Yemen Post Interviews Dr. Nasser Awlaqi, Father of Sheikh Anwar Awlaqi; Talking about his Son’s Links to Al-Qaeda and the Country's Political Crisis
"My message to the American people is please understand who is Anwar Awlaqi before your government does something to harm him. Why does the government of America want to kill my son? If he did anything wrong they should put him on trial; even in an absentee trail."
Interviewed exclusively by Yemen Post Editor in Chief, Hakim Almasmari
Dr. Naseer, you are a member of the opposition National Dialogue Committee. How do you see the successes of this committee today?
First, I would like to emphasize that I belong politically to General People Congress (GPC) ruling party, and have been so since 1982; and I was a member of the general committee, which is made up with 30 people headed by President Ali Abdullah Saleh. But friends in the opposition Joint Meeting Parties, many of them who I know like Dr. Abdul Wahab Mahmoud asked me to join this dialogue committee because of my credentials as an academic and an economist. I joined them because many members of the ruling party are really corrupt, and I am trying to improve things within my party so I decided to join the dialogue committee
But the National Dialogue Committee also deals with the opposition members outside Yemen, like the Ali Salem Al-Biedh. What is your comment on that?
I don’t think that the dialogue committee actually had any contact with Mr. Ali Salem Al-Beidh, and if that is happening I myself don’t agree with that. But I think its alright for the committee to deal with people like Ali Naseer Mohammed and also Mr. Haider A l-Atass, who were prime ministers. I would classify them as real Yemeni nationalists who were very good prime ministers; and so I think it is ok for the dialogue committee to contact these people.
During your long political and academic career, you were the Dean of Ibb University, you were the Minister of Agriculture and also the advisor of the president, currently how do you see your relations with the ruling party?
I have a very good relationship with President Saleh. I have known him for the last thirty years. He appointed me as Minister of Agriculture in 1988 and then I worked under him in our party for many years. I don’t think I have any problem with the ruling party, but some members of the ruling party are corrupt and narrow minded. They want everything; they want the ruling party to rule Yemen by itself. These kind of people I have problems with. I still think that the president has the power to solve the problems in Yemen; on condition that he opens himself to all political parties, whether inside the country or outside.
Being from the south, what is your comment on the southern movement that is happening today?
I am from the south. I went in 1966 to study in America. At that time, the south was under the British administration. When I decided to leave America, I decided to go to North Yemen because I didn’t want to go to the socialist south. To think about the separation of Yemen, is catastrophic for the country, the region, and the world. I am hoping that my brothers in the south will think again about the separation of Yemen.
Being a member of one of the biggest tribes in Shabwa, do really you believe that there is a link between Al-Qaeda and the Southern movement?
I hear in the news that there are links between Al-Qaeda and the southern movement, but I know that this is not true. Southern movement is a different movement from Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda wants to establish an Islamic union internationally, so how can they have cooperation with people like southerners who want to separate from North Yemen.
Argriculturally, we have not seen a law that forbids Qat from being planted in Yemen; even though we have massive water crises. Why?
After the unification of Yemen, we thought that Yemen will look into its own problems and make priorities to face its economic, social and political problems. But unfortunately because of the disagreements between parties, we spend a lot of time arguing and we could not solve the priorities which face Yemen. I would say water and Qat are among the biggest problems facing Yemen. Qat plantation now is at the expense of our precious water, which we need for drinking and for agricultural purposes to grow fruits and cereals and other agricultural products. But now most of the underground water goes for Qat plantation.
Is there a solution now for the Qat and water problems?
For water I think there are solutions, if there is good management. For example, if we limit the production of Qat in some areas of Yemen, then we can solve some part of the crises. We need money in order to get water for Sana’a. An investment like that will cost atleast 2 to 3 billion dollars. We don’t have the money but we hope we can get this money from our neighbors in the Gulf, the World Bank or other donors.
Apart from the National Dialogue Committee, who are the personalities you think could be the reason for saving the country from failure and could help in negotiations between all parties?
Well, as I mentioned that President Saleh still has the political power; and should preside over the National Conference for all Yemenis. I will not name people from the opposition because there are many from the Joint Meeting Parties. Other independents and good members in the ruling party who can participate to save the country are the following:
-Mr. Abdul Aziz Abdul Ghani,
-Ali Abdullah Al-Salal,
-Dr. Hussain Al-Amri,
-Ali Lutf Al-Thour,
-Abdul Hammid Al-Hadee,
-Abd al-Karim al-Iryani
-Abu Bakr al-Qirbi
-Sheikh Ali Mohammed Saeed
-Mohammed Abdo Saeed
-Abdul-Jabbar Hael Saeed
-Ahmed Salem Chamakh
- Abu Bakr Salem Chamakh
- Ali Ahmed Al-Salami
- Mohsen Ali Yasser
-Sheikh Saleh Farid Aulaqi
- Ali Mohammed Assadi (jailed in Aden)
- Abdul Rahman Jafri
- Muhsin Muhammad ibn Fareed
- Abdel-Qader Ba-Jammal
-and Abdul Qader Hilal, who is from the brilliant personalities in Yemen.
And from outside the country:
Mr. Al-Atas and Mr Ali Naseer Mohammed.
Academic should also participate in the dialogue.
For example, there very good academics like Dr. Abdul Aziz Al-Maqaleh. He is respected by all Yemenis. We should listen to people like that.
In the attacks last month in Abyan and Shabwa against Al-Qaeda, government officials said they were trying to attack Anwar Awlaqi, your son. Is he really an Al-Qaeda leader?My son Anwar has been attacked in the local, Arab and international media in America, Britain and other parts of the world. They are claiming that he has links to Al-Qaeda. This is completely untrue. And I will give you the reason why. My son is an engineer and an educationist. He studied in the best universities in the United States. But he is also a good Muslim. He published many books about Islam to teach young Muslims in English. His books are sold everywhere. Five million preaching tapes of Anwar Awlaqi have been sold in the west. These accuations against him are because they are jealous of him in the west, especially the governments of America and Britain. They don’t want the word of Islam to spread and now they are claiming that my son is a member of Al-Qaeda. They want to imprison him or to keep him quiet because he has a positive impact on Muslims who speak English all over the world. Many Muslims used to use drugs and alcohol until they heard his lectures. Now they claim that he has something to do with Major Nidal, or with this Nigerian to tried to bomb a U.S. airliner.
Did he meet the Nigerian bomber?
No, this is the claim by Dr. Rashad Al-Alimi, the Deputy Prime Minister, and this is nonsense. This is a lie and you know why? Because Mr. Al-Alimi said that my son was meeting with Al-Qaeda, and was killed. My son is alive and I hope God will keep him alive.
He is not from Al-Qaeda?
No, I want Dr. Al-Alimi to prove to me that my son is a member of Al-Qaeda. He now probably has some Al-Qaeda members protecting him because they are from the same tribe, and not because he is an Al-Qaeda member. My son’s great grandfather was the Sheikh of Al-Awlaqi tribe, this tribe is helping him because they are Awlaqies.
What do you want the American people to understand about your son?
My letter to the American people is that Anwar Awlaqi is an American who was born in their country. He studied in America he has been a good person his whole life. He harms nobody. He became an Imam in three mosques in America; and he is a good American and a good Muslim. My message to them is please understand who is Anwar Awlaqi before your government does something to harm him. Why does the government of America want to kill my son? If he did anything wrong they should put him on trial; even in an absentee trail. But he did nothing that is why they are not doing that. The FBI investigated my son for two days when he was in prison in Yemen. They found nothing against him. That is why he was released by the government of Yemen. The media doesn’t talk about his story with the FBI, they found nothing against him, nothing, nothing!
President Saleh opened the doors of negotiations with Al-Qaeda last week, what is your comment on that?
President Saleh wants to solve the problem of Al-Qaeda in Yemen internally; he doesn’t want any interference. He was able over last 32 years to solve most of the problems in Yemen, and I think he has the power and the ability to solve the problem of Al-Qaeda in Yemen. I think he can have dialogue with Al-Qaeda and reach a solution with them. He can solve the problems in one condition, no involvement of foreign forces. Because today I heard in the news one of the Salafi leaders saying “if the Americans interfere in Yemen we will fight with Al-Qaeda against the Americans’’.
Do you believe that Anwar is extreme?
This is really a joke. Anwar’s work is famous, his lectures and tapes are well-known. They are sold everywhere in the world. Three days ago on CNN, their correspondent in London went to a bookshop in London and found them selling the tapes of Anwar Alwlaqi. They are selling them everywhere, they are not extreme tapes, they are mainstream Islam. If you look at his work in general over the last twelve years, you will find that Anwar is a moderate Muslim. He believes in the principals of Islam. He is not an extremist. They are cornering him and that’s a problem for him. He used to lecture in America, he used to be free.
Is he hiding in the mountains of Shabwa?
Yes, and he is protected by ‘’Allah’’ and by the mountains of Yemen in Shabwa. You know Kor Al-Awaliq? You don’t know Kor Al-Awaliq. Kor Al-Awaliq is a large area and it protected the people of Awlaq over centuries. Hopefully it will protect Anwar Awlaqi, where his ancestors have lived.
If you had a chance to talk to your son what would you tell him?
Well, I will say Anwar you have been always serving Islam, as an Imam and a lecturer in America, as a publisher of tapes about Islam and about prophets. You have been doing a tremendous job in your field, you have a lot of followers all over the world. So keep on with your message, the same message of moderation. The same message which tells people how to be good Muslims and nothing else. This is who you are, and you have always been a good, moderate, and effective Muslim. Look at yourself today, you are very popular among young Muslims who speak English. So Anwar, serve Islam because now you are a good Muslim who is serving Islam and may Allah save you.