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Queries Vex New Chair of Intelligence

Reuters
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The incoming Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee could not describe Hezbollah and incorrectly described al-Qaeda's Islamic roots in a recent interview.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), whom incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) named earlier this month to chair the panel, formally known as the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was asked by a reporter from Congressional Quarterly whether al-Qaeda was Sunni or Shiite. "Predominantly -- probably Shiite," Reyes replied.

From Osama bin Laden down, al-Qaeda's leadership 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 late leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, for the surge in sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites.

Asked to describe the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, according to a story published online Friday, Reyes responded "Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah" and then said, "Why do you ask me these questions at 5 o'clock?"

The Texas congressman later added: "Speaking only for myself, it's hard to keep things in perspective and in the categories."

Reyes, a former Border Patrol agent and an opponent of the Iraq war, was chosen for the intelligence committee post over the panel's two top-ranking Democrats, Reps. Jane Harman (Calif.) and Alcee L. Hastings (Fla.).

Reyes's office issued a statement yesterday noting that the 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.

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