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Cleric: Islam Permits Punishment of Terrorists - 2001-09-17

A top Muslim official in Egypt says Islam permits the punishment of convicted terrorists, but warns the United States must be certain about the identities of the perpetrators of last week's deadly attacks in the United States before it strikes back. On Monday, the head of one of Islam's most influential institutions of learning, the Al Azhar University spoke about the attacks in New York and Washington.

Grand Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, called the assaults against innocent men, women and children acts of terrorism and injustice. As such, he says, it is the right of any country to defend itself against such aggression. The Grand Sheikh told reporters that whenever there is an aggression, Muslims must stand beside the country against which this aggression has been committed.

Sheikh Tantawi did caution, however, that the punishment should only be carried out after an individual or certain group has been proven to have committed the crime. He also said that countries found to be harboring terrorists should be despised, adding that those who supported terrorists would be destroyed by terrorists.

U.S. and British officials have named Osama bin Laden, an exiled Saudi dissident who is now believed to be in Afghanistan, as a prime suspect in last Tuesday's attacks.

Sheikh Tantawi refused to name any possible suspects and said he bases his opinion on religious law.

The top Azhari official also said there are significant differences between Palestinian attacks on Israel and the Israelis and the terrorism he denounces. He argued that the Palestinians are carrying out defensive measures to win back and protect their land.