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Interview: Head of Al-Qaeda party discusses surprising entrance into politics

National Yemen

Rashad Mohammed Saeed Abu Al-Feda

By Thabet al-Ahmadi

Rashad Mohammed Saeed Abu Al-Feda was an advisor to Osama bin Laden and is the current head of the Yemeni Union for Preservation Party. When young, Al-Feda departed from Yemen to participate in the Afghan war against the Soviet Union.

“The formation of our party sprang from our sense of responsibility to build a new Yemen and a new society,” said Al-Feda.

The following is an interview with Rashad Mohammed Saeed Abu Al-Feda:

Q: After a long waiting period, Al-Qaeda has organized and established a political party, something which is definitely surprising for many; can you brief us on this development?

A: Following the events of the Arab Spring, a great power vacuum was created; hence it was essential for all of society’s components to fill the gap through the establishment of political, cultural and civil groups. We are intending to participate in the construction of a new Yemen, and in the promotion of truth and fairness. We also will take part in the fight against injustice and oppression, to restore Islamic laws and make them an effective part of people’s lives.

Q: You said that you arrived after the vacuum; what vacuum are you referring to? Were the former regimes filling the vacuum you hope to fill?

A: No, this is not what it’s about. Tyranny and despotism were practiced by the ruling regime, which also got religious scholars involved. Islamic nations lacked most of their rights, such as the rights to expression and freedom, and the right to choose rulers and the methods by which citizens would be ruled. The nation was just like a mold for ruling regimes to form in whatever ways they liked. The result was the eruption of the Arab Spring revolutions, which revealed all that was hidden and caused all people to perceive the rulers’ injustices – which led people to correct their lives’ paths.

Q: For how long have you thought of establishing this political party?

A: Personally, I had the idea a long time before the Arab Spring revolutions. However, we saw that the general situation and the political environment were not appropriate. The obstacles, dangers and challenges were big, but after the revolutions, things became easier and the number of chances increased. So it was important to make use of the opportunity.

Q: But we know that you were invited by the former regime to establish your own party and work publically work rather than take the path of violence…

A: True; we heard about the invitation, but it was not a serious one – it was rather a display for western countries. Were they serious, they would have better allowed others to establish charitable and human rights organizations. The former regime sought to compensate certain people with positions, to control them rather than make use of their capabilities and potentials.

Q: You dealt with the former regime; which of you made the best use of the other?

A: In general, we did not have positive dealings with the former regime. We suffered so much from the former regime, especially the youth who returned from Afghanistan. They put them in jail, stating that they were fighting against terrorism. All of their attacks were unjustified and outside the framework of the law.

Anyhow, I believe our youth received more benefits from our dealings with the former regime. It’s because they were subjected to many difficulties and challenges, including being thrown into jails. They suffered through difficulties, which strengthened their personalities. They needed experience war, sufferings and alienation.

Q: Couldn’t their personalities be strengthened in other, more peaceful ways aside from jail and detention?

A: This is what our ancestors reported and we will report the same to generations to follow. It’s necessary to go through all of this to build up strong personalities with good potential for future constructive operations.

Q: As you mentioned earlier, you were detained and jailed many times. Don’t you feel you committed crimes against Yemen and against people’s private rights – in addition to the adoption of violence as an approach?

A: We did not commit any wrong actions. We are ready to stand before any court that respects laws and human rights. In the event that we were found guilty of any criminal actions, we would stand ready for prosecution.

Q: I’m speaking about the organization which adopted violent methods and so killed many…

A: Most of those who were jailed were illegally detained, and the authorities had no right to detain them. They also couldn’t prosecute them, as they have no proof to back up their accusations.

Q: But there were people who blew themselves up in crowded places and killed many people!

A: Only the court which follows Sharia’ law can make decisions on this issue. If the Islamic laws state that they were guilty, we have no problem with that.

Q: You are known for targeting foreigners.

 A: Targeting them was nothing but a reaction. It was all in response to a war between America and jihadists since the year 2000. Arab regimes had nothing to do with it, but they involved themselves in wars with their citizens in response to American pressures and demands for international partnerships in the fight against terrorism.

Q: You moved to the political arena; do you believe in the rules that govern political work?

A: We are already involved in the political arena. Through our party, we want to prove to the whole world that we have multiple choices and means with which to work for our religion and to save humanity. We believe that peace is the basic rule of Islam – fighting and killing represent exceptional cases.

Q: As far as your political party is concerned, do you believe in democracy?

A:  Yes, we believe in democracy and Sharia’. We are Muslims and our religion is greater than these concepts. Democracy is a U.S. and European system, and is the result of circumstances which differ from ours, and which are not good for the other. We believe in democracy, but through Islam’s vision. While there are no limits to democracy, we have a religion which guides our lives and relations with others. We’re looking for political actions which are consistent with Sharia’ law and national principles. We believe that Sharia’ is the perfect tool to guide a peaceful transition for power and general decision-making. Dealing with foreign concepts only represents a psychological defeat because we have many principles which can surprise western communities.

Q: You were young when you left Yemen, almost 15 year old; you worked with Osama bin Laden until you became his advisor. You then returned and were on the list of Arab Afghans. Then a British newspaper reported that you moved from being bin Laden’s advisor to being an advisor for the former regime. What can you say about this?

A: Honorably, I was very close to bin Laden and participated in the jihad against the Soviet Union. I also participated in the Taliban government, and participated in different humanitarian and political projects. I returned to Yemen just like a Yemeni citizen and bear no hostility towards anyone. After September 11th, I was put in detention and was investigated for three years. I don’t know on what charge I was arrested – nor do I know why I was released.

Regarding the issue of being an advisor for the former regime, all I can say is that I had no relation to the Yemeni government and didn’t share any political acts with them. I have no relation either with the former regime or with the current one.

Q: Al-Qaeda is an international organization with its own hierarchy, speech and main branches around the world. Today, you are announcing your own political party. Can you operate separately from the main headquarters of the organization and its instructions?

A: There is no conflict, but rather an understanding of the fact that every place has its own circumstances, environment and geography. It’s only the means which may differ from one place to another. Our party is just like other organizations and associations, which are established as national projects. These days, the U.S. looks at Arab lands as places to wage wars for its interests. They come to our countries looking for our wealth. They arrive under the guise of companies. Why then should Muslims be oppressed and why should they resort to the Sykes-Picot Agreement?

Q: Do you mean you’re not going to follow Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s dictates?

A: No; we have only a relationship of brotherhood with him.

Q: What are your intellectual references inside Yemen?

A: All scholars are our references; we consult them and respect their thoughts. We actually collect all of their ideas in order to shape our vision.

Q: What kind of relationship do you have with the Al-Rashad Salafi Party?

A: Brotherhood relations. Our goals are the same, as we are both looking to return to Sharia laws; we’re ready to give them a helping hand. Both sides use whatever they have in hand, and all have the same final desires – activating Islamic laws.

Q: If you are called to merge the two parties into one single party, will you accept?

A: We don’t mind cooperating with others, and there is enough room for all political components.

Q: You are calling for an Islamic caliphate. What caliphate are you referring to?

A: We mean good governance, as was applied by all the caliphs: Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman, Ali and Omar Bin Abdul-Aziz. All historical references have shown that the caliphate period represented the Muslims’ ‘golden period’. Also, we mean good governance commensurate with the current time, no matter what the system is. We don’t care whether it was parliamentary, presidential, with full or broad powers. All we care about are updated methods to rule the country.

Q: The Yemeni Union for Preservation Party includes only Jihadists who are known as Arab Afghans, and doesn’t include Al-Qaeda’s second generation. Hence, it doesn’t fully represent the Al-Qaeda organization, which didn’t announce the formation of your party. What can you say about this?

A: First, in naming our party the “Yemeni Union for Preservation,” we meant that it is for all Yemenis and also that we don’t have anything against them. We will only reject those who wish to threaten the nation’s general stability and tranquility. However, we will enter into dialogue with them to convince them that their methods aren’t right. We won’t close our door before anybody, because we are not a doctrinal party. We are ruled by the general laws of our home Yemen and anyone is allowed to join us and follow our peaceful decisions. Moreover, there are no conditions and we don’t believe in a culture of exclusion. We believe that political acts translate into public work.

Q: What about those who disagree with you?

A: Regarding those who don’t agree with our policies, there are legal courts which can oversee our cases and implement judgments.

Q: Are you talking about state legal courts or courts which belong to you?

A: Legal courts which are supervised by the state, which has genuine sovereignty and which follow Allah’s rules and satisfy the needs of an Islamic nation.

Q: What do you think about Ansar Al-Shariah, which emerged in Abyan and then disappeared?

A: Ansar Al-Shariah is a group of students who were enraged when Yemen’s sovereignty was violated; they emerged as Yemen experienced a security vacuum. They wanted to fill the gap and nowadays they are subject to prosecution by security forces on land and planes from the sky. I read a report written by a foreigner a few days on the few operations targeting Al-Qaeda in Pakistan – and the many being undertaken in Yemen. He attributed the many operations to the precise information Yemeni authorities receive.

Q: What do you think about the phenomenon of assassinations against a number of political and security officers?

A: Just like all Yemenis, we feel sorry to see Muslim Yemeni blood being shed by Muslims and feel sad about such a situation. We’re supposed to be working together against the enemy to secure Yemen for its people, and to improve it. I felt really sad last week when I heard that six people had been killed in an airstrike.

I call on all Yemenis to reconsider their attitudes and stand before this problem, whether it was created by people from inside or outside the country.

Q: Are you demanding that you be included in the National Dialogue Conference?

A: We aren’t that keen to participate, but we do believe in the dialogue’s importance in extricating Yemen from the current crisis and miserable situation. However, the current Dialogue Committee doesn’t bode well for good results; this, in addition to power imbalances in the dialogue. Moreover, the Dialogue Committee contains people who helped create wars and who caused Yemen to reach this situation. Besides, the committee lacks references whenever a dispute takes place.

Unfortunately, the GCC initiative becomes the main reference, instead of the constitution or Yemeni wisdom, whenever a dispute takes place. Decisions and outcomes of the dialogue are subject to foreign trusteeship. Therefore, we are not so positive and optimistic about getting involved with the Dialogue Committee and call on others to hold onto money that would be wasted on the committee. We hope that the dialogue will be directed by people who can solve problems, such as scholars, sheikhs, tribesmen, experts and academics. It should be directed towards a dialogue which can stand apart from the Dialogue Committee and the initiative’s sponsors.