Wrongly Imprisoned | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Sheikh Mohammed al Moayad was a preacher of Islam and was active in the field of charity work in Yemen. Any one of these two features – preaching or charity work – is enough to place someone under the microscope on more than one level, local and international, because extremist groups, Al Qaeda in particular, exploit preaching and donations to recruit young men and to finance their own activities.

Al Moayad, like most clerics who know little about politics and its games, did not think carefully when a regular mosque goer approached him offering him money as a political donation from Germany, suggesting that al Moayad transfer the money to another party. The visitor was none other than an FBI agent but it never crossed the Sheikh’s mind that the FBI would reach his remote mosque, or that there would be a Yemeni working for the US security body. It had only been two years since the 9/11 attacks, however he never suspected that the donation offer was part of the ongoing battles and pursuits carried out by security bodies worldwide on all levels.

The Americans and others who were very active in pursuing new terrorism added to their wanted lists religious leaders politically classified as men of extremist thought. The term ‘extremist thought’ could be applied to a large number of religious figures who used to openly express their views on the issues of Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq, etc. Sheikh al Moayad was easy prey. He fell into the hands of a detective who saw enough naiveté in him to make him a target. But now, after seven years, everything that has been revealed about the al Moayad case indicates the invalidity of the main charges, and the fact that he was lured by the detective to commit what the US authorities consider a crime. But he actually didn’t commit any crime himself. The court ruling was very harsh as he was sentenced to 75 years in prison, six of which he had already served.

Was the policy back then based on pursuing preachers and charity workers who were suspected of supporting terrorism by kidnapping them or luring them in the same way that al Moayad was lured? Or did they aim just to spread a message among those working in the field of preaching that no one is safe no matter where they were?

We cannot say for sure. But the choice of al Moayad later on revealed the lack of a solid case against him, despite all the efforts the FBI exerted to track him down, take him out of Yemen, arrest him in Germany and extradite him to New York. He was not found guilty of any of the charges made against him, with the exception of accepting the offer the FBI agent made that involved al Moayad taking sums of money and transferring these funds at a later stage. But there was no actual funding, or transfers, or evidence of a crime.

Some might say that this policy succeeded in scaring preachers and fundraisers by making them feel that they are being watched and are at risk of being arrested. This case in particular failed to consolidate justice and in fact only distorted its image. All the evidence brought against al Moayad in court was of no value and this is proved by the acquittal that was issued by the Court of Appeals in his favour. The concept of justice does not go hand in hand with the logic of unjust rulings, even if they aim ultimately to deter people.