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memri
September 9, 2005 No.
984

An Al-Qaeda Love Story: From Morocco to Bosnia to Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, Via New Jersey

On June 17, 2005, the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat published an interview with Fatihah Mohammed Al-Taher Hosni, the wife of Moroccan Al-Qaeda member Abdel Karim Al-Tuhami Al-Majati, who was responsible for the May 2003 bombings in Riyadh and was killed last April by Saudi security forces. Fatiha herself was arrested along with one of her sons in an eye clinic in Saudi Arabia in March 2003.[1]

In the interview, Fatiha, also a Moroccan, revealed how she influenced her husband to become a Jihad fighter and how they came to Al-Qaeda. She related how they attended Jihad conferences in Europe, after which her husband went to wage Jihad in Bosnia. She and their children joined her husband, who became known as a "master of disguise," on some of his travels between Morocco, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Iran – from where, she said, crossing the border into Afghanistan was "the most beautiful day of my life." It was there, she said, that they were "overjoyed" to hear about 9/11. She also related how she arranged her husband's marriage to another woman – rumored to be an American - "because my husband had the religious right to have four wives."

The following is the interview in full, in the original English translation:[2]

The Fight to Wear the Veil in Morocco

Q: "When did you first meet your husband?"

A: "I met my husband in 1990-91, when I was working as assistant manager at an institute for management studies. I had good relations with all the students. I consider myself a child of the first Gulf War, and was deeply affected by the bombing of Iraq after it invaded Kuwait. I felt that innocent Iraqis were paying the price. When the Amiriyyah shelter was bombed, and hundreds women and children killed, I couldn't help but think of the victims.

"Before becoming religious, I believed in the principles of democracy in its Western model, and in principles such as human rights, equality, and justice. I later realized that these were attractive slogans used to delude the public. The human suffering during the Gulf War made me aware of my Arab identity and awoke my religious feelings; I realized that belonging to Islam should go beyond the level of words. Prior to that, my Western upbringing meant I was constantly torn between my identity as a Muslim and the culture of the West."

Q: "How do you characterize your relationship with your husband, Karim Al-Majati, when he was studying engineering at the institute in Casablanca?"

A: "It was very casual at first, because I was seven years older than him. After a period when I wore the veil only during Friday prayers, I decided to wear it permanently. Before, I used to feel like I was shedding part of my skin every time I removed it. Without attending any religious classes, I decided, one day, to start covering myself.

"I didn't think that the manager I worked with would object to me wearing the veil, since my work was based on my competence and not on my physical appearance, and I was no fashion model or singer. The French manager, however, wasn't supportive. I also had to fight with the owners of the institute. In 1991, the veil wasn't very common in Morocco, because the Islamic revival started late in that country. The management employed various tactics and threats to make me remove my veil. The students even wrote a letter of support asking the administration to keep me in my job, as the veil had no effect on my work."

Q: "What was your husband's position on this issue?"

A: "Like the rest of the student body, he was supportive. But when the students were on vacation, Al-Majati stood by me and offered me his support when I needed it most. I was taken to the police station and pressured to resign. I refused and asked them to fire me and give me my entitlements for unfair dismissal. I believe the management wanted to make an example out of my case to discourage other women at the institute from wearing the veil. I remember that when I started to wear the veil permanently, on July 8, 1991, I had been working at the institute for a year.

"I married Al-Majati on September 25, 1991. All the events I've told you about so far took place in within a year. I believe it was God's will that I brought Al-Majati back to Islam, because before the veil issue, both of us were Muslims in name but not in practice."

Q: "What did you first think when you met your husband?"

A: "I thought he was a tall, handsome, young man with Western features. He was a role model for the European-oriented youths who dreamed of becoming an actor or a filmmaker. At the time, we were both Westernized, similar to other young non-religious Moroccans who aspired to get a good job and live abroad. For both my husband and I, our connection to God and Islam was almost non-existent.

"It wasn't until my confrontation with the institute after I decided to wear the veil that Al-Majati was introduced to religion. He asked me once, 'Why did you put yourself through so much trouble?' I answered that it wasn't me who created the problem, and added, 'This is a divine command which, as a Muslim, I should not disobey.'"

"Al-Majati didn't speak Arabic very well. When I quoted verses about the veil from the [Koran] verses Al-Nur and Al-Ahzab, he couldn't understand them. I then bought him a book as a gift, titled 'The Translation of Quranic Meanings,' and he became convinced after reading the verses and their translations. Two days later, I saw him again and was surprised to see that his thinking had radically changed. He had read the book and was touched by the word of God. I believe this was instinctive love, as God himself had planted it in his heart.

"I was spending my days at home after quitting my job, and stopped seeing Al-Majati. Then, one day, suddenly, I received a phone call from a friend who told me that he had spoken to her and told her about his wish to marry me. I looked to God for guidance and we were married soon after.

"Let me clarify at this point that during my year at the Institute, I was no ordinary secretary, as many in the media have said, in attempts to ruin my reputation.

"In fact, I had my own assistant. I was appointed after receiving a law degree, in 1985, graduating at the top of my class. My monthly salary was slightly over $US1000."

Q: "How did Al Majati act after your marriage?"

A: "We only knew each other briefly before we married, unlike others who have long illegitimate relations for years. It was as if my purpose at the institute was to meet my husband and marry him. After our wedding, Al-Majati quit his studies and introduced me to jihad. Beforehand, I had believed Islam was only about prayer and fasting."

My Husband Discovered Jihad at an Islamic Conference in Paris

Q: "When did your husband discover jihad?"

A: "Towards the end of 1991, we traveled to Paris for a month to attend an Islamic conference where representatives from various organizations, including Hamas and the Mujahideen from Afghanistan, had gathered. There were also members of the Al-Yarmouk team for Palestinian songs. We found the atmosphere amazing. It also became evident to us that Islam was not just a religion for Arabs.

"This was at the time of the war on Bosnia, which affected my husband a lot. Together, we watched a video on the genocide in the Balkans, which moved us and increased our revolutionary fervor. Until then I hadn't known that jihad was an obligation for male Muslims.

"My husband went back to France to sell some traditional Moroccan crafts. On his return, he made clear his intention of traveling to Bosnia to fight. At first, I totally dismissed the idea. But after listening to a tape by Sheikh Sa'ad Al Buraik, I changed my opinion. I realized that in Morocco, women had many more advantages than in Europe, where people pretend to care for human rights and where women were being raped as part of a wider war against Islam."

Italy, Germany, Bosnia, and Spain

Q: "Who were the sheiks who influenced Al-Majati at that time?"

A: "In the beginning, my husband's interest in jihad was based on his feelings. When he saw Muslims being killed in Bosnia, he decided to fight on their behalf, without having received any military training. I couldn't stop him, especially after seeing footage from the Balkans. I agreed to let him go and didn't expect him to return. However, he did return and asked me to accompany him on his next trip.

"I obtained a visa to Italy, but the German authorities didn't allow me into their country. My husband tried to enter Bosnia once more, but was sent back because the borders were shut. We went back to Morocco and he was very disappointed.

"One day, when I was pregnant with my second son Adam, my husband disappeared. After some time, I learned that he had been arrested in Croatia, on the border with Bosnia. Despite his European looks, the authorities knew immediately that he was an Arab on jihad. He was held captive and tortured for a month."

Q: "Did your husband meet any Afghan Mujahideen while in Bosnia?"

A: "No. The country was teeming with European Muslims, especially from Germany and Italy. My husband spent time in prison with a British Muslim, whom he asked to contact the French embassy. Eventually, the French did intervene and he was released.

"He returned to Morocco and was bitterly disappointed. He said he was banned from returning to Bosnia for five years. After this experience, Al-Majati traveled to Afghanistan."

Q: "When did he first visit Afghanistan?"

A: "In the beginning of 1994, my husband left for Mecca on pilgrimage. From there, he traveled to Afghanistan, where he received military training at the Khalden Camp. He contracted malaria and returned home very skinny. He spent some time in hospital in Casablanca and continued to suffer from fever after he was discharged."

An Invitation to the U.S.

Q: "Did his parents know he was in Afghanistan?"

A: "No, his family was unaware that he was traveling for jihad. His father didn't even know we were married at first. There was no way I could tell him that his son was engaged in jihad in Afghanistan. He became suspicious after Al-Majati returned looking very ill, and he wouldn't believe that his son became ill in Saudi Arabia as 'it is a clean country.' I was then suffering from cancer and my husband had to stay by my side. Afterwards, he accepted an invitation to visit the U.S., and kept in touch for some time, until we heard nothing."

Q: "Where did he stay when in the U.S.?"

A: "He was in New Jersey but then he left for Afghanistan."

Q: "What year did that happen?"

A: "I'm very bad with dates; I think it was around 1997. He returned home asking me to accompany him. But I was bedridden with pneumonia. When he visited me and the children, I always felt he was preoccupied with something else. The last time he came back, he asked me to follow him to Afghanistan. We left Morocco for good on July 17, 2001, not wanting to return."

Q: "Which countries did you visit on your way to Afghanistan?"

A: "First, we went to Sebta in Spain, where we stayed for two weeks, awaiting a visa to Iran. We were meant to fly to Iran via Italy, but were unable to do so. Instead, we boarded a plane from Frankfurt, the next day. We spent a day in Tehran and then crossed the border into Afghanistan on a Friday.

"It was the most beautiful day of my life. The first thing we saw in the horizon was a mosque with a blue dome and a banner reading 'There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Messenger.' The Afghans we first met immediately knew we were Arabs and made us feel welcome."

Q: "Do you mean people from the Pashtun tribe (an ethno-linguistic group of people, mainly in eastern and southern Afghanistan)?"

A: "Yes, since most of the Taliban are Pashtun. They gave my husband and children tea and sweets. The ruler of the border town wrote us a letter of recommendation to the governor of Heart [sic], where we were headed."

Q: "Did your husband already know them?"

A: "No, he usually entered Afghanistan from the border with Pakistan."

An Attempt to Meet Osama bin Laden

Q: "Where did you go after visiting Heart [sic]?"

A: "We were meant to go to Kabul but my husband decided to go to Kandahar, instead, to pay Osama bin Laden a visit. When we arrived in the city, he'd already left for the capital. This was a few days before the events of September 11. In total, we spent about forty days in Kandahar."

Q: "I presume you were the hosts of Al-Qaeda?"

A: "No, my husband wasn't a member of the organization at the time."

Q: "When did his involvement with Al-Qaeda begin, then?"

A: "To be honest, it was only after the U.S. bombings of Afghanistan that we established contact with Al-Qaeda. We were settled in Kabul, and everyone knows Al-Qaeda's headquarters were in Kandahar. Al-Majati didn't want to become involved with any group yet. His plan was for us to stay in Kabul for a year and then move to Kandahar, but the war disrupted everything."

We Were Overjoyed At 9/11

Q: "How did your husband react to the attacks of September 11?"

A: "We received orders to gather our belongings and leave the city, a few days before the attacks. When Northern Alliance Commander Ahmad Shah Masud was killed, we thought that was the reason behind these instructions. On September 11, I received the news in the afternoon, local Kabul time. Women and children were hurried into trucks, and we all left the city. That same night, the airport in the capital was bombed. We then moved to the nearby Lugar region, where life was difficult because of the lack of food and water and the excessive heat. Afterwards, we went to Halmund, close to Kandahar, and after the war started we left the country altogether."

Q: "How did your husband feel when he heard of the attacks on September 11?"

A: "To be totally honest, we were overjoyed."

Q: "Did your husband know that Al-Qaeda was behind these attacks?"

A: "When the planes were hijacked, my husband had no relationship with Al-Qaeda. I am sure the operation must have been meticulously planned and kept secret. An attack on this scale would be impossible to carry out if it became common knowledge. This is also the case with the bombings in Casablanca on May 26, 2003. It's impossible for hundreds of people to know about it because it has to remain a secret.

"When an attack on Afghanistan became imminent, my husband decided to go to Kabul, and the children and I left for Kandahar. He soon joined us, and we joined other families as part of Al-Qaeda. When U.S. bombs started to fall, my husband started his jihad mission."

Q: "Intelligence reports indicate your husband was taught how to make explosives and booby traps. According to you, Al Mataji only joined Al-Qaeda in 2001. Who else trained him then?"

A: "The term Al-Qaeda wasn't used when my husband first went to Afghanistan in 1994, during the civil war. The organization only became important after the bombing of the USS Cole destroyer in Yemen in 2000."

Q: "What happened to you after leaving Afghanistan?"

A: "We traveled to Bangladesh, thinking it would be a temporary move. We had initially planned on escaping from Afghanistan through Turkey, but it wasn't to be. We stayed in Bangladesh for ten months, after my husband's passport was confiscated by the French Embassy."

Q: "Why did that happen?"

A: "I obtained a one-year French visa from the embassy in Bangladesh. Our passports were confiscated as we were buying our tickets. I believe they realized we'd detached a fake Pakistani visa from our passports, and became suspicious."

Q: "What did you do in Bangladesh?"

A: "The people were very kindhearted and welcoming. But we stood out; my husband is almost two meters tall and has fair skin, while the locals are mostly short and dark-skinned. We rented an apartment in Dhaka and hid, until we left for Riyadh."

Saudi Arabia and How My Husband Made the Saudi Most Wanted List

Q: "How did you enter Saudi Arabia?"

A: "We used fake passports. Since the events of September 11, the U.S. had been waging a global war on the people of Afghanistan and the Arab world. Our life in the Saudi capital was hard. We were warned, by a friend of my husband whom I didn't know, of the dangers and the numerous checkpoints dotted around the city. He told us it would be impossible to go on the pilgrimage and that all the Mujahideen fighters in Saudi Arabia were subjected to intimidation, but none had resorted to violence.

"On March 23, 2003, I was arrested while visiting an eye clinic with my son Ilyas, before any bombings had occurred. I believe that the violence that followed is, in part, a response to the constant surveillance and harassment by the authorities. Certainly after Al-Qaeda received the news of my arrest, it wouldn't have stood still."

Q: "Does this mean that your arrest by the Saudi authorities was one of the reasons for the Riyadh bombings?"

A: "After my arrest, my ties with my husband and with my other son were
completely severed. Anybody who is on the run and who at the same time has his wife and son unjustly taken from him will have some kind of negative reaction. I'm sure that one of the perpetrators of the Riyadh bombings did not intend to execute the operation."

Q: "How [are you sure]?"

A: "Because he had stayed at our home, and my husband had asked me to help him find a wife. When I asked my husband how could I find him a wife when he might be involved in an operation, my husband answered that there were no plans for him to be involved in any operation, and that he was not involved in any specific programs. So when I heard that he was involved in the Riyadh bombings I was very surprised."

Q: "Who is this man?"

A: "He was Khaled Al-Jehni, the man heading the list of the 26 most wanted.
When I was arrested, the Saudi authorities did not know back then that Al-Majati was on Saudi soil, and thought that Khaled would be with me."

Q: "After the Riyadh bombings, Morocco went through its own bombings in Casablanca. Your husband was accused of planning these operations and the Moroccan authorities issued a search warrant for him. Among what was said was that he was working with Youssef Fekri's group who were re-tried after the terrorist attacks. Did you know that your husband had trained any Militant elements?"

A: "First of all, when the Casablanca bombings took place, I was detained, and they only brought me Al-Sharq Al-Awsat in my cell, so my information was limited. I heard back then many things said about my husband, including his responsibility for the Riyadh, Casablanca, and Madrid explosions. These are very strange allegations, since my husband died in the land of the two Holy Mosques [Saudi Arabia]. Even if I was not his wife, I would use common sense: How could a man almost two meters tall disguise himself as a woman? How could he easily get out of Saudi [Arabia], enter Morocco to carry out the Casablanca bombings, then go off to Madrid to carry out the explosions there, and then return to Saudi [Arabia]?"

Q: "But what is known about your husband is that he was a master of disguise and was fluent in several languages."

A: "Disguise is easier for women. The most my husband could have done was change his eye color. However, this was not the case with my husband. How could someone on the run from most intelligence agencies safely carry out all these operations?"

Meeting Abu Hafs

Q: "Was your husband attending the religious lectures of Abu Huzaifah (the sheikh of North African Afghans) and Abdel Wahab Al Rafiqi (known as Abu Hafs)? Is it true that he argued with them about the nature of jihad, because he saw jihad as an obligation against local regimes while they focused on open form jihad?"

A: "Practically speaking, my husband is not a complicated man, as he did not attend university. He did attend regular classes in Islamic law, and even had difficulties in spoken Arabic. I do not think he argued with any of those imams. Sheikh Abu Huzaifah did not, according to my knowledge, give public lectures.

"I would like to clarify one thing: Since my husband decided to take us with him to Afghanistan, this probably meant he had not planned anything in Morocco. Besides, he went in and out of Morocco freely, and was only stopped once, when they found a Pakistani visa in his passport and one of Sheikh Abdullah Azzam's books."

Q: "Was this before September 11?"

A: "Yes, of course. In fact, my husband never returned to Morocco after July 2001."

Q: "Who were the Sheikhs that left an impact on Al-Majati?"

A: "Mostly Sa'ad Al Boraiek and Abdullah Azzam, who opened new horizons for the issue of jihad. These horizons are necessary to fight Bush and Sharon, whose only strategy is war."

Q: "Does this mean that Muhammad Al-Maqdisi did not influence him?"

A: "Occasionally we downloaded some of his texts from the Internet. However, my husband did not read these texts, as his perception of jihad was more spontaneous."

Q: "However, these Sheikhs have an ability to influence others; for example, Muhammad Al-Maqdisi influenced Abu Mussa'ab Al Zarqawi. It was also said that your husband was close to Zarqawi."

A: "Jihad is not a local issue, because there were many nationalities in Afghanistan and because we are all one Nation (Ummah). As far as I know, my husband did not have any ties with Al-Zarqawi. When I left him in Saudi Arabia, I was surprised that he did not go to fight in Iraq, as he had always wished to fight the Americans in war."

Q: "Was Al-Majati of the founders of the Moroccan Jihadist Islamic Group in Afghanistan in the late 90s?"

A: "No, my husband has nothing to do with this group or any other. He only belongs to Al-Qaeda."

Q: "Right after the Madrid bombings, Al-Majati's name was widely circulated as the mastermind behind these operations. What do you know about these operations?"

A: "I have been apart from my husband since March 23, 2003. International intelligence knew that I had no connection with him since then, because I am constantly watched. My husband was accused of everything – Saudi [Arabia], Morocco, Madrid, September 11, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, you name it. Was he behind all these bombings? This is an exaggeration and [it is] a global policy to attach the terrorism label to everyone. If I was told that my husband killed Americans, I'd say, yes he did, but he never killed any Muslims."

Q: "What was your husband's position on the Madrid bombings?"

A: "Al-Qaeda now operates in separate groups. Those in Spain operate only there, those in Turkey only there etc. When I learnt of my husband's death in Al-Ras, I was not surprised, as I had left him in Saudi [Arabia]. When his house was attacked, he had one of two options: to surrender or to die. He chose the latter. The belief that my husband took part in all these operations is evidence of the impotence of international intelligence. Khaled Al-Jehni was put on the wanted list because he appeared on a videotape kissing a rifle, even though
he neither killed anyone nor blew up anything."

An American Wife in Britain?

Q: "What is the story about your husband's American wife?"

A: "Al-Majati was not married to an American woman. I had not wished to speak about this topic, but the death of my husband and son have made me break my silence. However, Al-Majati had a second wife from Morocco, and she is a friend of mine, since I arranged this marriage."

Q: "Why?"

A: "Because my husband had the religious right to have four wives. Also, during the time we were in Afghanistan, I spoke with him about polygamy several times but he always avoided the subject. His second wife is called Fatihah Al Hawshy, and she has Belgian citizenship. Since Al-Majati was killed, I have maintained good relations with her."

Q: "Where does she live now?"

A: "In Britain."

Endnotes:

[1] For a related article on the family lives of terrorists, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 935, July 15, 2005, "Terrorists Mistreat Their Wives and Children," Saudi Columnist: Terrorists Mistreat Their Wives and Children

[2] http://www.asharqalawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=3&id=460 (headings added by MEMRI). For a different account of Fatihah Muhammad Al-Taher Hosni's story, see http://aawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=2&id=538.