|Conflict will create 100 Bin
Ladens, warns Egyptian president |
Radical volunteers pouring into Iraq, claims Baghdad
Ian Black and Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Tuesday April 1, 2003
War on Iraq will create "100 Bin Ladens", the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, warned yesterday as hundreds of Arab volunteers streamed to Baghdad pledging "martyrdom operations" against US and British forces.
The remarks by the president, a friend of the west but an opponent of the drive to topple Saddam Hussein, underlined mounting alarm across the Middle East about the dangerously radicalising effect of the conflict.
With the Arab media highlighting claims from the Iraqi capital that thousands of men from more than 20 countries were prepared to die, the prospect of mass suicide attacks is emerging as a new ingredient in an already volatile mix.
"When it is over, if it is over, this war will have horrible consequences," Mr Mubarak told Egyptian soldiers in the city of Suez. "Instead of having one [Osama] bin Laden, we will have 100."
Iraq has boasted that the Arab volunteers will follow the example of Ali Hammadi al-Namani, the soldier identified by Baghdad as having killed four US soldiers in a suicide bombing near Najaf on Saturday.
Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, said yesterday that 5,000 Arabs had travelled to Iraq to fight.
"Most of them want to train on martyrdom attacks," he said.
The radical Palestinian group Islamic Jihad announced that it was sending several dozen "martyrdom volunteers" to Iraq, a day after claiming responsibility for an attack in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya. It called the atrocity, which injured 40, a "gift" to Iraq.
"Al-Quds Brigades affirms that it is one battle from Palestine to Baghdad against the Zionist-US invasion targeting the entire Arab and Islamic nation," the group said.
Israeli analysts said the threat had to be taken seriously. Roni Shaked, a military commentator, wrote in the Yediot Aharonot newspaper: "It is only a matter of time before the culture of suicide in Basra and Baghdad - exactly as in Gaza and Nablus - becomes an inseparable part of the war."
Palestinians from the occupied territories have refined suicide bombing as a tactic but the heavy Israeli military presence in most Palestinian cities means it is unlikely that many of those who have arrived in Baghdad came from the West Bank or Gaza Strip. An easier recruiting ground would be the Palestinian camps in Lebanon and Jordan.
Evidence that the phenomenon may be spreading came from Kuwait, where the government said an Egyptian electrician was the main suspect in an attack on Sunday, when a truck drove into a group of US soldiers in the emirate, injuring 15.
No precise figures are available about the number of foreign Arabs or Muslims seeking to fight in Iraq.
But 36 Lebanese, Palestinians and Egyptians left Beirut yesterday en route for Syria to take up arms in Iraq. Hundreds more have applied for visas. "We are going to fight the Americans, the British and the Zionists who want to take over our land - Arab and Muslim land," Nourredine al-Sayyed, a 24-year-old shopkeeper, told Reuters.
Last week Iraq's embassy in Algeria said more than 100 volunteers had offered to go into battle.
"This is a war for oil and Zionism. We want to help Iraqis, not Saddam," said Amr, a student volunteer from Cairo. "I know I might die. I don't want to kill people but I will if I have to, to protect people like those children with their heads missing."
Egypt and other Arab countries are likely to try to prevent volunteers leaving for Iraq out of fear they might become radicalised and return home to fight their own governments.
Saudi towns near the porous border with Iraq have already been declared off limits. In south Lebanon a commander of the Palestinian Fatah group denied he had sent suicide bombers to Iraq but said "hundreds of volunteers" had gone of their own accord.
What Islamic Jihad says about suicide attacks
"We say to all sons of jihad and supporters, to our nation, our people,
wherever they are, that whoever is able to march and reach Iraq, Baghdad,
Najaf and blow himself up in this American invasion ... this is the climax
of jihad and climax of martyrdom"
"The Islamic Jihad movement is interested in intensifying its attacks
... to make it clear ... that what is going on here in Palestine is the
same as what is happening in Iraq"
"Al-Quds Brigades brings to our people and nation the good news of the
arrival of its first martyrdom [attackers] to the heart of Baghdad"
"The cause of Iraq is an Arab and Muslim cause and we are a part of the
Arab and Muslim nation"
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