Wires: Prominent Muslim Cleric Denounces bin Laden (Oct. 18, 2001) Wires: Prominent Muslim Cleric Denounces bin Laden (Oct. 18, 2001) Wires
Thursday, Oct. 18, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A prominent Muslim cleric today denounced terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and urged Afghanistan's Taliban rulers not to risk thousands of lives for him. "Bin Laden is not a prophet that we should put thousands of lives at risk for," said Tahirul Qadri, who heads the Pakistani Awami Tehrik Party.

Qadri, who has thousands of followers in Pakistan and abroad, also criticized the Taliban for sheltering bin Laden and urged the Muslims to "see the difference between jihad and acts of terrorism."

He is the first prominent Muslim scholar to condemn bin Laden and the Taliban so strongly in public. His condemnation could help the Pakistani government defuse tensions in Pakistan where a small but vocal religious group has launched a nationwide campaign against its decision to back U.S.-led military strikes into Afghanistan.

"Bombing embassies or destroying non-military installations like the World Trade Center is no jihad," Qadri said, and "those who launched the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks not only killed thousands of innocent people in the United States but also put the lives of millions of Muslims across the world at risk."

"Now the Americans are killing Afghans ... they may go for other targets too. Who knows how many innocent Muslims will be killed because of those terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center?"

While urging the United States to stop its airstrikes in Afghanistan, Qadri held the Taliban rulers responsible "for the death of hundreds of innocent Afghans."

The Taliban, he said, should have handed over bin Laden and other terrorists to the United Nations or any other neutral international organization before the air strikes began. "They can still do it and save their country from further destruction," he said.

Qadri, whose Pakistan Awami Tehrik emerged as a popular religious party in local elections earlier this year, acknowledged that the United States had provided credible evidence about bin Laden's involvement in acts of terrorism.

"In the light of this evidence, the Taliban had no justification for continuing to protect bin Laden. Why protect him? Is he a saint or a prophet? He is a man who himself has admitted arranging car-bomb attacks on U.S. embassies. He is no saint."

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