by Jock Anderson
National Business Review [New Zealand]
October 5, 2001
A high-ranking Hamilton (New Zealand) Islamic cleric – Saudi Arabian-trained and funded Imam Anwar Zahib – belongs to the extreme Wahhabi sect identified as having inspired Osama bin Laden and all Muslim suicide bombers.
Imam Zahib, a Fiji Indian, spent 15 years being trained as a cleric by the Saudis and is described as an ultra-conservative fundamentalist. He was sent to New Zealand on a Saudi-funded scholarship.
Imam Zahib, who is said to be reluctant to speak to non-Muslims and may not be the only Saudi-sponsored cleric in New Zealand, could not be contacted.
As the western world puts Muslims and Islamic organisations under the microscope, freezing known and suspected terror-funding bank accounts and flushing out suspected terrorists, New Zealand Muslims have gone to considerable lengths to deny any links to terrorism.
Reports from Australia quoting Scottish-based terrorist expert Rohan Gunaratna claimed the threat to Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines had increased because of a shifting of bin Laden’s al Qaida assets, operatives and networks from Europe to the Asian region.
Dr Gunaratna claimed to have identified seven terrorist groups active in Australia, including the bin Laden-linked Chechen Mujaheddin.
He said the organisations were primarily support networks with the primary function of propaganda, fundraising, recruitment, training and shipping. He said they provided money for their parent groups overseas.
Muslims are encouraged to donate at least 2.5% of their annual increase in wealth to charities but pass-the-hat donations and wire transfers from businessmen are the stuff of bin Laden’s financial operation.
Analysts attempting to follow bin Laden’s money trail estimate terrorist cells around the world receive sums in less than $10,000 chunks to avoid detection by banks and regulators – much of it flowing through Islamic charities.
But New York equity analyst and adjunct fellow at the Claremont Institute for the study of statesmanship and political philosophy James Higgins said there might be little point following the money trail because any evidence of wrongdoing would be buried in irrelevant data collected in the interest of “fairness.”
Hamilton-based Federation of Islamic Associations president Anwar Ghani said he knew of no terrorist fundraising or terrorism-linked activity among local Muslims.
Dr Ghani, who has lived in New Zealand for 22 years, said most stories about terrorist funding were speculative and not based on any evidence.
Dr Ghani has already condemned the terrorist attacks on America, saying many Muslims came to New Zealand to get away from “that sort of baggage in their own country.”
Muslims raised money to send to aid organisations such as the Green Crescent and discounted the possibility that any money raised innocently could be diverted to fund terrorism.
Hamilton is regarded as a stronghold of Islam among the estimated 25,000 Muslims believed to live in New Zealand.
As a spiritual leader Zahib leads a private life but is said to have been at the centre of a local storm a couple of years ago for allegedly banning the photographing of children attending a camp.
The Hamilton mosque was also firebombed about two years ago.
The Wahhabi sect to which Imam Zahib belongs was described in the Spectator last week as the most extreme form of Islamic fundamentalism.
The author of Intellectuals and Assassins, Stephen Schwartz, said of Wahhabism: “It is violent, it is intolerant and it is fanatical beyond belief.”
According to Mr Schwartz, not all Muslims were suicide bombers, but all Muslim suicide bombers were Wahhabis.
Wahhabism is said to have emerged less than two centuries ago and it is estimated that 80% of the mosques that minister to 10 million US Muslims are under the control of Wahhabi imams who are subsidised by Saudi Arabia.
According to Mr Schwartz, the vast majority of Muslims, who are a peaceful people who prefer western democracy, loathe Wahhabism for the same reason any patriarchal culture rejects a violent break with tradition.
He claimed bin Laden and other Wahhabis were not defending Islamic traditions: they represented an ultra-radical break in the direction of a sectarian utopia.
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