AMMAN, Jordan – A poem that Usama bin Laden recited when talking about the Sept. 11 attacks was written by a minor Jordanian poet who regards the alleged master terrorist as a holy warrior.
Yousef Abu-Helaleh, a lecturer of Islamic studies at King Hussein University in southern Jordan, told The Associated Press on Saturday that he is the author of the poem that bin Laden recited — with modification — during a meeting with a Saudi visitor in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in November.
Abu-Helaleh was first identified as the poet in a story published by the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat on Saturday. It had been widely assumed the poem had been written by bin Laden himself.
The meeting was recorded on a videotape, a copy of which was released by the U.S. government last month with a translation in English. During the dialogue, bin Laden speaks of his role in the planning of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Many Arabs have dismissed the video tape as a forgery.
Abu-Helaleh, 50, is quietly proud that bin Laden recited his poem and, like millions of other Arabs, he does not believe that bin Laden was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.
"I condemn any attack targeting civilians, no matter what their nationalities," Abu-Helaleh told The Associated Press.
He met bin Laden when he taught Islamic studies at the Islamic University of Al-Imam bin Saud in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in the early 1990s. In 1992 bin Laden moved to Sudan, where Abu-Helaleh corresponded with him, sending him a collection of his poems.
Abu-Helaleh says their contact ceased in 1996 when he returned to Jordan, whose government regards bin Laden as a terrorist.
"I respect bin Laden and consider him to be a sincere and smart holy warrior," Abu-Helaleh said.
In 1997, Abu-Helaleh published his poems in an anthology called Poems in the Time of Oppression. He dedicated one poem, "The Fighting Eagle," to bin Laden.
On the videotape, bin Laden recites lines from Abu-Helaleh's poem "The Believers":
"I witness that against the sharp blade
They always faced difficulties and stood together ...
When the darkness comes upon us and we are bitten by a
Sharp tooth, I say ...
'Our homes are flooded with blood and the tyrant
Is freely wandering in our homes' ...
And from the battlefield vanished
The brightness of swords and the horses ...
And over weeping sounds now
We hear the beats of drums and rhythm ...
They are storming his forts
And shouting: 'We will not stop our raids
Until you free our lands" ... '
The last line reflects bin Laden's long-standing demand that U.S. forces leave Saudi Arabia. In the original poem, Abu-Helaleh did not write "we will not stop our raids" but "we won't lay down the sword."
Asked if he objected to the change, Abu-Helaleh said: "I didn't mind." Nor was he bothered by bin Laden's reciting the poem in the context of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Abu-Helaleh said he belonged to a Palestinian militia in 1970, when there were fierce clashes between Palestinian armed groups and the Jordanian forces. He said he is not a member of any militant or Muslim movement today.