skip to Main Content

Abu Qatada: The “Spiritual Father” of al Qaeda in Europe reflecting on Terrorism and the Future of the Middle East as Trump takes the U.S. Presidency

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D.

“Congratulations on Trump’s victory” Abu Qatada texts, with a smiley face attached days after the U.S. elections. His text message follows a week after interviewing him in his home in Amman, Jordan where I had mistakenly predicted to him that Clinton would be the victor. When my colleague texts back to Qatada, “We have a depression from Trump,” Qatada continues his jibing, “Ha ha ha our analysis was wrong.”

It makes me wonder what else have we’ve got wrong when it comes to the “War on Terrorism” and our approaches to combatting Islamic related violent extremism. Coming from the alleged spiritual leader of al Qaeda in Europe this small ribbing built on his comments of the week before in which he spoke of his anger, longing for freedom and justice for Muslims, Arabs, and most strongly his longings for his own people—Palestinians—and his willingness to engage in jihadi violence to get it. While his anger and endorsement of violence is clear in our interview, his words are spoken in the most civilized of settings.

Invited into his spacious stone hewn home, located on a hilly tract on the outskirts of Amman, we drink hot coffee and snack on tasty, homemade mini-donuts served by his wife as we sit comfortably on the brown velvet and carved wooden couches in his Arabic drawing room—his “diwan”. Surrounding us on all four walls in this massive room are floor to ceiling bookcases filled with religious books, many of them ornately bound with gold, Arabic text adorning their spines. A large wooden desk that sits at the far end of the room is clearly a place of study. Abu Qatada’s room for receiving guests makes it clear to we are in the drawing room of a scholar, albeit an angry one, seeking justice by violent means if necessary.

He is a big man with huge hands—he could just as easily been a peasant farmer as a scholar with that build. One cannot help but notice his long grey thobe, short pants revealing his ankles and a perfectly starched white cap that rises two inches above his head—reminding me that there is likely a woman keeping his head gear in perfect cleanliness and order. His white, grey and black speckled beard reaches to mid chest. Abu Qatada has a kindly smile as he invites us to start the interview. From the adjacent private rooms, Abu Qatada’s wife, her dark hair up in a bun, her ears adorned in long gold earrings, and dressed in a long black dress emerges with a tray of hot coffee and small, homemade donuts. They are both in their fifties and appear peaceful together. He invites his wife to sit with us. As my translator and I are both women guests she doesn’t cover her hair in our presence.

While we sit in genteel settings I am well aware that Abu Qatada’s angry teachings against the West are believed to have inspired numerous al-Qaeda related terrorists plots and killings, allegedly including, through second generation ties, the 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacres. Abu Qatada is also believed by many to have multiple links with terrorist organizations and to be the “spiritual father” of al-Qaeda in Europe. While residing in the UK, he started and was editor in chief of the Groupe Islamique Army (GIA) weekly magazine and propaganda outlet. Years later, the GIA merged into a group that pledged its allegiance to al-Qaeda. In 2000, Abu Qatada was deemed by the UK as a suspected terrorist preacher, presenting a national security risk and was subjected to a secret parallel system of justice in which he was held under emergency legislation authorizing indefinite detention of “certified” foreign nationals. He was held in Belmarsh Prison without conviction, along with others like him, with the aim of disrupting a network of extremist ideologues from promoting acts of violence in the UK. In 2013, he was deported back to his home country of Jordan in 2013, after many delays, due to concerns over that he might be tortured there or convicted on the basis of evidence taken under torture. Some Europeans found his incarceration without charges a shameful human rights violation, while Jordan convicted him in 2002, related to the thwarted millennium terrorist plots aimed at attacking Western and Israeli targets in Jordan, charges that were overturned in 2014 due to the evidence having been extracted by torture.

Abu Qatada is no doubt an angry ideologue. Perhaps the anger of Abu Qatada mirrors in some manner the anger and fear that seemed to propel the most unlikely of candidates into the U.S. presidency, with a former senior CIA officer, Jose Rodriguez, who backs Trump, already advising him to reinstate torture and enhanced interrogation techniques. Are they different sides of the same coin? I now wonder.

Speaking of his ordeal of being imprisoned in the UK without being convicted on terrorism charges, Abu Qatada explains, “I wasn’t tortured physically those thirteen years in British prison.” Yet, he states that a psychiatrist’s assessment of being held without a clear sentence is torture of it’s own kind, “Even a year in prison without knowing—it’s more difficult. Extremely difficult to not know…” As he speaks I recall the Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza that I interviewed during the Second Intifada who had been put into Israeli prisons also without sentences—on what they referred to as the “open check” system of imprisonment. They also faced no conviction, no sentence and no expectation of when, or if ever, they would be released. They told me that this was a unique type of psychological torture—not knowing and not being able to foresee one’s freedom in the future. Many people underestimate the destructive power and enduring anger that residing in a cage can cause.

Speaking of an Algerian imprisoned alongside him during his stay in UK prisons, Abu Qatada reflects, “He had served five years previously in prison, and they put him again in prison with me [this time with no conviction or sentence]. He stayed a few months, but told me, ‘These few months I was here were more difficult than serving my five year sentence. Months—but I didn’t know when I was leaving and if I was leaving.’” As Abu Qatada describes this pain, I think of the men still languishing in Gitmo with no idea if they will ever see home again and the anger they, and their relatives, feel.

“The US doesn’t need more hate,” Abu Qatada tells me once he sees the covers of some of my books. Talking to Terrorists displays on its cover a four-year-old Palestinian child aiming a pistol at the reader. The point of that cover photo taken in Nablus, was that no one is born a terrorist and that traumatized children might grow up to endorse terrorism as a result of how they grow up. Abu Qatada however, takes it as showing a picture to the U.S. of Palestinians—even little children— all as terrorists.

“People read pictures,” he admonishes. “You are making it look that they were created into terrorists by their parents. In the West, this picture, I don’t think this picture will hold sympathy.” I answer that actually it does. That when I tell people that terrorists are made, not born and show this little girl, I explain that the dire and often unjust circumstances of their lives, alongside being exposed to terrorist ideologies that somehow twist things to justify attacking civilians to try to get the justice they long for—is a lot of what makes a terrorist. That, Westerners understand, I assure him.

He continues, “The picture in the West is that the Jews are the victims and that the Palestinians are the terrorists.” In Jordan I have already seen how many Palestinians get angry if you refer to any Palestinians as terrorists—they believe that the men and women who attack Israeli military and civilians alike are freedom fighters. I heard that loud and clear when I presented a counter-terrorism conference and angrily got told so by three Palestinian academics who take offense at my reference to having interviewed hundreds of terrorists, Hamas, al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, Fatah, and PFLP among them. Now Abu Qatada, the Palestinian is also voicing a similar complaint.

“Maybe you are trying to find the why, the start of the jihadi status quo, how it comes into a person?” Abu Qatada asks, while I nod. “There is not one reason in my opinion. I like a German researcher who wrote a book on bin Laden. He might be wrong, but I like his idea that if bin Laden found a democratic society, he’d be an extremist in the Parliament, but he’d stay within it.” He smiles imagining it—justice that would have made Osama bin Laden a Parliamentarian versus a violent killer. I smile with him, imagining it as well—a nice fantasy.

“There are many different reasons,” Abu Qatada muses and I know he’s right. In my interviews of over five hundred terrorists, their family members and close associates and even hostages the world over, I find that the individual’s reasons for engaging in terrorism are usually very contextual and related to concerns close to home even if the ideologies, the groups, and the social support for terrorism have become global in nature. Individuals in conflict zones where occupation, death, imprisonment, home destruction, rape and torture are rife often engage out of experiences of trauma that give rise to hate and the desire for revenge, and to make the enemy feel one’s pain. In non-conflict zones the individual reasons often have more to do with feeling marginalized, discriminated against, longing for significance, purpose, adventure, romance, desire for employment, material goods, a nice house, marriage, a place in society, or anger at injustices happening in conflict zones and wanting to build an alternative world order—nowadays that meaning engaging with the utopian fantasy of building the so-called “Caliphate”.

“Do you also hope for a good, ‘clean’ democracy?” I ask hoping he still thinks democracy could work. This is one week before Americans vote in Donald Trump as the U.S. President and so-called “leader of the free world”.

“I think that if we have a real, true democracy, a clean one than Islam will be the ruler,” Abu Qatada answers. “Here in Jordan, very few times was there democracy.” So he believes in democracy as a means to an end—that if people were allowed to vote freely they would eventually vote in Shariah and Islamic forms of governance. Indeed, he is likely right for many parts of the Middle East.

I ask him if the Islamists would use democracy to take power. “Sadat had a speech that democracy has claws and teeth,” he answers. Then he goes on to point out that “democratically won elections in Algeria, Palestine and Egypt were each not respected by the West. Speaking of the Western failure to respect these elections he continues, “You lose your legitimacy. If someone comes to you and says let’s solve our problem with peace but the only way you go ahead is with weapons. What should we do?”

I ask if he still after all these years endorses violent extremism as the answers to political problems—terrorism basically.

“Let me be honest, I am now much more quiet in the way I talk, but inside me—honestly I’m much more violent. And I am convinced that it’s embedded in me that this world is dirty and it is increasing in its dirtiness, and the dealing with it is only with the dirtiness forced upon us. Maybe the difference between me before and now, if I said what I said now, I would have been shouting it. Now I learned how to talk about the most violent things with a smile and with quietness. I no longer think I need to scream. I am still very interested to see the real work for change. We are seeing the slaughters in Mosul and Aleppo. What do you want to be inside of me? Do you think my smile is a cure for my inner pain?”

Indeed ever since the U.S. Coalition invasion of Iraq and the Coalition’s failures to provide security for the Iraqi people and institutions, and Zarqawi exploded open the Sunni and Shia divide—unleashing horrific violence from both sides, Muslims around the world have been horrified by the staggering numbers of deaths and the brutality used to bring them about.

For Abu Qatada this violence goes even further back—to the divisions in Palestine, the establishment of Israel and the losses suffered by the Palestinians who failed to gain their own independent statehood. “Every morning I wake. When I wake up, I remember I am a Palestinian and living in a world that is not my own. Many times I tell my kids, everyday—you have a land in Palestine, and I show them pictures. What do you expect of me, an old man?”

I ask if he feels so old at age fifty-six.

“Now I see my kids and friends’ kids; I am surprised how they live—they don’t work. I used to work when I was five-years-old,” he reminisces. “I went to school and after school I went to work. To me a feast at our time was very important, not just because it was a feast—but because we don’t have work.”

I smile at the ruminations of the older generation. Can’t most of us make similar complaints about the harder conditions we grew up under, compared to what our children now face? Yet the entire world, especially for Muslims, has become a very fraught place—even in the West. While we in the West expect to enjoy our freedoms and march forward toward progressively better lives, Muslims are now facing leaders like Trump whose inner circle are calling for Muslim registries. If this is what American Muslims are facing do Middle Easterner Muslims expect better futures? Do they feel secure?

Jordanian young men and women on this trip tell me that they face high probability of no or underemployment—particularly if they lack the connections to land them a good position, no matter how well they achieve in university. And businessmen tell me investment is down as foreign investors frown on the violence and jihadi ideologies so close next door that could also invade Jordan at any moment.

“Is it normal that your capacity for inner pain/anger starts after age twenty-five? Or is it just me?” Abu Qatada asks knowing I’m a psychologist. He doesn’t wait for me, but instead answers his own question, “The inner self does not stop after age twenty-five. The pain and angers is always there to this day.”

“Okay, that’s understandable,” I say, “but does violence work?”

“You don’t really have a cause,” Abu Qatada, the Palestinian tells me. “But when it’s your land and your kids, you cannot just say I understand but I cannot respond. I know women are much more aggressive defending their kids and their land,” he continues, smiling appreciatively as I nod. “You saw the picture of the Palestinian woman hugging an olive tree,” he adds.

True, women are known for defending their children. But going into pizzerias and blowing oneself up amongst women and children? Or ISIS beheading its enemies and those they decide are not following the true Islam? It’s interesting to me that while most others who speak to us about jihadi violence here in Jordan are focused on the fights in Syria and Iraq, Abu Qatada still holds the struggle for his homeland the most dear.

“Violence is not a choice, or peace and getting things calmly. Violence is only a last resort. I was watching the Madrid talks, in 1991 and 1992,” Abu Qatada states, recalling the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks held during that time. “All I was thinking at that time—I still remember that moment. I was dumb [naïve] at that time. Can the [Palestinian] cause be solved with this and people live in peace? At that time there was a big question in my mind. Can anyone at that moment really convince people to care? I cannot believe this picture, and this was a lie of a picture. After that picture, there will not be peace and we will go back to square one. At that moment could I have convinced any Palestinian to carry a weapon?” he asks referring to when there was still hope. “It would be difficult, but they are the ones that made a logic and sense in all the words of carrying weapons. Violence is not a choice,” he repeats. I notice that this is a man who thinks in pictures and that pictures—like the ones now circulated on the Internet showing Muslim women and children, and not just Palestinians, as victims—have caused him to lose all hope of achieving peace and justice for his people without violence.

So if it’s not a choice I ask, “What is the legitimate target of violence? Can you attack civilians?”

“The civilian issue—you cannot talk to any of the parties, and I’m very honest here. If anyone was allowed to put this question forward to me, then we have to do statistics. Who is the one who targets civilians more than me?” Abu Qatada asks, as I recall Shamil Basayev the leader of the Chechen rebels, turned terrorists, who organized the Beslan elementary school siege in which children who were escaping were shot in their backs by the Chechen organized terrorists. “Okay call me a terrorist,” Basayev had answered a journalist, but who killed 40,000 children while in Beslan only 1000 were killed, he challenged, referring to Putin’s carpet bombing. Seems terrorist ideologues think the same. And most in conflict zones do have justifiable anger at human rights violations and war crimes carried out by their enemies—but do the war crimes of one side justify the terrorism of the other?

“After you give that statistic then you go to that person,” Abu Qatada continues. Staying with his fixation on the Palestinian cause, he adds, “I can say that Israelis society is a military society, a garrison, the biggest reserve army in the world. For example in America the state cannot control private media—a journalist doesn’t work for the state. Then he’s no longer a journalist.” Abu Qatada is referring to the fact that the Israeli government and military heavily censure Israeli journalists.

Moving to the West he reflects, “Because they are a super power they are the ones doing the killing. How many in the West get killed versus in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria. I tell you I’m convinced of this. I know for a fact, American planes have wiped out entire villages in Afghanistan and mosques with people praying in them. I was in touch with the people there.” He tells me the name of the person who witnessed it.

“What about the Americans planes turning back from their bombing sorties if they see civilians in Iraq?” I ask.

Instead of acknowledging this, Abu Qatada continues with his anger at what he perceives as Western injustices and trickery. “I was in prison [in the UK] when three people were kidnapped in Mogadishu. They entered as French journalists but they were intel officers. The French journalists became angry. The doctor [going about to give immunizations] who revealed Osama bin Laden is now in jail,” he continues reflecting on how Western intel organizations have placed undercover agents posing as civilians—journalists and doctors—yet the West decries attacks on Western civilians.

“I think Jordan is the last domino,” Abu Qatada states, after telling a story he makes me promise not to repeat. “If it falls, the region falls. Countries that fall cannot be reassembled—Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria…he lists the failed and conflict states that indeed look deeply troubled and unlikely to revive soon. In the next week three U.S. military officers are shot entering a base in Jordan where they have been training locals. Many suspect terrorism as the cause.

“Lebanon?” I ask.

“Lebanon is a lie, (he died five years ago). Jordan will be the last piece in the dominos.
All of this area is coming toward violence and bestiality. This is what I am seeing. The West lost the control that they built when they first established it,” he says referring to Sykes Picot lines of division that divided ethnic communities. “And countries that had had contradictions and conflicts within and amongst themselves and the regimes enhanced those conflicts. Therefore, no country that is falling can come back. This is not good news for the West,” he warns while I wonder, How can this be good for the Middle East?

I cite a recent Jordanian survey (carried out by Jordanian NAMA) to Abu Qatada. “290,000 Jordanians, or 7% of Jordanians, say they identify with ISIS, al Nusra or al Qaeda these days. What do you think of that?” I ask.

“Is it surprising to you to see this number? You know statistics are not right. The ways that they ask the questions is not right. When you put ISIS, and al Nusra and AQ with ISIS, it’s not an honest thing to do. There’s a big difference between them. AQ is based on building a whole society on fertile ground and appeasing people, while ISIS is not appealing to that. The biggest fighting power in Syria is Nusra, stronger than the local Syrian fighters.”

Speaking about how many of the Sunni dominant countries supported ousting Assad but were hesitant to support his vision of jihad, Abu Qatada complains, “At the beginning in Jordan there was talk of jihad and getting rid of the [Assad] regime. Unfortunately it’s subsided. …When people went against the regime in Syria they didn’t do it because they were Nusra and ISIS carrying weapons against a regime,” he states referring to the beginnings of the Syrian conflict starting in peaceful demonstrations that were met with the regime’s violence. “Now people who carry weapons—it’s reality that they are forced to do it. And I give you my advice for you to understand. If you look deeply you will understand the Western vision to our reality. The Western politician who thinks if he gets rid of the ideology of al Qaeda violence it will become much less and maybe even end [is mistaken]. I think it’s a completely different vision of the reality. Maybe it’s right when AQ were striking American targets in their homes, but those times are over.”

“Carrying weapons in opposition has nothing to do with Qaeda and the proof elsewhere that it exists, is in Syria, Libya and Yemen,” he says referring to the masses being fed up with dictatorial and repressive regimes that strangle their freedoms and snuff out their futures. When people carry weapons—at that point your private thoughts end. It becomes a mass. I think the whole area will become this. It won’t be the work of al Qaeda people or an organization. There are organizations against AQ, but they still fight. Fighting is no longer being part of a certain faction.” Indeed he seems correct that people in the Middle East long for something better and the masses that cannot achieve freedom with peaceful means may fall into violent solutions to try to bring about the changes they seek, or are necessary even to live at all.

“Can anyone bring peace?” I ask imagining the entire region in flames.

“No. Let’s be realistic. Regimes are going to be spread out and there will be more violence. This is the reality in the future. Usually when there is more blood being spilt the inclination is toward finding a solution. But the reality is the more the problems there are it is making men carrying ideologies that are more extreme. Do you need Trump at this moment?” Abu Qatada asks a week before the U.S. brings him to power. “Why would the Republicans choose someone like Trump? It proves that people are more toward extremism and conflict. Does Israel need Netanyahu right now? Does Egypt need Sisi?”

“Look at those stupid people in Iraq. They do the same as Saddam. They took power to practice genocide on their enemies and try to claim they were the victims. What should Americans do? Let me come back to honesty. When Obama came a lot of people hoped for good to come out of that. He was looked at as a face of purity from dirty work. But if this guy came with all these promises and look what happened, what will Hillary’s message be? … Even when Obama wanted to help, his majority of Republicans tied his hands. The American system is so…Bush went toward lunacy and no one stopped him. Obama tried to close Gitmo but no one let him.” I begin to feel some of his hopelessness.

“This is your problem. America is not this good person as a journalist or researcher that comes to us. Half of them are leaning toward Trump.” It’s a nice compliment, but I remain mistakenly firm in my belief that Trump will not be elected, that there are many more “good” Americans than just this one come to visit him.

“What is your opinion of Zarqawi?” I ask referring to the Jordanian born leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq who, probably more than any other force, unleashed ten plus years of slaughters and brutality between Sunnis and Shia in the region.

“He was a brave, smart person,” Abu Qatada answers. “I sat with him and talked with him. In Peshawar, I sat with him. He’s a very emotional, sympathetic person,” he says describing the man who beheaded Nicholas Berg. “I think the quantity of anger he had in himself, came out of sadness for the Muslims.”

“Did you agree with his lack of limits?” I ask referring to his penchant for marketplace bombings that killed countless Muslims and all of the beheadings.

“Maybe he went too far,” Abu Qatada answers. An understatement. “There were lots of leaders in Iraq who were asking for limits with Zarqawi.” Indeed.

“Did you send any messages to him?” I ask.

“I was in prison, the British prisons are the worst prisons in Europe,” he answers.

“When I rule I will do what I can,” Abu Qatada states, imagining the Shariah state he dreams of. “Blair was able to put me in prison; he created rules just for me. So when I am able to do things, I will have my own rules. No one should ask me what my rules are because it will be defined when I get there.” His anger at perceived injustice is palpable in the room.

“Hiroshima to the Americans was something important to do,” Abu Qatada states finding a time Americans judged it worthwhile to attack innocent civilians. “I don’t want to be a hypocrite and act like we should be dealing with Atari

wars. Wars have blood with them. Marx said violence is what creates history. This is a reality. We have those who go toward Gandhi. They were mostly from Syria but the first shock they got of blood and violence from the regime, they let go of this philosophy. Our world is not a world of philosophy and a round table. We cannot lie. The rest is all lies. The rule of the world is of the strong. The more you put your head down and beg for peace the more you end up like Abu Masen [the Palestinian leader who tried to make peace with Israel but failed to deliver for his people]. Blood and killing continue.”

“If not for the strong institutions they [the leaders in the Middle East] will all be Mubaraks and Qadafis. Everyone has the will for power. Anyone who wants to be aggressive has to be faced with a power that scares him, because his talk his not from his brain it’s from his instinct and this is not controlled with mind, it’s taught with the stick.” Abu Qatada finishes, reminding me that people in this part of the world still routinely hit their children to discipline them—including elementary school teachers. I recall my shock at seeing a kindergarten teacher in the West Bank wielding a length of black rubber hose to control her students. Perhaps it’s true—when children grow up with violence used to control them they learn that strength rules the weak. Or perhaps it’s simply true what he is saying—that strength is needed to scare those who would aggressively take over?

Turning back to Zarqawi, Abu Qatada states, “To him it was more of a priority to send ten rockets to Jordan than one hundred to Iraq and the reason was the insult he got in Jordanian prison. Our people are suffering. The guy who tortured Zarqawi died of swine flu a year ago,” Abu Qatada adds, gleefully asking my Jordanian colleague for confirmation of its truth. “It’s true,” she says. Also true is that Zarqawi may have been tortured in Jordanian prisons, but he was not imprisoned under false charges—he was first a member of a brutal criminal gang and later of a violent militant jihadi movement.

“We need to reeducate,” Abu Qatada states moving back to the theme of violence as the answer and continues, “But if we educate for ten years for people not to go to violence, one trauma will wipe out all of this.”

His words echo what I told General Stone in 2007 when designing the Islamic challenge and psychological parts of what later became the Detainee Rehabilitation Program to be applied to the 20,000 detainees and 800 juveniles held by U.S. forces in Camp Bucca and Camp Cropper at that time. “I may be able to talk detainees out of their commitment to extremist violence, but you are releasing them back to an active war zone, if someone kills their brother, or rapes their sister I am sure they will return to embracing violence,” I warned the General.

“Are you calling for violence or explaining the violence?” I ask.

“It’s not enough that I’m a sheikh and people like me, and ask me for answers. It’s not enough that I listen to their pain. I have to give an answer,” Abu Qatada complains. “We have a just cause and a moral way to lead the world,” he says referring to Islam. “One of my biggest works is reading our heritage. It’s a very deep intellectual heritage with a lot of morals and principles. If we want to prove ourselves we have to fight with these principles in mind. This is a historical vision. I will not tell them to let go of the weapons. What I tell them is deal with the weapons with principles.” Yet he did not reprimand Zarqawi for beheading Nicholas Berg or others…

“Is Nusra doing this?” I ask knowing they are the faction he supports in Syria versus ISIS, which he has publically condemned.

“Not completely, but they did [achieve] some success because the Sunni [Syrian] society defended it. If they dealt with people on the wrong basis the Sunnis would not accept them. I think it’s a bigger picture than just Nusra. It [Syria and al Nusra] could be a nucleus for a moral principled fight.” I wonder how that could come about given the crazed violence I’ve been hearing about over the past year interviewing ISIS defectors. Perhaps Nusra is more controlled?

“If Zarqawi was alive which would be his group?” we ask.

“It is impossible he would be ISIS.”

“Abu Bakr claims to be Zarqawi’s student,” we point out.

“He’s a liar. It’s impossible.”

“So ISIS is not principled?” I ask.

“Right now I think it’s wrong to talk about ISIS because they are in a very bad situation. Now I won’t talk about them because they are at their weakest. I won’t be part of slaughtering them. I spoke against them at their peak. Now I won’t. I saw their end is inevitable. Even in their peak I called them a bubble.”

This week a leader of the Iraqi resistance in Anbar, a man who fought with Zarqawi but who now works for civil peace in the area shows us a video of a fifteen-year-old Sunni boy being pulled under a tank and crushed by it in retribution for ISIS crimes. I’m not so sure ISIS is going to disappear when Shia militias continue to carry out security crimes in the “liberated” areas. The ISIS “bubble” maybe replaced by another version of violence that Sunnis will engage with if more atrocities and videos like this child being crushed by Shia militias emerge.

I ask him about the ethics of groups like ISIS in killing others, their willingness to call other Muslims infidels. “I’m happy to kill those who insulted the Prophet. Those who curse [God or the Prophet] should be punished. We don’t ask anyone to change his convictions by force but anyone who curses and insults [God or the Prophet] should pay this price—whether you like it or not. You can take to prison anyone who is pro-Holocaust, you force people to get your American passport to be convinced that the Holocaust killed eleven million—that’s your rules. We also have our rules; don’t curse our Prophet.” Now he is getting real.

“What about Brussels airport?” I ask, telling him I missed the explosion by about forty-five minutes so the answer is personal for me.

“I am very sensitive in appeasing you in my answers,” Abu Qatada says, apparently having decided he likes me. “Gareth Peirce I respect a lot. She was my lawyer. I call her my big sister. She lived with us as a real person, as an honest person. She gave me services more than my family did but I cried many times. I was eager to convert her to Islam, but she said, ‘I’m not a good Christian. How can I be a good Muslim?’ She visited me many times. I hope if the Muslims attack a European country, I hope you or Gareth Peirce is not in it, because very few people show our true picture.” Nice sentiment but after watching the carnage in Brussels I don’t relish being spared, while others are victims of terrorist violence.

“I told Gareth while I was in prison, I said, ‘If I leave here don’t ask me to help bail out a British guy.’ There was a lot of pain inflicted on me by the British, but she tested me and made me back away on my word,” Abu Qatada says referring to a British hostage he asked al Qaeda in Iraq to free. “Personal relationships test us but the problem is that governments play dirty and leave humanity to other people.”

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). She is also the author of Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS and coauthor of ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate; Undercover Jihadi and Warrior Princess. Dr. Speckhard has interviewed nearly 500 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and many countries in Europe. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles.

Back To Top