ISLAMISTS DECLARE WAR ON THE WEST

Muslims in North Africa, Europe and the Middle East reacted in fury to the August 20 US missile strikes on six Afghanistan terror bases and a suspect pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan. Mobs burned American and Israeli flags in city streets, and Islamist groups from Cologne to Cairo called for "holy war" against US and Israeli targets world-wide.

America said the strikes were in response to threats of further attacks by Islamist groups believed to have been behind the August 7 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania which left 258 people dead and 5,500 wounded.

The US strike came a day after a number of Islamic organisations under the umbrella group "Islamic International Front for Fighting Jews and Crusaders" called a London-based Arabic newspaper warning civilians to stay away from US and Israeli facilities.

The group, led by dissident Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden, said attacks like the recent ones against US embassies would continue until "American forces withdraw from the land of Muslims". Signatories to earlier statements by the Bin Laden organisation have included leaders of groups in Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Around 25 people were said to have died in the American strikes, which President Bill Clinton insisted were "not aimed against Islam".

In remarks one commentator called unusual "for their recognition of the broad importance of a religious faith, and for declaring that faith to lie beyond any goals of US foreign policy", Clinton emphasised the difference between Muslim followers of "a great religion"—and groups adhering to "a horrible distortion of their religion to justify the murder of innocents".

But Sudan's National Assembly dismissed the president's words as false, and called the attack "treacherous and unjustifiable … aggression against the Sudanese people and the faith of Islam". In an interview monitored by the BBC on August 22, Sudanese President Omar Hassan Bashir warned that his country has "the right to respond at the appropriate time". Bashir accused Clinton of launching the strike to deflect attention from his personal problems.

In Egypt the largest Islamist group fighting to overthrow the government, the Gama'a al-Islamiya, threatened to make the US pay for its "barbaric" attacks.

The German-based "Federation of Islamic Associations and Communities of Cologne" said the strikes were nothing but "attacks on Islam itself", and called for a "holy war" against America and its allies.

Anti-US demonstrations were held in the streets of Jakarta, and in Gaza, where hundreds of Palestinians chanted "America is the enemy of the Muslims".

The official Palestinian Authority radio station, the Voice of Palestine, reported a statement by the Palestinian National Council on August 23 condemning the American bombing which it called "a provocation against the decisions of international legitimacy".

Washington meanwhile moved on August 22 to block all business transactions between US companies and Bin Laden, while warning of more possible strikes against terror targets.

Speaking to Italy's La Repubblica the same day, a leading Muslim activist quoted from a statement reportedly signed by Bin Laden, announcing that Islamic militants had started planning retaliation against the US, targeting US and Israeli sites.

"The international Islamic Front announces that the war has begun. Our response to the barbaric bombardment against Muslims of Afghanistan and Sudan will be ruthless and violent. All the Islamic world has mobilised to strike a prominent American or Israeli strategic objective, to blow up their airplanes and to seize them."

The war would continue, the statement said, "until the last American soldier has left Saudi Arabia and the Gulf and when the [UN-imposed] embargo against Iraq is over".

Three days later a bomb was thrown into an American-franchised restaurant in Cape Town, killing two people and injuring 25. Press reports out of South Africa said local Shi'ite Muslim extremists with links to international terrorist organisations were behind the blast. One newspaper quoted "reliable sources" as saying the bombing was part of a jihad against America and was carried out in retaliation for the US strikes.

Back in the Middle East, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder of the militant Islamic group Hamas on August 26 threatened attacks against Israel in retaliation for the US strikes: "Our reaction will be against Israel in our Palestine because by attacking Israel we are harming America," Yassin told a rally in Gaza in support of bin Laden.

The next day a bomb exploded in a Tel Aviv garbage can wounding 21 Israelis, including two children. Neither Hamas nor any other group claimed responsibility.

Across the Atlantic, extra police patrols, along with bomb-sniffing dogs and concrete barriers were deployed in New York as security was tightened following the arrival for trial of two suspects in the East African embassy bombings.

Speaking to Clinton shortly after the US strike, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed his support for the American strike. "Israel understands [your] fight as its own fight against international terror," he told the president.

Addressing the Israeli people by radio, Netanyahu said there was always a fear of Islamic-led revenge attacks against actions like that conducted by the US.

"It is true, that when a government, including a government of a superpower like the US, initiates action against terror—even if in this case it is a response to a murderous act—it can expect an exchange of blows or a strike back.

Netanyahu said that while this risk had to be taken into account, "it can in no way prevent action or else the terrorists would always win and will always hit us, free societies. And if we never hit back, it is a certain recipe not for a temporary escalation of terror, but its increase to unbearable proportions."


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