The wife of Moroccan citizen, Abdel Karim Al Tuhami Al Majati, a member of al Qaeda, killed during clashes with Saudi security forces in the city of Al Ras last April, revealed that she had entered the Kingdom with her husband and children with fake passports from Qatar . They had originally fled Afghanistan in 2001 after the fall of the Taliban regime to Bangladesh .
In an interview with Asharq Al Awsat, Fatihah Mohammed Al Taher Hosni, told the story of her relationship with Al Majati, since first meeting him in Morocco in 1990. She spoke of her role in his transformation into an Islamic militant after she gave him a book entitled “The Translation of Quranic Meanings”, emphasizing that her husband was not a member of the Moroccan Islamic Jihad group. Al Majati’s relationship with al Qaeda didn’t start until the war in Afghanistan, his wife added, and he didn’t take part in the Casablanca or Madrid explosions because, at the time, the family still lived in Saudi Arabia.
Al Majati’s death and that of their eleven year old son, Adnan, had deeply hurt Fatimah and motivated her to speak to the media. She confirmed that her husband was married to another woman of Moroccan origin, Fatihah al Hawshy, who holds a Belgian passport and currently lives in Britain. She also told us how the second wife was “her friend”, adding that she arranged the marriage. Al Majati was not, as stated in some media, married to an American woman.
Khaled Al Jehni, whose name tops the list of the twenty six most wanted militants involved in the Al Ras confrontations, wasn’t qualified to lead any military operations. He had been residing with Al Majati’s family, his wife said, and had asked her to find him a wife, after convincing her he wouldn’t take part in any attacks. She was surprised when she heard his name mentioned amongst those who carried out the attacks in Riyadh in May 2003. For his part, Al Majati, his wife recalled, was influenced by the ideas of Saad Al Buraik and Abdullah Azzam, despite his weak knowledge of Arabic. What follows is an interview with Asharq Al Awsat in full.
Q: When did you first meet your husband?
A: I met my husband between the years of 1990 and 1991, when I was working as an Assistant Manager at an institute for Management Studies. I had good relations with all the students. I consider myself a child of the first Gulf War and was deeply affected by the bombing of Iraq after it invaded Kuwait . I felt that innocent Iraqis were paying the price. When the Amiriyyah shelter was bombed, and hundreds women and children killed, I couldn’t help but think of the victims.
Before becoming religious, I believed in the principles of democracy in its Western model and principles such as human rights, equality and justice. I later realized that these were attractive slogans used to delude the public. The human suffering during the Gulf War made me aware of my Arab identity and awoke my religious feelings; I realized that belonging to Islam should go beyond the level of words. Prior to that, my Western upbringing meant I was constantly torn between my identity as a Muslim and the culture of the West.
Q: How can you characterize your relationship with your husband, Karim Al Majati, when he was studying Engineering at the Institute in Casablanca ?
A: It was very casual at first, because I was seven years older than him. After a period when I only wore the veil during Friday prayers, I decided to wear it permanently. Before, I used to feel like I was shedding part of my skin every time I removed it. Without attending any religious classes, I decided, one day, to start covering.
I didn’t think that the Manager I worked with would object to me wearing the veil, since my work was based on my competences and not my physical appearance, and I was no fashion model or singer. The French manager, however, wasn’t supportive. I also had to fight with the owners of the Institute. In 1991, the veil wasn’t very common in Morocco , because the Islamic revival started late in the country. The management employed various tactics and threats to make me remove my veil. The students even wrote a letter of support asking the administration to keep me in my job, as the veil had not effect on my work.
Q: What was your husband”s position on this issue?
A: Like the rest of the student body, he was supportive. But when the students were on vacation, Al Majati stood by me and offered me his support when I needed it most. I was taken to the police station and pressured to resign. I refused and asked them to fire me and give me my entitlements for unfair dismissal. I believe the management wanted to make an example out of my case to discourage other women at the Institutute from wearing the veil. I remember that when i started to wear the veil permanently, on 8th July 1991, I had been working at the Institute for a year. I married Al Majati on 25th Spetember 1991. All the events that I’ve told you about so far took place in within a year. I believe it was God’s will that I brought Al Majati back to Islam because before the veil issue, both of us were Muslims by name but not by practice.
Q: What did you first think when you met your husband?
A: I thought he was a tall, handsome, young man with Western features. He was a role model for the European oriented youths who would dream of becoming an actor or a filmmaker. At the time, we were both Westernized, similar to other young non-religious Moroccans who aspire to get a good job and a live abroad. For both my husband and I, our connection to God and Islam was almost non-existent.
It wasn’t until my confrontation with the Institute after I decided to wear the veil, that Al Majati was introduced to religion. He asked me once, “Why did you put yourself through so much trouble?” I answered that it wasn’t me who created the problem adding, “This is a divine command which as a Muslim, should not disobey it”.
Al Majati didn’t speak Arabic very well. When I quoted verses about the veil from the verses of Al Nur and Al Ahzab, he couldn’t understand them. I then bought him a book as a gift, entitled “The Translation of Quranic Meanings” and he became convinced after reading the verses and their translations. Two days later, I saw him again and was surprised to see that his thinking had radically changed. He read the book and was touched by the word of God. I believe this was instinctive love, as God himself had planted it in his heart.
I was spending my days at home after quitting my job, and stopped seeing Al Majati. Then, one day, suddenly, I received a phone call from a friend who told me that he had spoken to her and told her about his wish to marry me. I looked to God for guidance and we got married soon after.
Let me, at this point, clarify that during my year at the Institute, I was no ordinary secretary, as many in the media have said, in attempts to ruin my reputation.
In fact, I had my own assistant. I was appointed after receiving a Law Degree, in 1985, graduating at the top of my class. My monthly salary was slightly over 1000$ US.
Q: How did Al Majati act after your marriage?
A: We only knew each other briefly before we married, unlike others who have long illegitimate relations for years. It was as if my purpose at the Institute was to meet my husband and marry him. After our wedding, Al Majati quit his studies and introduced me to jihad (holy struggle). Before hand, I believed Islam was only about prayer and fasting.
Q: When did your husband discover jihad?
A: Towards the end of 1991, we traveled to Paris for a month to attend an Islamic conference where representatives from various organizations had gathered, including Hamas and the Mujahedeen from Afghanistan . There were also members of the Al-Yarmouk team for Palestinian songs. We found the atmosphere amazing. It also became evident to us that Islam was not just a religion for Arabs.
This was at the time of the war on Bosnia which affected my husband a lot. Together, we watched a video on the genocide in the Balkans which moved us and increased our revolutionary fervor. I didn’t know, until then, that jihad was an obligation for male Muslims. My husband went back to France to sell some traditional Moroccan crafts. On his return, he made clear his intention of traveling to Bosnia to fight. At first, I totally dismissed the idea. But after listening to a tape by Sheikh Saad Al Buraik, I changed my opinion. I realized that, in Morocco , women had many more advantages than in Europe where people pretend to care for human rights and where women were being raped as part of a wider war against Islam.
Q: Who were the Sheiks who influenced al Majati at the time?
A: In the beginning, my husband”s interest in jihad was based on his feelings. When he saw Muslims being killed in Bosnia , he decided to fight on their behalf, without having received any military training. I couldn’t stop him, especially after seeing footage from the Balkans. I agreed to let him go and didn’t expect him to return. However, he did return and asked me to accompany him on his next trip.
I obtained a visa to Italy but the German authorities didn’t allow me into their country. My husband tried to enter Bosnia once more but was sent back because the borders were shut. We went back to Morocco and he was very disappointed.
One day, when I was pregnant with my second son Adam, my husband disappeared. After some time, I learnt that he had been arrested in Croatia , on the border with Bosnia . Despite his European looks, the authorities knew immediately that he was an Arab on jihad. He was held captive and tortured for a month.
Q: Did your husband meet any Afghan Mujahedeen, while in Bosnia ?
A: No. The country was teeming with European Muslims, especially from Germany and Italy . My husband spent time in prison with a British Muslim, who he asked to contact the French embassy. Eventually, the French did intervene and he was released.
He returned to Morocco and was bitterly disappointed. He said he was forbidden to return to Bosnia for five years. After this experience, Al Majati traveled to Afghanistan .
Q: When did he first visit Afghanistan ?
A: In the beginning of 1994, my husband left for Mecca on pilgrimage. From there, he traveled to Afghanistan were he received military training at the Khalden Camp. He contracted malaria and returned home very skinny. He spent some time in hospital in Casablanca and continued to suffer from fever after he was discharged.
Q: Did his parents know he was in Afghanistan ?
A: No, his family was unaware he was traveling for jihad. His father didn’t even know we were married at first. There was no way I could tell him that his son was engaged in jihad in Afghanistan . He became suspicious after al Majati”s return, looking very ill and he wouldn’t believe that his son became ill in Saudi Arabia as “it is a clean country”. I was then suffering from cancer and my husband had to stay by my side. Afterwards, he accepted an invitation to visit the USA , and kept in touch for some time until we heard nothing.
Q: Where did he stay when in the USA ?
A: He was in New Jersey but then he left for Afghanistan .
Q: What year did that happen?
A: I’m very bad with dates; I think it was around 1997. He returned home asking me to accompany him. But I was bedridden with pneumonia. When he visited me and the children, I always felt he was preoccupied with something else. The last time he came back, he asked me to follow him to Afghanistan . We left Morocco for good on 17 July 2001 , not wanting to return.
Q: Which countries did you visit on your way to Afghanistan ?
A: First, we went to Sebta in Spain, where we stayed for two weeks, awaiting a visa to Iran . We were meant to fly to Iran via Italy but were unable to do so. Instead, we boarded a plane from Frankfurt , the next day. We spent a day in Tehran and then crossed the border into Afghanistan on a Friday.
It was the most beautiful day of my life. The first thing we saw in the horizon was a mosque with a blue dome and a banner reading “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Messenger”. The Afghans we first met immediately knew we were Arabs and made us feel welcome.
Q: Do you mean people from the Pashtun tribe(an ethno-linguistic group of people, mainly in eastern and southern Afghanistan)?
A: Yes, since most of the Taliban are Pashtun. They gave my husband and children tea and sweets. The ruler of the border town wrote us a letter of recommendation to the governor of Heart where we were headed.
Q: Did your husband already know them?
A: No, he usually entered Afghanistan from the border with Pakistan.
Q: Where did you do after visiting Heart?
A: We were meant to go to Kabul but my husband decided to go to Kandahar , instead, to pay Osama bin Laden a visit. When we arrived in the city, he’d already left for the capital. This was a few days before the events of September 11. In total, we spent about forty days in Kandahar .
Q: I presume you were the hosts of al Qaeda?
A: No, my husband wasn’t a member of the organization at the time.
Q: When did his involvement with al Qaeda begin then?
A: To be honest, it was only after the US bombings on Afghanistan that we established contact with al Qaeda. We were settled in Kabul and everyone knows al Qaeda’s headquarters were in Kandahar . Al Majati didn’t want to become involved with any group yet. His plan was for us to stay in Kabul for a year and then move to Kandahar, but the war disrupted everything.
Q: How did your husband react to the attacks of September 11?
A: We received orders to gather our belongings and leave the city, a few days before the attacks. When the Northern Alliance Commander Ahmad Shah Masud was killed, we thought that was the reason behind these instructions. On September 11, I received the news in the afternoon, local Kabul time. Women and children were hurried into trucks and we all left the city. That same night, the airport in the capital was bombed. We then moved to the nearby Lugar region where life was difficult because of the lack of food and water and the excessive heat. Afterwards, we went to Halmund, close to Kandahar, and after the war started we left the country altogether.
Q: How did your husband feel when he heard of the attacks on September 11?
A: To be totally honest, we were overjoyed.
Q: Did your husband know that al Qaeda was behind these attacks?
A: When the planes were highjacked, my husband had no relationship with al Qaeda. I am sure the operation must have been meticulously planned and kept secret. An attack on this scale would be impossible to carry out if it becomes common knowledge. This is also the case with the bombings in Casablanca on May 26 2003 . It’s impossible for hundreds of people to know about it because it has to remain a secret.
When an attack on Afghanistan became imminent, my husband decided to go to Kabul and the children and I left for Qandahar. He soon joined us and we joined other families as part of al Qaeda. When US bombs started to fall, my husband started his jihad mission.
Q: Intelligence reports indicate your husband was taught how to make explosives and booby traps. According to you, Al Mataji only joined al Qaeda in 2001. Who else trained him then?
A: The term al Qaeda wasn’t used when my husband first went to Afghanistan in 1994, during the civil war. The organization only became important after the bombing of the USS Cole destroyer in Yemen in 2000.
Q: What happened to you after leaving Afghanistan ?
A: We traveled to Bangladesh, thinking it would be a temporary move. We had initially planned on escaping from Afghanistan through Turkey but it wasn’t to be. We stayed in Bangladesh for ten months, after my husband’s passport was confiscated by the French Embassy.
Q: Why did that happen?
A: I obtained a one year French visa from the Embassy in Bangladesh. Our passports were confiscated as we were buying our tickets. I believe they realized we’d detached a fake Pakistani visa from our passports and became suspicious.
Q: What did you do in Bangladesh ?
A: The people were very kindhearted and welcoming. But we stood out; my husband is almost two meters tall and has fair skin, while the locals are mostly short and dark skinned. We rented an apartment in Dhaka and hid, until we left for Riyadh.
Q: How did you enter Saudi Arabia ?
A: We used fake passports. Since the events of September 11, the US was waging a global war on the people of Afghanistan and the Arab World. Our life in the Saudi capital was hard. We were warned by a friend of my husband, who I didn’t know of the dangers and the numerous checkpoints dotted around the city. He told us it would be impossible to go on the pilgrimage and that all the Mujahedeen fighters in Saudi Arabia were subjected to intimidation, but none had resorted to violence.
On 23rd March 2003 , I was arrested whilst visiting an eye clinic with my son Ilyas, before any bombings had occurred. I believe that the violence that followed is, in part, a response to constant surveillance and harassment from the authorities. Certainly after al Qaeda received the news of my arrest, it wouldn’t have stood still.
Q) Does this mean that your arrest by the Saudi authorities was one of the reasons for the Riyadh bombings?
A) After my arrest my ties with my Husband and my other son were
completely severed. Anybody who is on the run and at the same time has his wife and son unjustly taken from him will have some kind of negative reaction. I’m sure that one of the perpetrators of the Riyadh bombings did not intent on executing the operation.
A) Because he stayed at our home, and my husband had asked me to help him find a wife. When I asked my husband how could I find him a wife when he might be involved in an operation, my husband answered there were no plans for him to be involved in any operation, and that he was not involved in any specific programs, so when I heard that he was involved in the Riyadh Bombings I was very surprised.
Q) Who is this man?
A) He was Khaled Al Jehni the man on the top of the list of the 26 most wanted.
When I was arrested, the Saudi authorities did not know back then that Al Majati was on Saudi soil and thought that Khaled would be with me.
Q) After the Riyadh bombings, Morocco went through its own bombings in Casablanca. Your husband was accused of planning these operations and the Moroccan authorities issued a search warrant for him. Among what was said was that he was working with Youssef Fekri”s group who were re-tried after the terrorist attacks. Did you know that your husband had trained any Militant elements?
A) First of all when the Casablanca bombings took place, I was detained and they only brought me Asharq Al Awsat in my cell, so my information was limited. I heard back then many things said about my husband including his responsibility for the Riyadh, Casablanca, and Madrid explosions. These are very strange allegations since my husband died in the land of the two Holy Mosques. Even if I was not his wife, I would use common sense, how could a man almost two meters long disguise himself as a woman? How could he easily get out of Saudi, enter Morocco to carry out the Casablanca bombings , then go off to Madrid to carry out the explosions there and then return to Saudi?
Q) But what is known about your husband is that he was a master of disguise and was fluent in several languages?
A) Disguise is easier for women. The most my husband could have done was change his eye color. However, this was not the case with my husband. How could some one on the run from most intelligence agencies safely carry out all these operations?
Q) Was your husband attending the religious lectures of Abu Huzaifah (the sheikh of North African Afghans) and Abdel Wahab Al Rafiqi (known as Abu Hafs? Is it true that he argued with them about the nature of Jihad as he saw Jihad as an obligation against local regimes while they focused on open form Jihad?
A) Practically speaking my husband is not a complicated man as he did not attend university. He did attend regular classes in Islamic Law and even had difficulties in spoken Arabic. I do not think he argued with any of those Imams. Sheikh Abu Huzaifah according to my knowledge, did not give public lectures. I would like to clarify one thing; since my husband decided to take us with him to Afghanistan this probably meant he had not planned anything in Morocco. Besides he went in and out of Morocco freely and was only stopped once when they found a Pakistani visa in his passport and one of Sheikh Abdullah Azzam”s books.
Q) Was this was before September 11?
A) Yes of course. In fact, my husband never returned to Morocco after July 2001.
Q) Who were the Sheikhs that left an impact on Majati?
A) Mostly Sa”ad Al Boraiek and Abdullah Azzam who opened new horizons for the issue of Jihad. These horizons are necessary to fight Bush and Sharon whose only strategy is war.
Q) Does this mean Mohamed Al Maqdisi did not influence him?
A) Occasionally we downloaded some of his texts from the net. However, my husband did not read these texts, as his perception of Jihad was more spontaneous.
Q) However, these Sheikhs have an ability to influence others;
for example Mohamed Al Maqdisi influenced Abu Mussa’ab Al Zarqawi. It was also said that your husband was close to Zarqawi?
A) Jihad is not a local issue because there were many nationalities in Afghanistan and because we are all one Nation (Ummah). As far as I know my husband did not have any ties with Zarqawi. When I left him in Saudi, I was surprised that he did not go to fight in Iraq as he had always wished to fight the Americans in war.
Q) Was Al Majati from the founders of the Moroccan Jihadist Islamic Group in Afghanistan in the late 90”s?
A) No, my husband has nothing to do with this group or any other. He only belongs to al Qaeda.
Q) Right after the Madrid bombings, Al Majati”s name was widely circulated as the mastermind behind these operations? What do you know about these operations?
A) I have been separated from my husband since the 23rd of March 2003. International intelligence knew that I had no connections with him since then because I am constantly watched. My husband was accused of everything Saudi, Morocco, Madrid, Sept 11, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, you name it. Was he behind all these bombings? This is an exaggeration and a global policy to attach the terrorism label to everyone. If I was told my husband killed Americans, I”d say yes he did, but he never killed any Muslims.
Q) What was your husband”s position on the Madrid bombings?
A) Al Qaeda now operates in separate groups. Those in Spain operate only there, those in Turkey only there etc. When I learnt of my husband”s death in Al Ras, I was not surprised, as I had left him in Saudi. When his house was attacked, he had one of two options: to surrender or to die. He chose the latter. The belief that my husband took part in all these operations is evidence of the impotence of international intelligence. Khaled Al Jehni was put on the wanted list because he appeared on a videotape kissing a rifle, even though
he neither killed anyone nor blew up anything.
Q) What is the story behind your husband”s American wife?
Al Majati was not married to an American woman. I had not wished to speak about this topic but the death of my husband and son made me break my silence. However, Al Majati had a second wife from Morocco, and she is a friend of mine since I had arranged this marriage.
A)Because my husband had the religious right to have 4 wives. Also, during the time we were in Afghanistan I spoke with him about polygamy several times but he always avoided the subject. His second wife is called Fatihah Al Hawshy and she has Belgian nationality. Since Al Majati was killed I have maintained good relations with her.
Q) Where does she live now?
A) In Britain.