Islamic Jihad rules out retaliation against U.S.Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 22, 2003
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- The militant Islamic Jihad said Friday it will not attack American targets to retaliate for the U.S. arrest of four alleged members and the indictment of four others on terrorism-related charges.
Abdallah Shami, the Gaza leader of the Palestinian group, condemned the arrests but said Islamic Jihad will continue to focus on its fight against Israel.
"We are not going to open any new fronts," Shami said.
A 50-count indictment was unsealed Thursday in Washington against eight alleged members of Islamic Jihad, including computer engineering professor Sami Al-Arian, the alleged U.S. leader of the group who is on paid leave from the University of South Florida.
Four of the eight, including Al-Arian, were arrested in the United States. Four others are abroad, including Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shallah, who is in Damascus, and Abd Al Aziz Awda, 52, a founder of the group, who lives in the Gaza town of Beit Lahia.
Shami said Awda left the group a decade ago after falling out with other members, and that he has withdrawn from public life. Awda is a member of the Palestine National Council, the Palestinians' parliament-in-exile, and in 1997 voted in favor of revoking sections of the PLO founding charter that call for Israel's destruction.
Another Islamic Jihad leader, Khaled Batsh, said that of the eight men indicted, all except Shallah "either left the movement or the movement froze their membership more than 10 years ago."
The man the indictment accuses of being the British leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Bashir Nafi, lives near Oxford, England, and is a part-time lecturer in Islamic Studies at Birkbeck College in London.
He told the Daily Telegraph the charges were "absurd" and "fabricated."
"I am shocked, upset and am trying to take it all in. It is just the worst situation for me and my family," said Nafi, who has three children with his Irish wife.
He told the Telegraph he supported Palestinian national rights but denied having any dealings with Islamic Jihad or any other political organization.
The Telegraph reported that the Home Office, Brtiain's rough equivalent of the U.S. Justice Department, said it had not received a request from the United States to extradite Nafi.
In Gaza City, Shami spoke to about 800 Islamic Jihad supporters. He dismissed the U.S. indictment as "a big lie" but not a provocation for attacking American interests.
"We raise our voice in protesting this American measure but our operations will continue against the Israeli occupation only," he said.
Ely Karmon, an Israeli counterterrorism expert, said he believed Shami. Karmon said Iran, which provides major funding for the group, would be unlikely to support attacks on U.S. targets.
-- Information from the Associated Press and Daily Telegraph was used in this report.
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