ONE of al-Qaeda’s top officials has ordered the killing of Muslim leaders if they co-operate with intelligence services and the police to thwart terrorist attacks.
In a message to the followers of Osama bin Laden around the world, Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin, the new leader of the terror network in Saudi Arabia, listed Muslim clerics "who co-operate with the enemy" as one of the top two targets for future attacks.
The warning of attacks on clerics came just three days after the Muslim Council of Britain decided to write to every mosque in the country urging them to help police fight terrorism and to be alert for possible illegal activities, a message welcomed by Tony Blair.
Yesterday, the council, which speaks for the moderate majority of British Muslims, said it would not be intimidated by the threats. Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the Muslim Council, said: "Unfortunately, al-Qaeda knows nothing better than the language of death and destruction and Islam is about mercy."
Targets identified include religious, political and economic leaders. British citizens are given high priority on the list of human targets.
Al-Muqrin is one of a new generation of al-Qaeda leaders who emerged to fill the gaps left by those captured or killed in operations against bin Laden’s organisation after 11 September.
In the English translation of the message, al-Muqrin urges operatives to choose targets carefully: "Targets inside the cities are considered a sort of military diplomacy. Normally, this kind of diplomacy is written with blood and decorated with body parts and the smell of guns. It carries a political meaning that relates to the nature of the faith’s struggle."
He lists targets inside the cities in order, starting with faith. The prime target, he says, should be missionaries in Islamic countries who try to convert Muslims to Christianity. Last month, four American missionaries were killed in Mosul, Iraq.
The second target - covert intelligence operations - will be of more concern to those within the Muslim community in Britain who have embraced the call by the Muslim Council of Britain to help the police fight al-Qaeda. Al-Muqrin, thought to have been behind two suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia last year, in which 53 people were killed, identifies them as "any Muslim religious scholar who co-operates with the enemy".
He writes: "Targeting those is glorified and makes them as symbols for God’s anger."
Al-Muqrin, who is on Saudi Arabia’s most wanted list, urges followers to concentrate attacks on Jews, then Christians, identifying Americans as the most important nationality, followed by Britons and Spaniards. The document appears to have been written after the Madrid bombings of 11 March, and the effect of that on the Spanish public appears to have provided encouragement to him.
But Mr Bunglawala reiterated the call to support the security services: "If anyone has any information pertaining to a possible terrorist threat, information should be given to police because Islam lays great premium on saving innocent lives.
"The verse of the Koran involved in the letter says if you save one life, it is as if you have saved the life of all mankind, so our letter was an Islamic imperative. Unfortunately, al-Qaeda knows nothing better than the language of death and destruction and Islam is about mercy.
"Because of some of the atrocities [al-Qaeda] have perpetrated ... they have already lost a lot of support in the Muslim world, they are not seen as an answer for anything, they are seen as a group that only knows how to destroy."
The imam at London’s largest mosque yesterday joined the appeal against terrorism, telling Muslims that attacks on innocent civilians are forbidden by Islam.