While most of the world mourns the nearly three thousand who were brutally murdered by Al Qaeda on September 11, 2001, many assume all of Al Qaeda attacks stem from a warped political motive. Most may not be aware that since the day of its inception many of Al Qaeda’s targets have involved the Catholic Church and her holy sites.
Less than one year before the September 11, 2001 attacks Al Qaeda was planning a spectacular Christmas attack at the large and historic Strasbourg Cathedral in France. While this attack was foiled, an attack on the Catholic cathedral in Jakarta, Indonesia was not thwarted, resulting in the deaths of several churchgoers and those on a nearby street.
Yet, five years before this brazen plan, an even more sinister plan was nearly carried out by the chief planner of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Khalid Sheik Muhammad, which he coordinated to coincide with the visit of Pope John Paul II to Manila for World Youth Day in January of 1995. The plan called for the pontiff to be killed along with countless of the faithful who was planning to see him in Manila that day. Incidentally, some speculate that the crowd that came to see the Polish pontiff that day was nearly the same size that came to see his funeral some ten years later. Some speculate it may have been the largest religious gathering at one place in our known history, some five to seven million strong.
However, many may not even be aware of this religious angle of the terror plot’s equation, since most terror watchers know of the associated failed Bojinka Plot. This plot was also the brainchild of Khalid Sheik Muhammad and Ramzi Yousef. It called for simultaneously blowing up several airliners while they left Manila for various worldwide destinations. Sadly a dry run a few months before resulted in the death of a Japanese businessman who was sucked out of a plane, when a bomb planted under his seat exploded. The dry run bomb was small in comparison to what was planned with the Bojinka plot.
Thankfully this plot was uncovered by sheer coincidence (providence for those who of us who are believers) The Manila fire department was called after apartment dwellers reported a kitchen fire, which turned out to be bomb making gone awry. Khalid Sheik Muhammad had already left Manila for the Middle East. However, it was due to evidence uncovered at the scene of the fire that security officials began to understand the emerging terror network that would be known as Al Qaeda (the base.)
Though it would be quite some time before terror officials around the world would come to understand Al Qaeda, there were faint glimpses beginning to emerge of the nefarious plans the network had in store for all those, including many Muslims, who would not fit into their ideology. Several smaller attacks others around the world, most notably in the Arabian Peninsula seemed too small or too unprofessional for terror officials to think that Al Qaeda could ever top something of the caliber of an Imad Mughniyeh plot. Mughniyeh was believed responsible for the nearly simultaneous Beirut attacks on US Marines and French paratroopers in 1983 that left hundreds dead. He was believed to live under the protection of the Syrian and Iranian governments, until his reported violent death in February, 2008. No one imagined that Al Qaeda could ever top a plot devised by Imad Mughniyeh.
However, Al Qaeda slowly moved forward relying on those who were veterans of the war against the Soviet Invasion of Afghainstan. Al Qaeda’s training camp graduates were often true battlefield veterans who helped bring in a different breed of fighter to their reclusive Afghan training camps. These new recruits were often professionally educated young men looking to become holy martyrs in a world they felt was awash with decadence and lukewarm Islam. In addition to being an Apostate faith, Christianity was in their eyes a failed religion. The rhetoric of Al Qaeda increasingly reflected a radicalized Muslim world. While the academics loved to reminisce about Islam’s cerebral side, the radicalized Islamic world quoted form the more militant parts of the Koran. They loved to remind the unbelievers of how Islam spread the faith with the sword farther in one century than Christianity had with kindness and love for seven centuries.
Dr Yossef Bodansky provides us with an interesting glimpse into this mindset. Dr Bodansky refers to a January 7, 1994 speech given by former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani. The former Iranian president stated that Christ’s message had failed, because Jesus had been incapable of bringing man to God, so God had to send Muhammad to get the job done. In other words, the Islamic Conquest of the Middle East, North African and southern Europe was necessary, only because Christianity had failed.
This is an interesting statement because although Rafsanjnai is a Shiite and Al Qaeda is Sunni, the message is the same; Christianity failed and conquest was needed to bring man to God. However, even in their defense of the Islamic Conquest, these two radical wings of Islam are forced to admit that Christianity was alive and well in the Middle East and North Africa centuries before the arrival of Islam. One of the familiar themes on any Al Qaeda tape is the plea to remove the infidel from Islamic lands.
Yet, Christianity was in the Middle East and North African some seven centuries before Islamic conquering armies arrived. An early saying Christian saying was; The Blood of the Martyrs was the seed from which the Church grew. There were no early Christian armies, the faith grew by the sheer example of love, kindness and redemption it set for a decadent world filled with Roman Army conquests, visceral blood sports, and untamed sexual lusts. Yet, even though it was outlawed and Christians were openly hunted down, the faith grew.
Long before they were Islamic lands, the Middle East and North Africa were filled with vibrant Christian centers and revelatory figures like Saint Augustine. The very argument that Christianity was not appealing to the masses was left empty by the need of the Islamic armies to have a military conquest. Now my colleague Joe Hargrave has written a great piece on the Crusades which I highly encourage you to read. However, I will add a couple of points.
The Crusades were small defensive actions fought by amateurish Christian soldiers who truly felt they were answering the call of God. They were hardly in it for the gold and the girls that so many ridiculous movies and research articles have asserted. Did some of the Crusaders commit atrocious acts? Some most certainly did, especially during the infamous Fourth Crusade which the West and the late Pope John Paul II apologized for until the beginning of the new millennium, some eight hundred years after the fact. Incidentally, Pope Innocent III never approved of the disastrous turn of the Fourth Crusade that left Constantinople in ruins. He excommunicated all who took part in the horrendous plundering of that famed city. It is important to reiterate that the Crusaders fought against a highly disciplined and skilled Islamic army who used modern military tactics that were unfamiliar to the Crusaders. One should not forget, that for every highly skilled Knight Templar there were ten highly skilled Muslim soldiers.
Another point that is lost on the modern mind is that the Crusades, though remembered far better in the Islamic world than in the Christian West, was never a great source of bitterness until the modern era and especially after the humiliating Six Day War of 1967. At that point Islamic radicals under the umbrella of the Muslim Brotherhood fanned the flames of the Crusades, as if Israelis were somehow tied to the events of 800-900 years ago. In reality, the Crusades were just another sad chapter of conflict, in a world filled with conflicts. However, some argue that the Crusades actually opened trade routes to the Middle East and though many suffered during the Crusades, many on both sides prospered after them
Moving to the modern era, the events of the 1967 Six Day War were the genesis of radical groups like Al Qaeda. Many in the increasingly radicalized Arab world saw the defeat as punishment from God due to the relaxation of Sharia Law and the ever increasing western component to their lives. Most women were not veiled in the Muslim World and this would remain so until the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Cairo would become a hotbed of radicals in the Arab world, the stunning rise and fall of Gamel Abdul Nasser was one of the many events catching the eye of the Cairo street.
Another event that occurred in Egypt concerned a miraculous apparition on top of a Coptic Orthodox Church in Zeitoun, adjacent to Cairo. Hundreds of thousands came to see the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary that was officially validated by both the Orthodox and Catholic Church. There were many healings of both Christian and Muslim, and none other than Gamel Abdul Nasser came to see what some believe is the most visually stunning apparitions ever captured on film. Perhaps another one of the miracle’s attendees might have been a young 17 year old Ayman Al Zawahiri, son of a prominent Cairo physician known for his moderate views on politics and religion. The young Ayman would follow in his father’s footsteps and also become a physician, though he would not subscribe to his father’s moderate views.
Some thirteen years later now Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri and others would successfully take part in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. The assassination would be the genesis for gathering names and associations that would lead to Al Qaeda. With the radical Muslim world already rallying against the infidel Soviet invasion of Muslim Afghanistan some two years earlier, the dye was set for a toxic mix of evil and anger. Perhaps in 1968 the Blessed Mother was warning the world over these impending events, which would not stop in Afghanistan but move to the Arabian Peninsula, Kenya, Tanzania, the Philippines, the East Coast of the United States, Madrid, London and perhaps bloodiest of all Iraq. In Iraq thousands of the faithful have been killed with some prominent clergy among them, the most notable being Archbishop Faraj Rohho of Mosul.
Afghanistan became an Al Qaeda training ground that would have been beyond the hopes of anything the early founders could have fathomed. Thousands of young Islamic men from around the world came to fight the infidel Soviets. One such young man was a Saudi named Osama Bin Laden. By the time the Soviets left in disgrace, the young Bin Laden would put to good use his engineering background and his family money. His long stay in Afghanistan produced many friendships and admirers. While many young Saudi men were in the bars of Beirut spending money like drunken sailors and on the make for some young ladies, Bin Laden was getting shot at and living in caves. His reputation grew.
After stints in Saudi Arabia and Sudan, Bin Laden returned to the Neolithic Afghanistan. While Saudi Arabia and the Sudan would be considered backwards by most Muslim’s standards, Bin Laden never felt comfortable in those places. When in Khartoum, he saw women at the Horse racetrack he liked to attend, and heard music coming out of the loudspeakers, he felt even Khartoum was too decadent. He packed his family up and headed for the comfort and familiar lawlessness of eastern Afghanistan.
He wouldn’t be heard from again until 1998 when in a bizarre news conference attended by few Pakistani reporters along with one Chinese journalist. No independent filming was allowed, only questions. Later that same year ABC reporter John Miller Bin Laden was given the opportunity to interview Bin Laden. After days of waiting and endless security checks in the remote Afghan wilderness, Bin laden laid out his fatwa against the west and particularly the United States. The news conference and subsequent ABC interview was short and simple, the West and particularly the United States was going to pay for their sins. This fatwa was considerably shorter than the one written by bin Laden and published in Al Quds Al Aribia, an Arabic newspaper headquartered in London.
The long rambling London declaration, pages and pages long, accused King Fahd of Saudi Arabia of wearing a cross necklace, took credit for the Khobar Tower bombings that killed many Americans in Saudi Arabia, and listed a litany of western abuses. The abuses were political in nature. However, Bin Laden went on to claim that NATO forces, who were helping Muslims in Bosnia escape genocide, were really part of a grand Christian plot. He also went on to claim that Beirut was a Muslim city facing western attack.
The long rambling London declaration produced many head scratchers; King Fahd wearing a cross and Beirut a Muslim city? In all of its history, Beirut has never been a Muslim city, and the idea that King Fahd was a secret Christian was bizarre to say the least. Beirut was a Christian city for seven centuries and then became a mixed city of Muslims and Christians, with some Jewish inhabitants to boot.
These sorts of rambling, head scratching historically incorrect assertions would become a staple of Al Qaeda communications delivered after the September 11, 2001 attacks either by Bin Laden or his number two, Dr Zawahiri. Both men often longed for the Islamic caliphate that reached its zenith in the 12th century. In radical circles a belief developed that after the Crusades; Islam was never really the same. However in reality, it was the Crusaders who were defeated.
Many a time was it that Osama Bin Laden or Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri mentioned dates and places in history that only a student of history would truly know. For example, more than once has an Al Qaeda communiqué mentioned the defeat the Ottoman Turks suffered at the Gates of Vienna in 1683. Perhaps it was the turn of events at both Vienna and the famous naval Battle of Lepanto in 1571 that has left the militants exasperated, for from the radical’s perspective it literally seemed as if victory was snatched away from them.
The Ottoman Turkish forces had superior forces both in land at Vienna and in naval power at Lepanto. Yet, somehow they lost. For the faithful Catholic, it was divine providence and has thus been celebrated as such for years. Our Lady of Victory and the Holy Name of Mary were once much bigger liturgical celebrations than they are now, but it is believed that the divine hand of God seen through the Blessed Virgin Mary instituted a stunning defeat for the Turks.
The defeat for the Turks at Vienna came about because of a last minute appearance on September 11 and 12, 1683 (of all dates) by the Polish cavalry under the leadership of Jan Sobiesksi. He had his men pray the Rosary before their lightning appearance. This appearance disoriented the Ottoman Turks and saved not only Vienna, but many feel Western Europe from the Islamic advance.
The Ottoman Turks had promised the Hungarian Protestant rebel leader Imre Thakoly that if he joined forces with him, his men would be given some of the conquering riches. However, many doubted that the marauding Ottoman Turks would give any Christian leader a share of their wealth. Many viewed this promise as subterfuge of the highest order. Though not often celebrated today, the Holy Name of Mary was a feast day of some renown in the pre Vatican II Catholic Church, celebrating the Victory in Vienna.
At the Naval Battle of Lepanto in 1571, the superior Ottoman Turkish naval forces were also defeated by events that seemed supernatural. Pope Saint Pius V had asked for all Christians to pray the Rosary for it was feared that once the Ottoman Turkish forces were free of any opposition they would attack the Italian heartland and Rome itself. Don Juan, Commander of the naval forces, carried the banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the recent Mexican miracle that had left the image of the Blessed Mother in Juan Diego’s tilma. Before the apparition, few in the Spanish New World were Catholic, a few years afterwards almost all had converted.
The tilma still exists defying the laws of science that can’t explain how a tilma which should last fifty years has lasted nearly five hundred. In addition, scientific tests prove the image of the Blessed Mother is not paint. As for the battle, military tacticians still can’t figure out how the superior Ottoman Turkish navy was defeated. No mystery exist for Catholics, the Blessed Mother had intervened and convinced her son Jesus that a miracle from Him was necessary. Our Lady of Victory (Our Lady of the Rosary) is still a feast day of great import celebrated every October 7th.
These two defeats seem inexplicable to Islamic radicals. They wonder what went wrong and like failed attacks of their own, they feel they must go back into time to change what in their minds should have been. The end result being an Islamic Europe.
For Catholics there is a belief that the Blessed Virgin Mary has had a history of reaching out to Islam to bring those Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa back to the Catholic faith of their ancestors. Many feel this started with events surrounding Lepanto and continued with the apparitions of Fatima and Zeitoun. Fatima is unique in that it is the only town in Portugal with an Islamic name. The apparition of Zeitoun occurred in a predominately Muslim country; during the time of the apparition in 1968 many were healed of illnesses and ailments, including Muslims. While one doesn’t expect radical Islam to be familiar with Marian Apparitions or Catholic eschatology, it does appear that elements of radical Islam takes this all very seriously.
The radicals fail to mention the divisions in Islam. Some speculate that groups like the Mu’tazihil, who were rationalistic and seemed to take great pleasure in learning from the Hellenistic era, were eventually overtaken by a more deterministic group, some might describe as an Islamic form of Calvinism. The Caliphate was never as strong as it was before the Crusades, and before the Mongols sacked Baghdad in the 13th century. A few centuries later, Wahabism developed in the Arabian Peninsula; this was a belief so austere that it wanted Islam to go back to a life that existed at the time of Muhammad, before Islam and particularly Baghdad were far from their creative zenith. Had this school of thought developed in a remote part of the world, free from wealth and natural resources, it may have simply been academic asterisks. However, when oil was discovered in the Arabian Peninsula, the money it generated helped propel this radical belief system the world over. It became the driving force behind radical Islam.
Al Qaeda raised money in the Arabian Peninsula by sheer bribery and guilt. Many a rich Saudi, who spent too much of his oil riches on wine, women and song in Beirut, Monaco or some other lively locale has been bribed or made to feel that giving to Al Qaeda might help settle the account. In turn this money was used for planning and attacks. Providentially, many of the attacks, especially those directed at the Catholic Church would never see the light of day. In addition to the previously mentioned botched Strasbourg plan, there existed a plan to kill Pope John Paul II when he visited the Holy Land in 2000. This is more than a little interesting in that no other pope spent more time reaching out to the Islamic world than did the man from Krakow, so much so that he was criticized by the very conservative crowds that often praised his every other move.
The plots against the Church didn’t end there, in 2003 the Israeli Mossad warned the Holy See of a plot targeting the faithful sometime around Christmas 2003. There was even an Al Qaeda plot to blow up St Petronio’s Catholic Church in Bologna because it housed a painting of Giovanni de Modena’s Last Judgment. Few may be aware that in the painting, a demon drags Muhammad into hell.
One of the more bizarre plots said to be in the terror network’s pipeline was a plot to kill Pope Benedict XVI after his controversial Regensburg Address. Before the plot was to move forward, an attempt had to be made, according to Islamic Law to allow the German pontiff to convert to Islam. Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri delivered the address in late 2006 and once again the plot never came to fruition. The German pontiff wasn’t the only Catholic mentioned in a Al Qaeda diatribe. The Catholic author and Islamic scholar Robert Spencer, among other notables, was also mentioned in rambling communiqué issued by Adam Gadahn, the former California metal band aficionado turned radical Muslim. (Some former Catholic Report readers may remember this interview I conducted with Mr Spencer, before his rise to fame.)
One might ask why Islam goes to such extremes to attack the Catholic Church? Al Qaeda knows that unlike Evangelical churches in the United States, mainline Protestantism is literally dying on the vine in Europe and North America. In Britain it is estimated that more Muslims attend Friday prayers in their mosques, than Anglicans attend church services on Sunday morning.
Catholicism, despite many negative headlines, is growing by leaps and bounds in African and Asia, so much so that churches, seminaries and mother houses can’t be built fast enough to hold the faithful, seminarians and women religious. In Africa and the Middle East, this is happening in many nations where Catholics are killed by the hundreds each year in radical Islamic inspired terror. Because of these attacks in Africa and the Middle East, Pope Benedict’s strong stand for Christian orthodoxy is earning him the respect of both Orthodox leaders in the Middle East and Eastern Europe and Evangelical leaders in North America. Relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church haven’t been this warm in nearly 1,000 years.
As far as the United States is concerned; 64 to 6 and 14 to 4 stand out. What does this mean? In 2006 when writing my book, The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism, I noted that even though the Diocese of Rochester had more Catholics than the dioceses of Lincoln and Omaha combined, Rochester had 6 men studying for the priesthood while Lincoln and Omaha had 64. That same year of 2006 Denver had 14 young men ordained to the priesthood (eleven in May and three earlier in the academic year) while Los Angeles had four; a staggering statistic when one considers that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has 4,300,000 Catholic residents compared to 385,000 Catholics for the Archdiocese of Denver.
In 2006 Los Angeles and Rochester were led by two of the most liberal prelates in the Church, while Omaha, Lincoln and Denver were led by three of the more conservative bishops in the US, a revelatory statistic to say the least. For more on this read my columns, If You Want the Political Left to Run Governments, Look at What the Religious Left Has Done to Religion, (Left It In Tatters,) along with my article, The Coming Open Rebellion Against God.
While liberal convents are strapped for cash because they haven’t had a postulant in years, more conservative orders like the Sister of Mary in Ann Arbor, Michigan are running out of room due to the large number of young professional women coming their way. They are not the only conservative order growing; the Nashville Dominicans among others are also experiencing growing pains.
Al Qaeda knows that the Catholic Church is the only international Christian body that is growing. In their minds, what better way to eliminate the threat than to terrorize the competition? They must have thought they had nearly won when the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams recently stated that Britain must accept the coming of Sharia Law. The Archbishop and his liberal religious counterparts have become media darlings for changing their respective church’s doctrine to reflect the whims of the modern world. Fortunately, no such surrender is coming from Rome and for that the Catholic Church the world over must pay the price. However, the faithful should rejoice in knowing what Pope Benedict XVI has know for almost all of his life, the Catholic Church has always grown when under attack. The Blood of the Martyrs was the seed from which the Church grew.