‘Our goal is to eradicate the ideology that inspired the 9/11 attacks’

Dr. Mansour Al-Shammari, secretary-general of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (Etidal). (Supplied)
Dr. Mansour Al-Shammari, secretary-general of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (Etidal). (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 14 September 2021

‘Our goal is to eradicate the ideology that inspired the 9/11 attacks’

Dr. Mansour Al-Shammari, secretary-general of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (Etidal). (Supplied)
  • Dr. Mansour Al-Shammari, secretary-general of Etidal or the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, spoke to Arab News
  • He said Saudi Arabia is working sincerely to expose the ugly ideology used to justify the 9/11 terror attacks

JEDDAH:The perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks harmed Muslims worldwide through the perversion of their faith, Dr. Mansour Al-Shammari, secretary-general of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (Etidal), said.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News in Riyadh to mark the 20th anniversary of the attacks, Al-Shammari said that Saudi Arabia has acted decisively to combat and eradicate the ideology that inspired the deadly strikes.

“The many measures that resulted from the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. were an attempt to confront Al-Qaeda’s nihilism, horrific violence and distortion of religious texts,” Al-Shammari said.

Etidal, which translates as “moderation” in Arabic, was inaugurated by King Salman in May 2017, alongside then US President Donald Trump and other leaders who attended the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh.




Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (Etidal). (Supplied)

The organization aims to help people and governments to confront the common enemies of humanity, fight extremist ideology, spread tolerance and moderation, and promote opportunities for world peace.

“The significance of this year’s commemoration of the Sept. 11 attacks lies in the recognition of the futility of violence rooted in nihilism, and the fact that the courage required to stop it is greater and more noble than what is required to practice it. Curbing the misinterpretation of religious teachings and understanding religious texts in their proper context marks the beginning of true awareness,” Al-Shammari said.

Q. The 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks comes amid a new crisis in Afghanistan. How do you view the coincidence?

A. The events of Sept. 11 constituted a painful attack on the civilizational values of nearly 2 billion Muslims, as terrorists latched on to their sacred religious texts and used them opportunistically to justify a heinous crime that claimed the lives of thousands of innocent people, including Muslims.

The present age has witnessed other cases of extreme violence besides the 9/11 attacks. Terrorists usually do not have a strategy for victory because they do not fight to protect life. On the contrary, they fight against the protection of life, both among themselves and with others. That is why the perpetrators of terrorist attacks fade into irrelevance over time, having wasted their lives through acts of pointless violence.

Terrorist violence is thus different from the measured violence of wars, through which regular armies seek to claim tangible victories on the battlefield, usually based on a rational calculation of gains and losses.




Julie Sweeney Roth, whose husband Brian Sweeney died when United Airlines flight 175 hit the World Trade Center, attends the National 9/11 Memorial during the ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (AFP)

The violent misinterpretation of their religious texts by the terrorists created a distorted, negative image of Muslims that entered the public imagination, and thus amounted to a vicious attack on their faith.

The measures taken after the terrorist attacks are an attempt to confront two new phenomena: Nihilistic violence and perversion of faith. Afghanistan has become a victim of both the phenomena. The country has turned into a testbed for a hellish war machine that cannot end without a conclusive victory of one side. Radical armed groups have transformed Afghanistan into a field for a lost battle where everyone fights everyone.

We can say that the importance of this year’s commemoration of the Sept. 11 attacks lies in recognizing the futility of nihilistic violence. The courage required to stop it is greater and more noble than what is required to practice it. In addition, defining religious texts and interpreting them in their proper, contemporary context marks the beginning of achieving a measure of political maturity.

If we succeed in wiping out mindless nihilism and debunking deviant ideas, maybe then we can leave the painful legacy of the Sept. 11 disaster behind us. 

Q. Did Al-Qaeda’s attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York City have a symbolic meaning? 

A. First of all, it should be noted that the catastrophic events of Sept. 11 did not come from nowhere, as tensions had remained throughout the world since the end of the Second World War. We know that the war in Afghanistan was part of this general state of tension. Just as religious ideology was used to mobilize fighters, Marxist ideology played the same role simultaneously in many East Asian and Latin American countries.

However, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the world order shifted toward unipolarity in terms of international relations. It did so within the framework of a globalized economic system, which sought to impose a coherent and unified development model across the world, giving absolute priority to multinational companies.




Etidal, which translates as “moderation” in Arabic, was inaugurated by King Salman in May 2017, alongside then US President Donald Trump and other leaders. (AFP/File Photo)

This shifted the focus of the terrorists to economic targets, which explains why Al-Qaeda chose the two World Trade Center towers for attack.

Suicide operations began to aim to disrupt the trade and tourism sectors by creating a sense of insecurity. This transformation coincided with a revolution in the media industry in the form of satellite television channels that provided, intentionally or unintentionally, free propaganda for Al-Qaeda’s terrorists, turning them into international figures at the least possible cost.

Q. How do you view terrorism today, 20 years after Sept. 11?

A. There has been a shift from terrorism on the ground to “networked terrorism.” This shift mirrors the history of the transformations of organizations over the past 20 years.

We are specifically aware of how difficult it is to track these changes, which is why we at Etidal are working on updating our strategy on the basis of the distinctions between these transformations. We consider them to be more than just formal distinctions.




A young boy looks at the faces of firefighters killed in the September 11th terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center site. (AFP/File Photo)

This is why we have enormous interest in the different manifestations of digital terrorism and continuously seek to forge international partnerships. We are aware that the digital transition constitutes an end to localized terrorism and extremism because social media networks have erased all physical borders between terrorist and extremist organizations and their sympathizers.

Q. What projects does Etidal undertake?

A. Our perception is built on the following: The origin of every form of terrorism is an extremist ideology, which is why every form of terrorism is necessarily a form of extremism. However, not every form of extremism is terrorism. So, we focus specifically on combating extremist ideologies instead of terrorism as such.

We seek to act proactively to prevent terrorists from developing ways to attract and recruit sympathizers using extremist propaganda. Our initiatives put us in confrontation with extremists without directly clashing with them on the ground. We can say that we disrupt the tools of brainwashing by monitoring, following up on and cutting out the false religious underpinning of radicalism before it can ensnare gullible sympathizers.

John Abizaid, US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who is an expert in countering terrorism physically and ideologically, once said that, militarily, destroying a bridge or a building is much easier than undermining an idea. In fact, this is exactly the challenge we at Etidal deal with, by seeking to win the war of ideas.

However, we are also aware of the daunting scale of the challenge. The Sept. 11 attacks have become a painful memory, but the image stuck in the minds of people is that of the catastrophic collapse of the famous towers, accompanied by great human tragedies besides the deaths of thousands of people at the hands of terrorists.




Family member grieve at the National 9/11 Memorial during the ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (AFP)

In Saudi Arabia, we are working with utmost seriousness through Etidal to expose the ugliness of the ideology that was used to justify the 9/11 attacks, and to combat such ideas in every way possible.

We also think that the non-recurrence of similar terrorist outrages in the future depends on the success of our efforts to debunk the extremist ideology that underpins terrorism, or at least to curtail it and weaken its ability to mislead and attract people.


Saudi foreign minister meets US Special Envoy for Iran

Saudi foreign minister meets US Special Envoy for Iran
Updated 14 sec ago

Saudi foreign minister meets US Special Envoy for Iran

Saudi foreign minister meets US Special Envoy for Iran

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan met on Friday with the US Special Envoy for Iran Affairs Robert Malley, state news agency SPA reported.
The two officials met on the sidelines of the 76th United Nations General Assembly in New York.
During the meeting, they discussed enhancing joint action, and developments towards the nuclear program.
Iran has been urged to return rapidly to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiations in Vienna to reduce tensions over Tehran’s nuclear programme.


Coalition forces thwart Houthi attempts to disrupt Saudi National Day celebrations with drone attacks

Coalition forces thwart Houthi attempts to disrupt Saudi National Day celebrations with drone attacks
Updated 24 September 2021

Coalition forces thwart Houthi attempts to disrupt Saudi National Day celebrations with drone attacks

Coalition forces thwart Houthi attempts to disrupt Saudi National Day celebrations with drone attacks

RIYADH: Iran-backed Houthi terrorists launched five armed drones toward Saudi Arabia late on Thursday as the Kingdom celebrated its 91st national day, state media Al-Ekhbariya TV and the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

The weaponized drones, which came in waves, were intercepted and destroyed by coalition air defenses before they could do any harm, the Joint Forces Command of the Coalition supporting Yemen's legitimate government was quoted by state media as saying.

"The Joint Forces Command affirmed that all necessary operational measures are taken to protect the security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its citizens and residents in order to neutralize and destroy these hostile cross-border attacks," the SPA report said.

In a tweet, Al-Ekhbariyah TV said the 4th and 5th drones came just before midnight as Saudi National Day celebrations continued.

On Wednesday, Houthi terrorists launched three drones toward the southwestern Saudi city of Khamis Mushayt, all of which were shot down. On Monday, Coalition forces destroyed two bomb-laden boats that the Houthis were planning to use in Yemen's northwestern port city of Hodeidah.

Critics say the Houthis have been emboldened with the lifting by the US government of their designation as a global terrorist organization.

Washington removed the designation last February in a policy shift by the Biden administration, in hopes of getting the Houthis back to the negotiation table.

The Houthis, however, have refused to respond positively to UN-brokered peace talks.


International community condemns latest Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia

International community condemns latest Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia
Updated 24 September 2021

International community condemns latest Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia

International community condemns latest Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia
  • Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen praised the efficiency of Coalition air defenses in intercepting Houthi missiles and drones

RIYADH: The UAE, Bahrain, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Thursday joined a chorus of international condemnation of a failed ballistic missile attack by the Iran-backed Houthis on civilians in Saudi Arabia.

OIC Secretary-General Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen praised the efficiency of Saudi-led coalition air defenses in intercepting and destroying the missile before it reached Jazan in the southwest of the Kingdom.

He renewed his call for the international community to take decisive action to stop the ongoing threats from ballistic missile and bomb-laden drone attacks by Houthis operating from Yemen.

Al-Othaimeen pointed out that the OIC considered the militia group’s actions to be war crimes and a challenge to international humanitarian law.

Coalition forces supporting Yemen’s legitimate government on Wednesday thwarted another wave of Houthi drone attacks targeting Saudi Arabia that came two days after an attempted boat-bomb strike was foiled in Hodeidah.

The UAE and Bahrain condemned the latest attacks and gave their full backing to measures taken by Saudi Arabia to protect its security, stability, and the safety of its citizens.

In a statement, the coalition said Saudi air defenses on Wednesday intercepted and destroyed three explosive-laden drones launched by the Houthis toward the southern city of Khamis Mushayt. One drone had been launched in the morning, and the other two later in the day.


Bahrain, UAE radio join in on Saudi National Day celebrations

Bahrain, UAE radio join in on Saudi National Day celebrations
Updated 24 September 2021

Bahrain, UAE radio join in on Saudi National Day celebrations

Bahrain, UAE radio join in on Saudi National Day celebrations

BAHRAIN/SHARJAH: Bahraini radio and television stations have joined Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day celebrations with various programs commemorating the day.

Radio and television hosts gathered several personalities from both nations, discussing the relations between the two brotherly countries, their shared history, achievements, and more.

Also joining in on the celebrations is the UAE’s Sharjah Radio, which has allocated various programs about the Kingdom, including historical, religious, cultural aspects that distinguish Saudi Arabia.

Sharjah Radio Director Abeer Al-Shawi congratulated the Kingdom’s leadership on the occasion of Saudi National Day, adding that the radio station has dedicated many of the day’s broadcasts to cover various topics about the country.


Saudi project clears 1,351 Houthi mines in Yemen

Saudi project clears 1,351 Houthi mines in Yemen
Updated 24 September 2021

Saudi project clears 1,351 Houthi mines in Yemen

Saudi project clears 1,351 Houthi mines in Yemen
  • A total of 275,305 mines have been cleared since the start of the project

RIYADH: The Saudi Project for Landmine Clearance dismantled 1,351 mines in Yemen during the third week of September.

The figure comprised 13 antipersonnel mines, 432 anti-tank mines, 905 unexploded ordnances, and one explosive device.

The project is one of several initiatives undertaken by Saudi Arabia on the directive of King Salman to help ease the suffering of people in Yemen.

Saudi and international experts are removing mines planted by the Houthi militia in Marib, Aden, Al-Jawf, Shabwa, Taiz, Hodeidah, Lahij, Sanaa, Al-Bayda, Al-Dhale, and Saada.

A total of 275,305 mines have been cleared since the start of the project. More than 1.2 million mines have been planted by the Houthis, claiming the lives of hundreds of civilians.