A former religious adviser to Osama bin Laden, Abu Hafs al-Mauritani has has condemned 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?”