It is rare for a loving wife to speak publicly and undermine her husband. This explains why I wasn’t surprised Fatihah Mohammed al Taher Hosni spoke of a caring and innocent husband, during her interview with Asharq Al Awsat. Married to Abdul Karim al Tuhami al Majati, also known as “ Morocco ’s bin Laden” and nicknamed Abu Elias, or Abu Bashir, she portrayed him as an Islamist militant, almost by accident.
Of course, it is entirely plausible that Fatihah, in an emotional interview, sought to redress the negative publicity al Majati had been subjected to. In doing this, however, she changed facts, contradicted history, hid some information and highlighted other. In her exclusive interview, published last week, Fatihah drew an alternative picture of her husband, the Islamic terrorist.
Let us, first, review some facts about al Majati. A Moroccan citizen, he was born in Casablanca , to an affluent family, in 1968. His father worked in commerce and his French mother in cosmetics.
He received his high school degree in 1986 from a prestigious school, where he was taught English, in addition to French, of course.
While commentators disagree on the exact dates, it is known that, after graduating, al Majati, gradually subscribed to militant Islamist ideals. He took part in combat operations in Bosnia and soon became one of the world’s most infamous terrorists, wanted the intelligence services in Saudi Arabia , the United States , Spain , and his native country. He was hunted by the Spanish authorities for his role in the Madrid bombings on 11 March 2004 . The US government added his name to their terrorist list. The Moroccans tried to track him down. Riyadh repeatedly posted his picture, making him more famous than football stars in the Kingdom.
Fatihah believes she played a formative role in awakening al Majati’s religious sentiment. In her interview, she disclosed, in a language tinted with motherly love and a vocabulary hinting at a fierce intellectual extremism, that “I was the reason for al Majati’s return to Islam.” Referring to her confrontation with her manager regarding wearing the veil, she added, “Before the incident we were Muslim only by name. We didn’t know much about Islam.”
As for her husband’s introduction to jihad (holy struggle), Fatihah said it occurred “at the end of 1991, [when] we traveled to Paris for a month and attended an Islamic conference. This coincided with the start of the war in Bosnia which strongly affected my husband.”
The conflict in the Balkans wasn’t just an emotional affair. Soon after returning to Morocco , he left to join Muslim fighters in the ex- Yugoslav Republic . According to Fatihah, al Majati was “influenced by the teachings of Saad Al Buraik and Abdullah Azzam”. The former is a Saudi sheikh and the second a well known Palestinian member of the Muslim Brotherhood who was regarded by many as the spiritual father of Afghan Arab fighters (who trained in Afghanistan and helped the Muhajedeen fight the Soviet invasion). Fatihah’s version of events is hard to believe. How could her husband have traveled to Bosnia without planning? Where did he receive his equipment form? Who coordinated his arrival and helped him cross the border? Many questions remain unanswered. Through out the interview, Fatihah presents a simplified version of her husband’s involvement in military action.
For example, she expects us to believe that al Majati was unaware of other Arab Islamist fighters in Bosnia because the militants in the Balkans were Muslim Europeans. I don’t know if Fatihah is aware, or pretends not to be, that the region, at the time, was heaving with Arab Mujahedeen fighters and volunteers from around the world. Could al Majati have been living, sheltered from reality, with blue-eyed blond Muslims from Europe ?
By her own admission, her husband became an Islamic militant by the mid nineties. Fatihah revealed, in the interview, that al Majati visited Afghanistan on more than one occasion. He also traveled to the New Jersey in 1997, arousing the suspicion of the US authorities. The Taliban had seized power in Afghanistan , in 1996, and protected Osama bin Laden and his followers, after they left Sudan . In other words, the stage was set for a rise in militant activity around the world. It started off with al Qaeda expanding beyond the Hindu Kush mountains and carrying out the bombings of US Embassies in Africa , in August 1998, and then the attacks against the USS Cole destroyer, in October 2000, in Yemen .
Is it possible that al Majati wasn’t influenced or connected to this rise in Islamic extremism, as his wife argued in the interview? How could al Majati have had no contact with al Qaeda when it is common knowledge that he was in Kandahar , the Taliban capital, a few days prior to 11 September 2001 , and that he was a guest of al Qaeda? Are we to believe that bin Laden’s followers will cordially receive a random individual, days before “the operation of a lifetime”?
The interview glosses over another relationship between al Majati and Islamic militants. Fatihah recalled how her family entered Afghanistan through the Iranian city of Mashhad which is adjacent to the border and the Afghan city of Herat , under Taliban control at the time. Fatihah said the family’s journey began on the 17th July 2001 and lasted for several weeks, until they reached Herat , in August.
Observers believe that, at the time, the city of Herat hosted a military training camp for Abu Musab al Zarqawi and his “Jund al Islam” (soldiers of Islam) group. Was it possible that al Majati and his family visited the Afghan city but didn’t stop, if only for a few days, at the above camp? Why did Fatiha lie in her interview when she said, “To my knowledge, my husband never had a relationship with al Zarqawi”?
Another mystery is how the family, after leaving Afghanistan and settling in Bangladesh for almost a year, supported itself without receiving help from al Qaeda or its supporters in the country. Certainly, as Fatihah mentioned in the interview, her husband was very visible because of his light features. But how did he make a living?
All these questions remain unanswered. Their only aim is to rectify the errors in Fatihah’s version of events, perhaps colored by emotions. She is, of course, allowed to say whatever she pleases. We have to accept that certain events might only be known to her and al Majati. However, when independent accounts and facts point a different picture of her husband, it is important to set the record straight. This will ensure we are not deceived once more.
In conclusion, I sincerely wish al Fatihah and her surviving son a happy and peaceful life, away from the disease of Islamic extremism, after the death of her husband and their eldest son, during confrontations with Saudi security forces in the Saudi city of al Ras .