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The Heretic: The Fascinating Story of How Al-Qaeda's Mastermind Dr Fadl Turned His Back on Terror - Part Two

By Lawrence Wright

13 July 2008

Part One Here

The Great Prison Debates

Meanwhile, a furtive conversation was taking place among the imprisoned leaders of the Islamic Group. Karam Zuhdy remained incarcerated, along with more than 20,000 Islamists. 'We started growing older,' he says. 'We started examining the evidence. We began to read books and reconsider.' The prisoners came to feel they had been manipulated into pursuing a violent path. Just opening the subject for discussion was extremely threatening, not only for members of the organisation but for groups that had an interest in prolonging the clash with Egypt's government. Zuhdy points in particular to the Muslim Brotherhood. 'These people, when we launched an initiative against violence, accused us of being weak,' he says. 'They wanted us to continue the violence. We faced very strong opposition inside prison, outside prison and outside Egypt.'

In 1997, rumours of a possible deal between the Islamic Group and the Egyptian government reached Zawahiri, who was then hiding in an al-Qaeda safe house in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Montasser al-Zayyat, the Islamist lawyer, was brokering talks between the parties. Zayyat has often served as an emissary between the Islamists and the security apparatus, a role that makes him both universally distrusted and invaluable. In his biography of Zawahiri, The Road to al-Qaeda: the Story of Bin Laden's Right-Hand Man , Zayyat reports that Zawahiri called him in March 1997, when Zayyat arrived in London on business. 'Why are you making the brothers angry?' Zawahiri asked him. Zayyat responded that jihad did not have to be restricted to an armed approach. Zawahiri urged Zayyat to change his mind, even promising he could secure political asylum for him in London.

'I politely rejected his offer,' Zayyat writes.

The talks between the Islamic Group and the government remained secret until July, when one of the imprisoned leaders, who was on trial in a military court, stood up and announced to stunned observers the organisation's intention to cease all violent activity. Incensed, Zawahiri wrote a letter to the group's imprisoned leaders. 'God only knows the grief I felt when I heard about this initiative and the negative impact it has caused,' he wrote. 'If we are going to stop now, why did we start in the first place?' In his opinion, the initiative was a surrender, 'a massive loss for the jihadist movement'.

To Zawahiri's annoyance, imprisoned members of al-Jihad also began to express an interest in joining the non-violence initiative. 'The leadership started to change its views,' said Abdel Moneim Moneeb, who, in 1993, was charged with being a member of al-Jihad. Although Moneeb was never convicted, he spent 14 years in an Egyptian prison. 'At one point, you might mention this idea, and all the voices would drown you out. Later, it became possible.' Independent thinking on the subject of violence was not easy when as many as 30 men were crammed into 3m x 5m cells. Except for a few smuggled radios, the prisoners were largely deprived of sources of outside information. They occupied themselves with endless theological debates and glum speculation about where they had gone wrong. Eventually, though, these discussions prompted the imprisoned leaders of al-Jihad to open their own secret channel with the government.

Zawahiri became increasingly isolated. He understood violence was the fuel that kept the radical Islamist organisations running; they had no future without terror. Together with several leaders of the Islamic Group who were living outside Egypt, he plotted a way to raise the stakes and permanently wreck the Islamic Group's attempt to reform itself.

On 17 November 1997, just four months after the announcement of the non-violence initiative, six young men entered the magnificent ruins of Queen Hatshepsut's temple, near Luxor. Hundreds of tourists were strolling through the grounds. For 45 minutes, the killers shot randomly. A flyer was stuffed inside a mutilated body, identifying the gunmen as members of the Islamic Group. Sixty-two people died, not counting the killers, whose bodies were later found in a desert cave. They had apparently committed suicide. It was the worst terrorist incident in Egypt's bloody political history.

If Zawahiri and the exiled members of the Islamic Group hoped this action would undermine the non-violence initiative, they miscalculated. Zuhdy said, 'We issued a statement in the newspaper that this action is a knife in our back.' More important, the Egyptian people turned against the violence that characterised the radical Islamist movement. The Islamic Group's imprisoned leaders wrote a series of books and pamphlets, collectively known as 'the revisions', in which they formally explained their new thinking. 'We wanted to relay our experience to young people to protect them from falling into the same mistakes we did,' Zuhdy told me. He recalled that, in several television appearances, he 'advised Ayman al-Zawahiri to read our responses with an open mind'. In 1999, the Islamic Group called for an end to all armed action, not only in Egypt but also against America. 'The Islamic Group does not believe in the creed of killing by nationality,' one of its representatives later explained.

The new thinking among the leaders caught the attention of the clerics at Al-Azhar, the 1,000-year-old institution of Islamic learning in the centre of ancient Cairo. During my stay in Egypt, I met Sheikh Ali Gomaa, Egypt's Grand Mufti, at the nearby Dar al-Iftah, a government agency charged with issuing religious edicts - some 5,000 fatwas a week. I waited for several hours in an antechamber while Gomaa finished a meeting with a delegation from the House of Lords. Since 2003, when Gomaa was appointed Grand Mufti, a top religious post in Egypt, he has become a highly promoted champion of moderate Islam, with his own television show and occasional columns in al-Ahram , a government daily. He is the kind of cleric the west longs for, because of his assurances that there is no conflict with democratic rule and no need for theocracy. Gomaa has also advocated that Muslim women should have equal standing with men. His forceful condemnations of extreme forms of Islam have made him an object of hatred among Islamists and an icon among progressives, whose voices have been overpowered by the thunder of the radicals.

The door finally opened, and Gomaa emerged. He is 55, tall and regal, with a round face and a trim beard. He wore a tan kaftan and a white turban. He held a sprig of mint to his nose as an aide whispered to him my reasons for coming. On the wall behind his desk was a photograph of President Mubarak.

Gomaa was born in Beni Suef, the same town as Dr Fadl. 'I began going into the prisons in the Nineties,' he told me. 'We had debates and dialogues with the prisoners, which continued for more than three years. Such debates became the nucleus for the revisionist thinking.'

Before the revisions were published, Gomaa reviewed them. 'We accept the revisions conditionally, not as the true teachings of Islam but with the understanding that this process is like medicine for a particular time,' he said. The fact that the prisoners were painfully re-examining their thinking struck him as progress enough. 'Terrorism springs from rigidity, and rigidity from literalism,' he said. Each concept is a circle within a circle, and just getting a person to inch away from the centre was a victory. 'Our experience with such people is that it is very difficult to move them two or three degrees from where they are,' he said. 'It's easier to move from terrorism to extremism or from extremism to rigidity. We have not come across the person who can be moved all the way from terrorism to a normal life.'

Decades ago, I taught English at the American University in Cairo, and since then I've watched the vast, moody city go through wrenching changes. I was living there when Nasser died, in 1970. At that time, there were no diplomatic relations between the US and Egypt, and there were only a few hundred Americans in the country, but the Egyptian people loved America and what it stood for. When I visited the country in 2002, a few months after 9/11, I found the situation utterly reversed. The US and Egyptian governments were close, but the Egyptian people were alienated and angry.

When I lived in Cairo, the population was about six million. Now it is three times that. The unbearable congestion reflects the ungoverned quality of life in the city; pedestrians plunge into the anarchic traffic, their faces masked by fright or resignation. The virtual absence of any attempt to impose order - in the form of street lights or pedestrian crossings - is characteristic of a government that has no sense of obligation to its people and seeks only to protect itself.

One day during my visit, I went to Cairo University, whose buildings are crumbling from neglect. There are nearly 200,000 students, a good many more than there were when Zawahiri and Fadl studied there. Although the campus was quiet, the mood of the students was troubled, if subdued. Their professors had been on strike because of low pay; in Cairo's poorer neighbourhoods riots had broken out over the cost of bread, and in a middle-class area residents had marched against pollution. The government's response to the desperation had been to round up 800 members of the Muslim Brotherhood and throw them in jail.

Several faculty members I spoke to repeated the exhausted formulations that were so common among Egyptian intellectuals several years ago - that terrorism is mainly the consequence of America's meddling in the Middle East and that the attacks of 11 September 2001 were an inside job. The students were more cordial and less doctrinaire. They expressed interest in the US presidential campaign, which provided such a contrast to their own smothered political system. And they were impatient with Islamist dogma, which had done little to help ordinary Egyptians.

When I lived in Cairo under Nasser, there was still a sense of promise, despite the beating the Arabs had taken from Israel. Economically, Egypt was on a par with India and South Korea. In the years since then, Egyptians have watched these former peers take a place among the developed nations. Countries that were once ruled by dictators and autocrats far more tyrannical than in Egypt have refashioned themselves as liberal democracies, or adopted systems that are more tolerant and responsive to citizens' needs. Egypt, meanwhile, has stood still. Extreme solutions began to seem the only ones equal to the challenge.

The jubilation felt by some Egyptians after 9/11 was tied, in part, to a hope that their lives would finally change no doubt for the better. They expected that America, having been bloodied, would loosen its grip on the Muslim world. Without American support, the tyrants of the Middle East would be pushed aside by the Islamists. But the US, instead of withdrawing, invaded two Muslim countries and became even more enmeshed in the politics of the region. Nevertheless, the audacity of al-Qaeda's attacks helped give radical Islamists credibility among people who were desperate for change. The years immediately after 9/11 presented an opportunity for the Islamists to offer their vision of a redeemed political system that brought about real improvements in people's lives. Instead, they continued to propagate their fantasies of theocracy and a caliphate, which had little chance of ever happening, and did nothing to address the actual problems facing the Egyptians: illiteracy, joblessness, and the desperation that came from watching the rest of the world pass them by. As a result, the young were eager for fresh thinking - a way to escape the dead end of radical Islam.

Before 9/11, the Egyptian government had quietly permitted the Islamic Group's leaders to carry their discussions about renouncing violence to members in other prisons around the country. After the attacks, state security decided to call more attention to these debates. Makram Mohamed Ahmed, who was close to the minister of the interior and was then the editor of al-Mussawar , a government weekly, was permitted to cover some of the discussions. 'There were three generations in prison,' he said. 'They were in despair.' Many of these Islamists had fantasised that they would be hailed as heroes by their society; instead, they were rejected. Now Zuhdy and other imprisoned leaders were asking the radicals to accept they had been deluded from the start. It was an overwhelming spiritual defeat. 'We began going from prison to prison,' Ahmed recalled. 'Those boys would see their leaders giving them the new conception of the revisions.' Ahmed recalls that many of the prisoners were angry. 'They would say, "You've been deceiving us for 18 years! Why didn't you say this before?"'

Despite such objections, the imprisoned members of the Islamic Group largely accepted the leaders' new position. Ahmed says he was initially sceptical of the prisoners' apparent repentance, which looked like a ploy for better treatment; however, several had been sentenced to death and were wearing the red clothing that identifies a prisoner as a condemned man. They had nothing to gain. Ahmed says that one of these prisoners told him, 'I'm not offering these revisions for Mubarak! I don't care about this government. What is important is that I killed people - Copts, innocent persons - and before I meet God I should declare my sins.' Then the man burst into tears.

The prisoners' predicament unfolded as they continued their discussions. What about the brother who was killed while carrying out an attack that we now realise was against Islam? Is he a martyr? If not, how do we console his family? One of the leaders proposed that if the brother who died was sincere, although genuinely deceived, he would still gain his heavenly reward; but because 'everyone knows there is no advantage to violence, and that it is religiously incorrect', from now on such actions were doomed. What about correcting the sins of other Muslims? The Islamic Group had a reputation in Egypt for acting as a kind of moral police force, often quite savagely - for instance, throwing acid in the face of a woman who was wearing make-up. 'We used to blame the people and say, "The people are cowards,"' one of the leaders admitted. 'None of us thought of saying the violence we employed was abhorrent to them.'

These emotional discussions were widely covered in the Egyptian press. Zuhdy publicly apologised to the Egyptian people for the Islamic Group's violent deeds, beginning with the murder of Anwar Sadat, whom he called a martyr. These riveting and courageous confessions also cast light on other organisations - in particular, the Muslim Brotherhood - that had never fully addressed their own violent pasts.

I went to the office of the Brotherhood to talk to Essam el-Erian, a prominent member of the movement. He is a small, defiant man with a large prayer mark on his forehead. I reminded him that when we last spoke, in April 2002, he had just got out of prison. He laughed and said, 'I've been back in prison twice more since then!' We sat in our stockinged feet in the dim reception room. 'From the start until now, the Muslim Brotherhood has been peaceful,' he maintained. 'We have only three or four instances of violence in our history, mainly assassinations.' He added, 'Those were individual instances and we condemned them as a group.'

But in addition to the killings of political figures, terrorist attacks on the Jewish community in Cairo, and the attempted murder of Nasser, members of the Muslim Brotherhood took part in arson that destroyed some 750 buildings - mainly nightclubs, theatres, hotels and restaurants - in downtown Cairo in 1952, an attack that marked the end of the liberal, progressive, cosmopolitan direction that Egypt might have chosen. (The Muslim Brotherhood also created Hamas, which employs many of the same tactics now condemned by the Islamic Group.) And yet, unlike other radical movements, the Brotherhood has embraced political change as the only legitimate means to achieving an Islamic state. 'We welcome these revisions, because we have called for many years to stop violence,' Erian continued. 'But these revisions are incomplete. They reject violence, but they don't offer a new strategy for reform and change.'

He pointed out that radical Islamists have long condemned the Muslim Brotherhood because of its willingness to compromise with the government and even to run candidates for office. 'Now they are under pressure, because if they accept democratic change by democratic means they will be asked, "What is the difference between you and the Muslim Brothers?"'

According to Zuhdy, the Egyptian government responded to the non-violence initiative by releasing 12,500 members of the Islamic Group. Many of them had never been charged with a crime, much less tried and sentenced. Some were shattered by their confinement. 'Imagine what 20 years of prison can do,' Zuhdy said.

The prisoners returned to a society that was far more religious than the one they had left. They must have been heartened to see most Egyptian women, who once enjoyed western fashions, now wearing hijab, or completely hidden behind veils, like Saudis. Many more Egyptian men had prayer marks on their foreheads. Imams had become celebrities, their sermons blaring from televisions and radios. These newly released men might fairly have believed that they had achieved a great social victory through their actions and their sacrifice.

And yet the brutal indifference of the Egyptian government toward its people was unchanged. As the Islamists emerged from prison, new detainees took their place - protesters, liberals, bloggers, potential candidates for political office. The economy was growing, but the money was increasingly concentrated in the hands of the already wealthy; meanwhile, the price of food was shooting up so quickly that people were going hungry. Within a few months of being released, hundreds of the Islamists petitioned, unsuccessfully, to be let back into prison.

From the Egyptian government's point of view, the deal with the Islamic Group has proved to be an unparalleled success. According to Makram Mohamed Ahmed, the former editor of Al-Mussawar , who witnessed the prison debates, there have been only two instances where members showed signs of returning to their former violent ways, and in both cases they were betrayed by informers in their own group. 'Prison or time may have defeated them,' Montasser al-Zayyat, the lawyer, says of the Islamic Group. 'Some would call it a collapse.'

The Manifesto

Dr Fadl was practising surgery in Ibb when the 9/11 attacks took place. 'We heard the reports first on the BBC,' his son Ismail al-Sharif recalls. After his shift ended, Fadl returned home and watched the coverage with his family. They asked him who he thought was responsible. 'This action is from al-Qaeda, because there is no other group in the world that will kill themselves in a plane,' he responded.

On 28 October 2001, two Yemeni intelligence officers came to Fadl's clinic to ask him some questions. He put them off. The director of the hospital persuaded Fadl to turn himself in, saying he would pull some strings to protect him. Fadl was held in Ibb for a week before being transferred to government detention in the capital, Sanaa. The speaker of parliament and other prominent Yemeni politicians agitated unsuccessfully for his release.

Fadl was joined in prison by Yemeni members of al-Qaeda who had escaped the bombing of Afghanistan by American and coalition troops in the months after the 9/11 attacks. They filled him in on details of the plot. In Fadl's opinion, the organisation had committed 'group suicide' by striking America, which was bound to retaliate severely. Indeed, nearly 80 per cent of al-Qaeda's members in Afghanistan were killed in the final months of 2001. 'My father was very sad for the killing of Abu Hafs al-Masri, the military leader of al-Qaeda,' Ismail al-Sharif told the al-Jarida newspaper. 'My father said that, with the death of Abu Hafs, al-Qaeda is finished, because the rest is a group of zeroes.'

At first, the Yemenis weren't sure what to do with the celebrated jihadi philosopher. There were many Yemenis, even in the intelligence agencies, who sympathised with al-Qaeda. According to Sharif, at the beginning of 2002 Yemeni intelligence offered Fadl the opportunity to escape to any country he wanted. Fadl said he would go to Sudan. But the promised release was postponed. The following year, Sharif has said, the offer was changed: either Fadl could seek political asylum or Egyptian authorities would come and get him. Fadl applied for asylum, but before he received a response he disappeared.

According to a 2005 report by Human Rights Watch, which had followed his case, Fadl was taken from his cell and smuggled on to a plane to Cairo. For more than two years, Fadl - who had been tried and convicted in absentia on terrorism charges - was held by Egyptian authorities, who are notorious for their rough treatment of political prisoners. He was eventually transferred to the Scorpion, a facility inside Tora Prison where major political figures were held. Fadl remains there to this day, under a life sentence. It was clear he was getting special treatment. His son says he has a private room with a bath and a small kitchen, adding, 'He has a refrigerator and a television, and the newspaper comes every day.' Fadl passes the time reading and trying not to gain weight.

There may be many inducements for Dr Fadl's revisions, torture among them, but his smouldering resentment of Zawahiri's literary crimes was obviously a factor. Fadl claimed in al-Hayat that his differences with Zawahiri were 'objective', not personal. 'He was a burden to me on the educational, professional, jurisprudential and sometimes personal levels,' Fadl complained. 'He was ungrateful for the kindness I had shown him and bit the hand that I had extended to him. What I got for my efforts was deception, betrayal, lies and thuggery.'

Usama Ayub, director of the Islamic Centre in Munster, told me Fadl was questioning his thinking before his arrest in Yemen. Ayub called Fadl in late 2000 or early 2001 to inform him he was preparing a non-violent initiative of his own. 'He encouraged me, although his security situation in Yemen did not allow him to discuss it,' Ayub said, adding he warned Fadl that many of his original ideas about jihad were being used to justify violence against women and innocent civilians. 'I'm about to publish a book that clarifies all these ideas,' Fadl told him. According to his son, Fadl 'was not under any pressure to write the new book. He thought it could save the blood of Muslims.'

The book's first segment appeared in the newspapers al-Masri al-Youm and al-Jarida, in November 2007, on the 10th anniversary of the Luxor massacre. Titled Rationalising Jihad in Egypt and the World , it attempted to reconcile Fadl's well-known views with his sweeping modifications. Fadl claims he wrote the book without any references, which makes his verbatim quotations of Islamic sources all the more impressive. A majority of the al-Jihad members in prison signed Fadl's manuscript - hoping, no doubt, to follow their Islamic Group colleagues out the prison door.

Hisham Kassem, a human rights activist and a publisher in Cairo, told me the newspapers that published Fadl's work 'bought it from the Ministry of the Interior for 150,000 Egyptian pounds [pounds 15,000]'. The circumstances of the publication added to the general suspicion that the government had supervised the revisions, if not actually written them. Perhaps to counter that impression, Muhammad Salah, the Cairo bureau chief of al-Hayat, was allowed into Tora Prison to interview Fadl. In the resulting six-part series, Fadl defended the work as his own and left no doubt of his personal grudge against Zawahiri. Whatever the motivations behind the writing of the book, its publication amounted to a major assault on radical Islamist theology, from the man who had originally formulated much of that thinking.

The premise that opens Rationalising Jihad is: 'There is nothing that invokes the anger of God and His wrath like the unwarranted spilling of blood and wrecking of property.' Fadl then establishes a new set of rules for jihad, which essentially define most forms of terrorism as illegal under Islamic law and restrict the possibility of holy war to extremely rare circum stances. His argument may seem arcane, even to most Muslims, but to men who had risked their lives in order to carry out what they saw as the authentic precepts of their religion, every word assaulted their world view and brought into question their own chances for salvation.

In order to declare jihad, Fadl writes, certain requirements must be observed. One must have a place of refuge. There should be adequate financial resources to wage the campaign. Fadl castigates Muslims who resort to theft or kidnapping to finance jihad: 'There is no such thing in Islam as ends justifying the means.' Family members must be provided for. 'There are those who strike and then escape, leaving their families, dependants and other Muslims to suffer the consequences,' Fadl points out. 'This is in no way religion or jihad. It is not manliness.' Finally, the enemy should be properly identified in order to prevent harm to innocents. 'Those who have not followed these principles have committed the gravest of sins,' Fadl writes.

To wage jihad, one must first gain permission from one's parents and creditors. The potential warrior also needs the blessing of a qualified imam or sheikh; he can't simply respond to the summons of a charismatic leader acting in the name of Islam. 'Oh, you young people, do not be deceived by the heroes of the internet, the leaders of the microphones, who are launching statements inciting the youth while living under the protection of intelligence services, or of a tribe, or in a distant cave or under political asylum in an infidel country,' Fadl warns. 'They have thrown many others before you into the infernos, graves and prisons.'

Even if a person is fit and capable, jihad may not be required of him, Fadl says, pointing out that God also praises those who choose to isolate themselves from unbelievers rather than fight them. Nor is jihad required if the enemy is twice as powerful as the Muslims; in such an unequal contest, Fadl writes, 'God permitted peace treaties and ceasefires with the infidels, either in exchange for money or without it - all of this in order to protect the Muslims, in contrast with those who push them into peril.' In what sounds like a deliberate swipe at Zawahiri, he remarks, 'Those who have triggered clashes and pressed their brothers into unequal military confrontations are specialists neither in Fatwas nor in military affairs... Just as those who practise medicine without background should provide compensation for the damage they have done, the same goes for those who issue Fatwas without being qualified to do so.'

Despite his previous call for jihad against unjust Muslim rulers, Fadl now says such rulers can be fought only if they are unbelievers, and even then only to the extent that the battle will improve the situation of Muslims. Obviously, that has not been the case in Egypt or most other Islamic countries, where increased repression has been the usual result of armed insurgency. Fadl quotes the Prophet Muhammad advising Muslims to be patient with their flawed leaders: 'Those who rebel against the Sultan shall die a pagan death.'

Fadl repeatedly emphasises that it is forbidden to kill civilians - including Christians and Jews - unless they are actively attacking Muslims. 'There is nothing in the Sharia about killing Jews and the Nazarenes, referred to by some as the Crusaders,' Fadl observes. 'They are the neighbours of the Muslims... and being kind to one's neighbours is a religious duty.' Indiscriminate bombing - 'such as blowing up of hotels, buildings, and public transport' - is not permitted, because innocents will surely die. 'If vice is mixed with virtue, all becomes sinful,' he writes. 'There is no legal reason for harming people in any way.' The prohibition against killing applies even to foreigners inside Muslim countries, since many of them may be Muslims. 'You cannot decide who is a Muslim or who is an unbeliever or who should be killed based on the colour of his skin or hair or the language he speaks or because he wears western fashion,' Fadl writes. 'These are not proper indications for who is a Muslim and who is not.' As for foreigners who are non-Muslims, they may have been invited into the country for work, which is a kind of treaty. What's more, there are many Muslims living in foreign lands considered inimical to Islam, and yet those Muslims are treated fairly; therefore, Muslims should reciprocate in their own countries.

Fadl does not condemn all jihadist activity, however. 'Jihad in Afghanistan will lead to the creation of an Islamic state with the triumph of the Taliban, God willing,' he declares. The jihads in Iraq and Palestine are more problematic. As Fadl sees it, 'If it were not for the jihad in Palestine, the Jews would have crept toward the neighbouring countries a long time ago.' Even so, he writes, 'the Palestinian cause has, for some time, been a grape leaf used by the bankrupt leaders to cover their own faults.'

Speaking of Iraq, he notes that without the jihad there, 'America would have moved into Syria.' However, it is unrealistic to believe that 'under current circumstances' such struggles will lead to Islamic states. Iraq is particularly troubling because of the sectarian cleansing the war has generated. Fadl addresses the bloody division between Sunnis and Shiites at the heart of Islam: 'Harming those who are affiliated with Islam, but have a different creed is forbidden.' Al-Qaeda is an entirely Sunni organisation; the Shiites are its declared enemies. Fadl, however, quotes Ibn Taymiyya, one of the revered scholars of early Islam, who is also bin Laden's favourite authority: 'A Muslim's blood and money are safeguarded even if his creed is different.'

Fadl approaches the question of Takfir with caution, especially given his reputation for promoting this tendency in the past. He observes there are various kinds of Takfir, and that the matter is so complex it must be left in the hands of competent Islamic lawyers; members of the public are not allowed to enforce the law. 'It is not permissible for a Muslim to condemn another Muslim,' he writes, although he has been guilty of this on countless occasions. 'He should renounce only the sin he commits.'

Fadl acknowledges that 'terrorising the enemy is a legitimate duty'; however, he points out, 'legitimate terror' has many constraints. Al-Qaeda's terrorist attacks in America, London and Madrid were wrong, because they were based on nationality, a form of indiscriminate slaughter forbidden by Islam. In his al-Hayat interview, Fadl labels 9/11 'a catastrophe for Muslims', because al-Qaeda's actions 'caused the death of tens of thousands of Muslims - Arabs, Afghans, Pakistanis and others'.

The most original argument in the book and the interview is Fadl's assertion that the hijackers of 9/11 'betrayed the enemy', because they had been given US visas, which are a contract of protection. 'The followers of bin Laden entered the United States with his knowledge, and on his orders double-crossed its population, killing and destroying,' Fadl continues. 'The Prophet - God's prayer and peace be upon him - said, "On the Day of Judgment, every double-crosser will have a banner up his anus proportionate to his treachery."'

At one point, Fadl observes, 'People hate America, and the Islamist movements feel their hatred and their impotence. Ramming America has become the shortest road to fame and leadership among the Arabs and Muslims. But what good is it if you destroy one of your enemy's buildings, and he destroys one of your countries? What good is it if you kill one of his people, and he kills 1,000 of yours? That, in short, is my evaluation of 9/11.'


The Heretic: The Fascinating Story of How Al-Qaeda's Mastermind Dr Fadl Turned His Back on Terror - Part One

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