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Wednesday, 24 October, 2001, 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK
Saudi mufti bans killing non-Muslims
Bahrainis demonstrate in support of Saudi-born militant Osama Bin Laden
Many in the Gulf back Bin Laden
Frank Gardner

The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Shaikh, has issued a ruling banning the killing of non-Muslims in Islamic countries.

The senior Saudi cleric's words were carried on Wednesday by the government-controlled newspaper, Al Riyadh.

The statement follows a recent warning by Osama Bin Laden's organisation, al-Qaeda, for all Britons and Americans to leave the Arabian peninsula.

The latest ruling or fatwa to come from the government-appointed Grand Mufti is clearly aimed at dissuading attacks on Westerners.

Sheikh Abdulaziz said those who kill non-Muslims with whom Muslims have treaties will never see paradise.

The senior cleric added that people should not be punished for a mistake that others have committed - in other words, however angry some Saudis may feel about the US attacks on Afghanistan, they should not vent their anger on the estimated 60,000 Americans and Britons living in Saudi Arabia.

Uncertain import

Soothing words for Western expatriates perhaps, but Britain's leading Saudi dissident was quick to downplay the importance of the statement.

Saudi King Fahd
King Fahd's support of the US is unpopular
Dr Saad al-Faqih, who heads the London-based Movement for Islamic Reform, told the BBC that the Grand Mufti would have been ordered to say these words by the government.

Dr Faqih, who is in constant touch with other dissidents inside Saudi Arabia, said that government-appointed clerics like the Grand Mufti have lost almost all credibility in the eyes of the people.

The Saudi Government is acutely aware of the unpopularity of its close relationship with the United States.

Opposition to attacks

The country's ruling al-Sa'ud family have defied popular opinion both by continuing to allow US forces to be based on their soil and by quietly supporting America's campaign against terror.

There is mounting opposition in Saudi Arabia to America's attacks on Afghanistan.

According to the London-based Saudi dissident, Saudis have reacted to the Grand Mufti's call not to harm non-Muslims with a question of their own.

He said Saudi subscribers to internet chatrooms were now asking "What about a fatwa condemning the killing of Muslims in Afghanistan?".

See also:

16 Oct 01 | Middle East
Analysis: US-Saudi friction grows
14 Oct 01 | Middle East
Kuwait disowns Bin Laden aide
09 Oct 01 | Middle East
Bin Laden stirs up Arab world
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