Monday, June 1, 2009

Rather than wait for proof against bin Laden, some turn to wild conspiracy theories

By Mort Rosenblum, Associated Press October 3, 2001

QUETTA, Pakistan -- Deep in the rabbit-warren markets of old Quetta, Mohammed Yaqoob Gugger sits by his rack of plastic hair clips and reveals who was behind terror attacks in America. It was Al Gore and the Israelis.

Gugger's tortured reasoning, based on fragments he hears on the radio, goes like this:
American Jews were upset because their man, Gore, lost to the Christians' candidate, George W. Bush. With Gore's help, they enlisted Israeli Mossad agents to bring down the World Trade Center.

With every passing day, the rumors grow more fanatic and fantastic. No matter what evidence U.S. officials may eventually reveal to link Osama bin Laden to the Sept. 11 calamity, a radical fringe throughout the Muslim world is sure to reject it out of hand.

A broad range of sensible voices, however, plead for something public from Washington that would convince the waverers and bury the conspiracy theories.

NATO said Tuesday the United States had provided "clear and compelling" evidence of bin Laden's network being involved. But the Americans worry that public disclosure could jeopardize intelligence sources.

"We are as frightened of Muslim extremists as you are," Raja M. Afsar told an American visitor to the plush attorneys' lounge at the High Court of Balochistan, the Pakistani province on Afghanistan's southern border.

At 64, Afsar is among Pakistan's most respected lawyers, and he believes that after they see the proof, Muslims will rally massively behind Washington.

"The only point from which bin Laden and his lobby can possibly take benefit is that an innocent man is being victimized," Afsar said.

He said military action should be quick but carefully targeted, "Otherwise, on one hand you lament the taking of lives and on the other you are doing the same thing."

Tahir Mohammed Khan, 65, a writer who heads the provincial Human Rights Commission, nodded his agreement.

The Americans must explain their case against bin Laden and then speedily depose the Taliban; if they wait, he said, radicals might whip up more resistance and popular support.

Right now, Khan said, Muslim extremists are a minor threat magnified by TV camera lenses. Barely 5,000 gathered in Quetta on Tuesday to protest, despite strenuous efforts to truck in people from outlying areas.

Behind a stunning rose garden hidden by a mud wall, the Durrani brothers heap scorn on bin Laden and his Taliban protectors. They would like proof that bin Laden is guilty, but they already hate his cause.

The Durranis belong to a tribe that straddles Pakistan and Afghanistan and is widely reputed to be fair-minded, charitable and moderate. One of their clan ruled the Quetta region two centuries ago, before the British came.

Today, the brothers worry about fundamentalism. They accuse the Taliban and the Arab fighters they shelter of perverting the image of Islam by shedding innocent blood.
Abdul Qayyum Durrani, the elder brother at 61, fears the West will bomb Afghanistan, triggering worldwide reaction from extremists. "Millions of people are going to die because of one man," he said.

He blames a profusion of madrassahs, Islamic religious schools, for turning out young zealots with little practical education but prepared to believe anything their imams told them.
"Today, opening a madrassah is good business," he said. "The state gives you money, recognition. Then you can go all over the country and collect money."

The Durranis also insisted that speedy action was vital, otherwise people would start doubting American resolve and, more and more, fall victim to disinformation.

A tour of Quetta and its surroundings suggested they might be right.

In the hills near Quetta, four women in cotton shawls walked across a lake bed dried out by four years of drought. They were U.N. social workers returning from a village.

Unprompted, one sang out to an approaching foreigner: "I love bin Laden." The others agreed, each eager to explain how Israel had attacked the World Trade Center to discredit Muslims.
"We love Americans, but it is American policy we can't stand," said Saima Mahsood, 26. The others nodded enthusiastic agreement. Amna Khan, 28, ticked off what she called examples of American terrorism: Vietnam, bombing children in Iraq, supporting Israel in its war with the Palestinians.

All four said that if the evidence proved bin Laden guilty, they would turn against him. But their minds seemed made up already.

"Osama could not done such a thing," Saima Mahsood said. "He doesn't have that kind of technical ability. Israel did it. I saw it on TV."

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