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Former al-Qaeda mufti: I condemn ISIL attacks

Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, an Islamic scholar previously with al-Qaeda, discusses the Paris attacks and the rise of ISIL.

Each day we are taking further steps towards a war between civilisations, a war between Islam and Christianity, a war between Sunnis and Shia and a war between Arabs and other nationalities. What I fear most is that if rational people don't realise this, we will miss the chance to stop it and find ourselves in a senseless war in which we will kill each other without even knowing why.

by Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, former al-Qaeda Mufti

A former religious adviser to Osama bin Laden, Abu Hafs al-Mauritani has joined a chorus of Muslims in condemning the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, denouncing its recent attacks in Paris as going against the tenets of Islam.

In his first interview to an English-TV audience, Mauritani tells Al Jazeera’s Sami Zeidan that ISIL has “misunderstood” Islam, just as people in the West might “misunderstand Christianity”.

“Islam forbids the killing of innocent people, regardless of whether they are Muslims or non Muslims,” he says. “Killing civilians and innocent people … is unacceptable and has nothing to do with jihad.”

A former al-Qaeda ideologue who served on the group’s Shura Council, Mauritani left al-Qaeda in August 2001 after disagreeing with bin Laden’s decision to target civilians.

After the September 11 attacks, he fled to Iran where he spent 10 years in prison before being extradited to Mauritania.

Speaking from the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, he accuses ISIL’s recruitment methods, citing political and not religious grievances for the group’s rise.

He blames the West’s support for Israel, “corrupt Arab regimes” and “counter revolutions after the Arab Spring” for the spread of the armed group.

“Why else would they have hit France and not hit the Vatican?” he says. “The Vatican represents western Christianity, why didn’t they attack a church?”

France has been bombing ISIL targets in Syria since late September, and since the Paris attacks has carried out a wave of air strikes on the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de-facto capital of the “Islamic State”.

Mauritani, who rejects Baghdadi’s claim to be the leader of all Muslims, says ISIL fails to meet the conditions and requirements of a caliphate and is a “fruit” of the US-led occupation of Iraq.

Mauritani also talks to Al Jazeera about why he joined – and left – al-Qaeda and what drives people to join the ranks of ISIL and other armed groups.

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