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Acting With A Clear Conscience

Daoud Salahuddin, a fugitive on U.S. murder charges, in Tehran. He says he stopped working for the Iranian government in the 1990s.
Daoud Salahuddin, a fugitive on U.S. murder charges, in Tehran. He says he stopped working for the Iranian government in the 1990s. (By Karl Vick -- The Washington Post)

"Anybody who's prepared to die in that manner, he's either somehow very exalted or he's extremely depressed. Even to do that you need to be pretty estranged from a lot of stuff and pretty focused on what you're doing.

"But the enemy is not civilians," he added. "And when you start making tapes about it, that's somewhere else and I don't know where that is."

In the insurgent atrocities in Iraq, as in the attacks of Sept. 11, "I think there are elements of madness," Salahuddin said. "If they are Arabs and they are blowing up fellow Muslims, I'd have to say there's a very strong element of derangement and not religion involved. And frankly, there's nothing like a wrong interpretation of religion to form a basis for derangement."

Many of the extremists in Iraq, including the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, call themselves Salafists, Muslims who see the only pure faith as the kind practiced in the 7th century.

Salahuddin, on the other hand, said that when he did his wet work for Iran, he was serving a cause rooted in the present. He admired Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini for standing up to a U.S. government that had waged a covert war against black activists and was clearly hostile to political Islam.

But except for the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, who Salahuddin said "exudes this sense of kindness, this sense of mercy very much what you read about Muhammad himself," the fugitive has been profoundly disappointed by Iran's theocracy.

"I've got nothing against religion and politics. They go together," he said. "But how they are combined is a very delicate business. In Iran, everything is power. Very little religion. And the spiritual dimension of the religious is diminishing under the weight of politics.

"The regime picked up a lot more from Stalin than it did from Muhammad."

He stopped working for the government in the early 1990s. He maintained a cordial relationship with old contacts in the intelligence ministry, which once pressed him to explain why he was spending hours each week with the North Korean ambassador. He explained he was teaching him English.

Now, he said in the pristine living room of a one-bedroom apartment he shares with his Iranian wife, "my days are empty."

Staff writer Tom Jackman in Washington contributed to this report.


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