Wednesday, December 13, 2006

House intelligence chair calls al Qaeda Shi'ite

House intelligence chair calls al Qaeda Shi'ite

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Is al Qaeda a Sunni organization, or Shi'ite?

The question proved nettlesome for Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, incoming Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

"Predominantly -- probably Shi'ite," he said in a recent interview with Congressional Quarterly, a periodical that covers political and legislative issues in Congress.

Unfortunately for Reyes, the al Qaeda network led by Osama bin Laden is comprehensively Sunni and subscribes to a form of Sunni Islam known for not tolerating theological deviation.

In fact, U.S. officials blame al Qaeda's former leader in Iraq, the late Abu Musab al Zarqawi, for the surge in sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

But Reyes' problems in the interview didn't end with al Qaeda.

Asked to describe the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Congressional Quarterly said Reyes responded: "Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah," and then said, "Why do you ask me these questions at five o'clock?"

Reyes' office issued a statement on Monday noting that the Congressional Quarterly interview covered a wide range of topics.

"As a member of the intelligence committee since before 9/11, I'm acutely aware of al Qaeda's desire to harm Americans. The intelligence committee will keep its eye on the ball and focus on the pressing security and intelligence issues facing us," Reyes said in the statement.

A former border patrol agent and a congressional opponent of the Iraq war, the Texas congressman was chosen for the chief intelligence job by House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi.

She rejected the panel's top-ranking Democrat, Rep. Jane Harman of California, who has had strained relations Pelosi. Next in line in terms of seniority was Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida, a former federal judge ousted from that post amid allegations of corruption.