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Pope Says Self-Defense Against Terrorism is Legimate - 2001-12-12

In a message issued this week Tuesday, Pope John Paul II has spoken out about the right to combat terrorism.

He said self-defense against acts of terror is legitimate, but warned against expanding the fight against entire nations, ethnic groups or religions. The pope's message, intended for World Peace Day on January 1, focussed on what he described as "the new level of violence introduced by organized terrorism."

The pope said terrorism is "born in hatred," flourishes in poverty, isolation, and fanaticism and leads to a "tragic spiral of violence that involves each new generation."

But he made clear that "the injustice that exists in the world can never be used as an excuse to justify terrorist attacks," and added that "terrorism's pretext that it acts in the name of poverty is clearly false."

He condemned the September 11 attacks in the United States as a "horrendous massacre."

The fight against terrorism is legitimate, the pope continued, but it must follow moral and legal rules in the choice of objectives and means. Pope John Paul said, "The guilty must be correctly identified, since criminal culpability is always personal and cannot be extended to the nation, ethnic group or religion to which the terrorists may belong."

Of utmost importance in the fight against terrorism, the pope added, is international cooperation along with political and economic steps to relieve oppression. "Recruiting terrorists is easier," he said, "in a social context in which rights are violated and injustices tolerated over a long period of time."

The pope's message was released Tuesday, exactly three months after the September 11 attacks against the United States. As is traditional, it will be sent by Vatican embassies around the world to heads of state, government, and international organizations.

In the 16-page document, the pope also sharply condemned terrorism in the name of God or religion. "It is a profanation of religion," he said, "to declare oneself a terrorist in the name of God."