Hudhayfah Abdallah Azzam, 35 years old, was born in Egypt and lived in numerous parts of the world with his father Abdallah Azzam, Osama Bin Laden”s mentor, and with "the Afghan mujahidin who were fighting the communist invasion" in the late seventies and eighties. He was educated by his father and holds three university degrees in Islamic Sharia (Islamic Law), Arabic, and English as well as two master”s degrees in Arabic and Sharia.
Hudhayfah Azzam worked closely with Bin Laden in Afghanistan for 12 years and was close to both Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi and Ayman al-Zawahiri but differed with them on important issues. However, he is careful not to denounce any of them as an infidel. Hudhayfah considers acts of violence in Arab countries as crimes against humanity and he is against the killing of civilians and foreigners.
In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat, Hudhayfah Azzam strongly denounced the "criminal" operations that targeted Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan. He said that Osama Bin Laden is now in Afghanistan because if he leaves it he will lose his power. He added that the Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi”s operations in Iraq directed has caused detrimental damage to the Iraqi cause.
The interview went as follows:
Q) Why do you think your father”s name was used in recent operations that targeted Egypt and Jordan?
A) First let me make clear that the Arab youths around Abdallah Azzam did not carry out any operations against any Arab state or even a foreign state with the exception of the jihad against the communist forces in Afghanistan. This is because he was firmly in control of the arena. His thoughts attracted unanimous support both during his lifetime and after his death. Nobody had the nerve to show hostility toward him or to dispute his words because he had powerful reasoning and was able to silence the youths who were eager to carry out such operations as well as those who were hypocritical and pretentious who wished to throw their weight about. His assassination was a prelude to the dividing and dismembering of the arena with the result that each group adopted a certain trend of thought. When he was alive, there was only one guesthouse for the mujahidin, but when he died, there were several guesthouses, one for Yemenis, one for the Egyptians, one for Algerians and so on. Each group had a leader. These leaders were not only poorly educated, they were also poorly educated in matters of religion.
The greatest disaster was that they carried arms before they had acquired enough knowledge. They lacked wisdom, did not know how to control their weapons or even where to direct their weapons.
Q) After the Aqaba attack, the media claimed that you said that those who carried out the attack were terrorists and that Islam disavows them. Is that true?
A) Some of the newspapers and media put words in my mouth. I challenge them to show the recordings of these interviews. They took my words out of context. Frankly speaking, I reject the term terrorism. It has extensive meaning. So far, no agreement has been reached on a definition of the word terrorism. There is a difference between the mujahid who defends his land and country in Iraq, Palestine, and Afghanistan against the occupation, which contravenes international law as well as Islamic Sharia. This applies to the child who carries a stone in his hand and confronts the Israeli tank in Gaza, or the mujahid who fights in Afghanistan to drive the occupiers out of his land. Therefore, the term terrorism is a broad term and generally, Muslims are the only ones who are described as terrorists. The Jew or the American is not labeled a terrorist even though he kills, destroys, and occupies land by force. Therefore, I say that the so-called international war against terrorism is a pretense to shed the blood of Muslims.
Q) How do you view the Aqaba operation?
A) It is a criminal operation, which has no purpose or meaning. The loss was inflicted upon Muslims and we did not benefit from it. What did the man who fired the missile gain? Where did the missile fall? Hitting innocent people is unacceptable at all times. The same thing applies to the attacks in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. These criminal operations sheds the blood of Muslims.
Q) From what you say, should we understand that the path of your father Abdallah Azzam was different to that of those who used his name when they carried out their attacks?
A) Let me state clearly from now that before we started training in Afghanistan we used to swear by the book of God that we would never use this training and technology against any Arab or Islamic state or against any Arab or Islamic regime. My father made all trainees promise that they would not use their weapons in this way. That was the school in which we were educated and which we are still following. I personally graduated from a jihadist school and I am still adhering to my convictions. I absolutely oppose those who carry out criminal attacks in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, or any Arab state and I strongly oppose such a trend, which adopted fanaticism and extremism without specifying a clear target.
However, I do not label these individuals as terrorists, but rather sincere and foolish people. They are confused and lack logic. None of their actions serves religion and the Islamic nation. Killing a human being without justification is a crime. Indeed this is the greatest crime according to God”s Sharia. God said, "If any one kills a person, unless it is for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it is as if he killed the whole of humankind." (Quranic verse).
The Quranic verses that speak of the impermissibility of killing a human being did not say whether this human being is Muslim or non-Muslim. I emphasize that attacks in Arab countries are criminal acts. My father wrote an entire volume on "The Crime of Killing a Muslim." It is odd that the media do not highlight these books or ideas. Moreover, the thoughts of my father and the thoughts and actions of those who speak in his name differ greatly. His ideas completely oppose the deeds of those who speak in his name.
Q) Did you meet with Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi when you were in Afghanistan or after that?
A) I knew Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi and met him for the first time in Afghanistan in 1990. He was an ordinary person who had just returned to Islam and had not gained enough understanding of the teachings of religion. At that stage, differences arose between the Arab mujahidin and the Taliban. I met Osama Bin Laden and asked him what we should do concerning this matter. He said that he would leave for Sudan. The Arab mujahidin began their preparations to return to their countries of origin. Some of them went to Tajikistan, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Chechnya. Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi returned to Jordan. In 1993, he was tried and imprisoned in connection with the Bay”at al-Imam case and was released in the 1999 general amnesty. I remember that immediately after he was released, and when the opportunity arose, he left for Afghanistan. I was an eyewitness to his development as Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi who first refused to join Al-Qaeda or the Taliban ranks and then established a camp in the Herat region on the Iranian border. He received training and trained his men until the events of 9/11 took place. Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi once again refused to join Al Qaeda. Then he left for Iraq and remained there.
At that time, the former Iraqi regime objected to the mujahidin operating in Iraq. It restricted their movement and freedom. They fought in Umm Qasr, Basra, and Al-Nasiriyah. When they found that the Iraqi army did not want to fight, many withdrew and went to Sunni areas because the areas in which they had been staying became insecure. After going to the Sunni areas, they decided to begin organized jihadist work in view of the disappearance of the Iraqi regime and its restrictions. These men began their operation and Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi emerged as a man experienced in military affairs as well as in handling weapons and explosives. There is no argument about that.
As for their thoughts and ideas, my late father said that a man might become confused, especially if he abandons religion for a long time and then returns to it. He returns to Islam with tremendous zeal. My father said that sincerity is not enough. It has to be combined with honor and the desire to gain knowledge. He also said that due to their "sincerity", some might betray the religion. He said, regrettably, the disaster befalls the nation because of those with of little knowledge.
As for the issue of ideology, the resistance factions in Iraq complained about al-Zarqawi many times. Therefore, he sought refuge with Al-Qaeda and expressed allegiance to Osama Bin Laden. He should have expressed this allegiance when he was in Afghanistan. Why did he not do this? The fact is that Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi was not convinced of Al-Qaeda”s policy and practices. However, the major jihadist factions in Iraq stopped protecting him and asked him to leave Iraq. This happened after bitter and prolonged discussions with him. He refused to be a follower of anyone and wanted to work in his own way. When they withdrew their support, making his presence there unjustified, he was forced to express allegiance to Osama Bin Laden and acknowledge the existence of Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, i.e. Iraq. He further expressed that he had the right to be in Iraq because there was fighting between Al-Qaeda and the United States, and Al-Qaeda had to settle scores with the Americans and take revenge.
Moreover, Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi was part of the Al-Tawhid Wa al-Jihad organization but was not its leader. This organization provided him with protection but later entered a bitter and prolonged ideological struggle causing Al-Zarqawi to adhere further to his own line of thought. The organization believed that Al-Zarqawi”s ideology would harm the Iraqi cause in terms of policy and jihad therefore; they withdrew their protection of him. Later he expressed allegiance to Osama Bin Laden to operate under the umbrella of Al Qaeda.
Q) Have you contacted Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi recently?
A) Contact with Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi is impossible right now, but if you want to reach a person, it would be easy, especially if you have a certain purpose, whether concerning reform, debate, or dialogue. We held indirect talks with him and told him that what he was doing was impermissible; that it harmed the jihadist work, the reputation of the mujahidin, and the Iraqi cause.
Q) Have you contacted Osama Bin Laden?
A) The last time I had direct contact with him was in 1998. I lived close to him for more than 12 years and that was during the days of jihad in Afghanistan. He is still there because if he leaves he will lose his strength. In fact, he cannot leave Afghanistan and I do not think he will for many reasons.
Q) What do you think of the situation in Iraq?
A) To start with, one cannot issue an absolute judgment. You have to differentiate between the operations that target innocent and civilian people, and operations that target occupation forces, especially since 40% of the operations that are carried out against civilians are planned by US forces. The followers of the Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi say that if you can hit Iraqi soldiers, police officers, or national guardsmen, then do so even if innocent people are killed in the process. This is the difference between him and the other factions. Of course, this is impermissible. To kill a Muslim is a grave sin.
Q) The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has witnessed terrorist operations involving bombings and the killing of civilians. What do you say to those who commit such acts and are labeled Islamists?
A) I say to them that it is not in their interest to wage a battle against any regime, especially since the Arab regimes have become a target of the United States as well as the colonialist and European states. For instance, Saddam Hussein”s regime was one that extended great services to the Americans in the region. Now look how Saddam and his regime have been humiliated. During the first Gulf war, the United States was unhappy with states such as Jordan, Yemen, and Sudan, as well as others. Now their differences have disappeared and there are now friendly ties between them and the US. In short, nothing is sacred in politics. It is a temporary alliance based on interests. When the interests disappear, so too does the alliance.
Today the United States is brandishing its heavy stick in the face of Egypt, Syria, and others and these states want to implement democracy due to this pressure. However, I say with all sincerity (I lost my residence permit in Saudi Arabia in 1990 and I have no interests there), that the regime in Saudi Arabia is the best among Arab and Islamic regimes and it is only regime that implements the Islamic Sharia. If you compare regimes in terms of corruption and misconduct, the Saudi regime is the best.
Q) What do you think of the targeting of foreigners in Arab countries?
A) These foreigners should not be harmed because they are given a pledge of protection by Arab and Islamic states when they obtain their entry visas. Therefore, by the rules of the Sharia, the state is given the task of protecting them. If you attack a foreigner you must know that you will be clashing with the pious, fasting, and praying security men. This means that you have voluntarily courted corruption. Why? Because you are aware that you will confront the security men who are entrusted with protecting the foreigners in accordance to the covenant that I have mentioned.
In any case, the entire thinking of Abdallah Azzam was against this. Some in Peshawar (Pakistan) would ask permission from Abdallah Azzam to kill foreigners and reporters with the pretext that they were corruptive. He answered them by saying that, "You cannot touch anyone of them because the state of Pakistan pledged safety for them." My father stood as a barrier and prevented them from carrying out such actions.
Q) What are the facts about Al Qaeda”s sleeper cells in Europe?
A) Those who carry out operations in Europe are no more than 30 years of age. When the Mujahidin were dispersed after the killing of my father in 1989, they too were very young but the youth of today are influenced by the Internet, by public statements, and hollow speeches, and have therefore become overzealous. When a young man returns to God from the darkness of disbelief, his mind is completely empty so any group would be able to recruit him by planting certain ideas into his mind and these ideas will be the legitimate criteria for right or wrong. These ideas will be the accepted religion. If any group meets such a youth it will convey its ideas onto him and he will become a Takfiri, Tahriri, a Muslim Brother, etc.
Q) Why did you not go to Iraq or Afghanistan?
A) I stayed in Afghanistan until 1998. Pakistan was the state that destroyed all attempts of reform, stood as a barrier between the Taliban and us, and prevented the success of any of our efforts. Pakistan destroyed Afghanistan. I remember when we reached an agreement between the Taliban Movement and the rest of the Mujahidin factions under Ahmad Shah Masood. Pakistan rejected this agreement and said that the mujahidin factions accepted reconciliation because they were weak. However, the killing of Masood before the 9/11 events was a major disaster.
In short, the Al-Qaeda ideology began to change and to deviate from its course after 1998 when the World Islamic Front for Fighting Jews and Crusaders was established and when Ayman al-Zawahiri returned to Afghanistan and formed an alliance with Al Qaeda. Regrettably, when we were in Afghanistan we knew that Al-Zawahiri was too fanatic to hold talks with.
The question is where did he acquire this ideology? These men were released from the prisons of the Egyptian regime where they were heavily tortured. After they left jail, a reoccurring thought that who did this to them in jail could not be Muslims was what preoccupied their minds. When the opportunity arose, they armed themselves and started recruiting men. When they felt that they would be able to retaliate against the Egyptian regime, they launched their first operation, which was the attack against the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad. The second was the attempt to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Ethiopia. Their operations were in fact not directed at the West and the United States. This proves that when it entered the arena, this group wanted to direct all its strikes against Egypt because the Egyptian regime committed crimes against its own people.
Q) What do you think of the operations that Al-Qaeda is carrying out in Iraq?
A) I have told you that these acts contravene the religion of God Almighty; that killing innocent and unarmed people will help disintegrate the efforts of the nation and give the United States an excuse to wreak havoc and destruction. Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi”s actions in Iraq, which are implemented in the name of Al-Qaeda, have betrayed the jihadist cause in Iraq.
Let me explain. When George Bush came to Iraq, he had three pretexts for the war. Two were proven to be false; namely, the possession of weapons of mass destruction and the threat of Iraq to its neighbors. The third pretext was the presence of terrorist groups and the alliance between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi regime. Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi”s actions provided George Bush with the pretext that this alliance existed and that the war in Iraq was only part of the war on terrorism. It was certainly an unjustified occupation.
Q) What do you think of the Islamic groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Al-Tahrir (Liberation) Party and others?
A) Regrettably, the Islamic groups present theories but no action. We have become the best theorists of all nations. We have the greatest number of theoreticians. I call them Hakawatis (storytellers who repeat their stories) and I am sorry to use this expression. However, if we look at the arena, we find youths who lack knowledge. This is because the teachers abandoned their positions and took a back seat. It is as though a group of people meets to pray without an imam to lead the prayers. The daring amongst them leads them. He may not be a qualified imam but the imam”s seat is vacant and others are shy or lack the confidence so he fills the vacuum. I ask the Ulema and the theorists, where are you? Why have you left your positions empty for them to fill them and then criticize their mistakes?
Q) Some newspapers have cited you saying that Islam disavows those who carried out operations targeting civilians in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
A) Some of the newspapers stooped so low as to say that I had denounced some people as kafirs (infidels). I challenge them to reveal their recordings. I disavow what these young men are doing in Arab and Islamic countries. I do not hold them to be infidels and our school has nothing to do with takfir (denouncing people as infidels). However, I say that our brothers lost their way and took the wrong path. They have deviated from the straight path. We pray to God to guide them and return them to the straight path. However, when we say that Islam rejects them we will be excluding them from the Islamic circle. In short, we reject their actions, but we do not reject them as Muslims. I hope this is clear. I denounce these actions before God and I declare my self as innocent of anything that the media has attributed to me. God knows that I am innocent.