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Former leading jihadist calls on al-Qaeda to abandon armed struggle

Noman Benotman, a former Libyan jihadist leader, has today published an open letter to his former friend and colleague Osama bin Laden, calling on him to call off al-Qaeda’s armed struggle, beginning with a unilateral six-month ceasefire.

The open letter is being published through the counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam in Arabic, English and Urdu on Friday 10th September, one day before the ninth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks in New York and Washington DC – the same day as a fringe American preacher is planning to publicly burn a copy of the Quran.

In the letter Noman Benotman, a former senior leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who spent several years with bin Laden in Afghanistan and Sudan during the 1990s and who is now based at Quilliam, writes to bin Laden that:

‘Your actions have harmed millions of innocent Muslims and non-Muslims alike. How is this Islam or jihad? For how much longer will al-Qaeda continue to bring shame on Islam, disrupt ordinary Muslims’ lives, and be the cause of global unrest?

‘In New York, your un-Islamic actions have caused hurt, loss, pain and anguish to thousands of innocent people and their families. One consequence is that those Muslims seeking to build a House of God in New York are today being compared to Nazis. And now we hear that on the anniversary of your attack an American preacher is even planning to burn the Quran in revenge! Indeed Muslims living in democratic and free societies around the world are now experiencing the consequences of your irresponsible acts.

‘What has the 11th September brought to the world except mass killings, occupations, destruction, hatred of Muslims, humiliation of Islam, and a tighter grip on the lives of ordinary Muslims by the authoritarian regimes that control Arab and Muslim states?’

The letter also reveals that prior to 9-11, bin Laden’s plans to launch worldwide attacks in defiance of the Taliban were strongly opposed by individuals within al-Qaeda, including Abu Muhammad al-Zayyat, the head of al-Qaeda’s own security committee.

The letter goes on to urge Osama bin Laden to call off his attacks, suggesting that al-Qaeda declare a unilateral ceasefire for six months to allow its leaders time to re-consider their course of action and their understanding of Islam:

‘I recommend that al-Qaeda announce a unilateral halt to its military operations for a period of six months, for the following three purposes:

  • To take a step back from fighting to study and consider the organization’s vision, approach and strategy; for instance by attempting to answer the following questions: How would a suspension of al-Qaeda’s military activity affect Islam and Muslims around the world? Will it hurt their interests or will it allow them to make greater progress towards achieving peace and the freedom to practice and preach their religion? What would Islam lose if al-Qaeda were to end its violence?
  • To explore public opinion in Muslim communities around the world and their position vis- à-vis al-Qaeda, in terms of support or rejection on both the ideological and operational levels
  • To seek the guidance of those scholars such as Sheikh Salman al-Auda who have rejected your approach and concept of Jihad, as well as others who are ‘accepted as speaking with the voice of the Ummah’ (Talaqqathum al-umma bil qabul).’

The letter will be circulated through online jihadist web forums and through Arabic-language media. It is available to download here.

Explaining the reasons behind the letter, Noman Benotman says:

“I have written this letter because I believe that it is time to start a debate within Muslim communities about terrorism, extremism and its effects. The news today of an American preacher planning to burn the Quran shows the damage that al-Qaeda has done to the image of Islam and Muslims in the West.

“We also need to start a debate with bin Laden himself. Bin Laden is not a prophet. He is just a human being. We need to begin a debate with him, to make him change his mind. American bombs have not made him change his mind, but maybe our words will. Al-Qaeda has been criticised before but this time the criticism is coming from someone who was there with them, in Afghanistan, in the fight against the Soviet Union and afterwards.

“Also, I hope this letter will give hope to Muslim scholars and others who are already fighting against al-Qaeda. They need to know that they are not alone. We, as Muslims, have to say that enough is enough, it is time for the violence and killing to stop.”

The complete letter is available in PDF form in English here and Arabic here.

Notes to editors:
1. Noman Benotman is available for media interviews in London. He speaks both English and Arabic.

2. A full biography of Noman Benotman is available online here.

1. Quilliam is Britain’s first counter-extremism think tank. It is an independent organization and believes in political representation as citizens through parliament.

2. For further information, please call Quilliam’s media line on 07590 229 917 or email