Al-Qaeda Mufti Abu Hafs sheds light on Iran, Qatar influence on extremist groups
Mahfouz Ould al-Walid, known as “Abu Hafs al-Mauritani,” the former Mufti of al-Qaeda, revealed in an interview with Al Arabiya English what he described as the balanced relationship pursued by both the Iranian regime and Qatar with armed extremist groups.
According to his interpretation, the two countries’ relations with al-Qaeda, the Takfir, Hijra, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and other armed groups are part of the agenda to maintain “political interests”.
“There is no doubt that Iran was present with al-Qaeda for more than one reason, including the geographical location adjacent to Afghanistan. Qatar also had a partial presence, as it wasn’t in the face of the Taliban, and I think it is the only country that did not send troops to Afghanistan during the American war,” he told Al Arabiya English.
Abu Hafs added: “Qatar had a certain policy towards Islamic trends and it was less hostile than the rest of the other countries. This led armed groups and organizations to exclude Qatar from the rest of the Gulf countries, despite its involvement in what is known as the war on terrorism.”
Abu Hafs – the negotiator who finalized the deal to house al-Qaeda and other armed terrorist organization in Iran after the war on Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks – said: “Iran was keen not to clash with Islamist groups and was really doing politics. Iran was able to avoid the armed confrontation on its territory with these groups. At the same time, Iran sought to not be the starting point for any military action against other countries, (as he described)”.
According to him, Tehran “managed to retain a kind of excellence and independence in the face of the so-called terrorism, Iran did not engage in the US war on terrorism, making gains through this balance.”
He explained: “I was responsible for negotiating with the Iranians when members of the organization and their families entered Iran. Al-Qaeda leaders asked me to negotiate with the Iranians, but I refused because in the past Iran tried to initiate a relationship and al-Qaeda turned it down, so it was clear that considering the situation they will not accept”.
He also said that this impression was transferred to the Iranian side so they sought contact and discussed the humanitarian situation and about overcoming past differences. “Negotiating with them was not limited to the issue of al-Qaeda, but included all the jihadi and Islamic groups that were present in Afghanistan,” said Abu Hafsa.
Negotiations with Iran
Abu Hafs said that after the fall of Taliban, when militant groups had to leave Afghanistan, the Iranians asked him to negotiate the admission of women, children, widows and victims of the US war on terror and the transit of fighters across their territory.
“A large number of young men who were under watch were able to return and others couldn’t since they didn’t have official papers or had problems in their countries of origin. They stayed in Iran until the international community became wary of their presence so they were arrested,” he said.
When news emerged about the presence of some al-Qaeda leaders in Tehran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had to hand over some individuals and others to the government of Pakistan, while keeping the more important figures in the country.
“The fact is Iranians handled the situation very well; they secured themselves with the Americans as well as with militant groups.”
Abu Hafs also praised how the Iranian regime treated al-Qaeda Shoura Council and other leaders of the extremist groups. “At first, we were put in jail and then they liberated us, they treated us well, and they did not deliberately insult our sects or doctrines,” he said.
About the mysterious relationship between Qatari and Iranian regimes, and Islamist armed groups, Abu Hafs said: “This does not mean there is a special relationship between Qatar and Iran and these armed groups, in fact these two countries were looking after their political interests, where they were less severe in the confrontation and had converging policies and I think they succeeded to a large extent, while there are major countries which couldn’t assess things properly and engaged in the US war.”
Expel ‘infidels’ from the Arab Peninsula
Abu Hafs al-Mauritani who stayed in Tehran – with other al-Qaeda leaders – for a decade, explained that the “Jihadist” extremist groups ignored the presence of al-Udeid American base in Qatar, which was the base for launching American raids targeting Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq.
According to him, they believed in the agenda: “Expel the Infidels from the Arab Peninsula”.
“Islamist groups do not classify Qatar as a state that applies the rules of Islamic Sharia’h, nor is it a good role model, nor their view toward Turkey or Iran, according to the understandings and definitions of these groups, but they see that these countries did not consider the wars of these groups a priority for them. There are countries that volunteer in the fight against al-Jamaat and all that is Islamic and thus topped the list of hostility by Islamic groups.”
He added that both Qatar and Iran managed to break the intensity of hostility toward Islamist groups and have not made it a priority to confront them at least.
Abu Hafs also explained Osama bin Laden’s choice of Qatar as a destination for his son, Hamza bin Laden currently the leader of al-Qaeda, as mentioned in his diaries released by the US authorities.
According to him, this is due to his (Osama bin Laden) contentment at Qatar’s political approach of not confronting Islamist and armed groups and not pursuing strict policy against them.
“Perhaps Sheikh Osama felt it (Qatar) will be the best country for his sons to live in, and today Qatar hosts a number of Osama bin Laden sons after they returned from their mother’s home in Syria’s Latakia, after leaving Iran, and they were granted the Qatari nationality,” he added.
Al Jazeera and Osama bin Laden
Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, who was al-Qaeda Mufti, confirmed that details mentioned in documents seized from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan’s Abbottabad – regarding al-Qaeda leader’s communication with Al-Jazeera’s correspondents – was true.
“Al-Jazeera channel was for them the most important watched Arab satellite TV, that’s why addresses for Al-Jazeera correspondents were provided, as it was very natural that these Islamist movements seek to spread their messages through the most popular channels,” he said.
“Hence Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were eager to deliver their message through it. On the other hand, Al-Jazeera allowed broadcasting of the messages of Islamist movements more than any other channel, and it also sought to cover news related to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda,” he said.
Abu Hafs pointed out that Al-Jazeera – following pressure from the United States and Britain – “adopted a different policy, only publishing news with value to its standard and editorial policy.”