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Muslim Nations Open Conference on Terrorism

In Malaysia, foreign ministers from 57 Muslim nations have opened a conference on terrorism and heard Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad say that both Palestinian suicide bombings and attacks on civilians by Israeli forces are acts of terrorism. The Conference of the Islamic Organization is aiming to define terrorism in the hopes of convening a worldwide meeting on the topic.

Prime Minister Mahathir told delegates Monday that Muslims must condemn terrorism, once it is clearly defined because, he said, the killing of innocent people is not Islamic. He said any attacks against civilians must be regarded as acts of terror and any government that supports such attacks must be regarded as terrorist. "Where states are behind the acts of terrorism, the whole government must stand condemned. But no race or religion should be condemned or discriminated against simply because people of the same race or their co-religionists have been involved in terrorist activities," Mr. Mahathir said.

The Malaysian prime minister said terrorists like those who carried out the September attacks in the United States may be wrong in believing they are fighting a jihad, or holy war, and they actually may be doing a lot of harm to their cause and Islam itself. "But the fact remains that they are very angry and bitter and willing to commit terrible acts of terror, even if they lose their lives in the process. The world must deal with these misguided people not just by hunting them down but also by removing the causes of their anger and frustration," Mr. Mahathir said.

Prime Minister Mahathir said the growing gap between rich and poor is one such source of frustration. But he underscored that the violence in the Middle East was a major factor.

Many Muslim leaders object to western leaders who condemn Palestinian suicide bombers as terrorists, but refuse to criticize attacks by Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians. They also feel that terrorism has been defined by a few western governments.

Delegates hope to draft a common definition of terrorism and are expected to call for a worldwide conference to forge a global strategy against it. The delegates are also expected to condemn in a separate declaration the recent Israeli attacks against the Palestinian headquarters.