Few Americans are qualified to speak on Al Qaeda, the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the Middle-East, and Islam at one go. Bernard Haykel is one such expert.
Haykel has an interesting background. His father is a Christian of Lebanese origin from the West Indies; his mother a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust. You can call Haykel India's son-in-law as well since he is married to Navina, former foreign secretary Salman Haider's daughter.
Now an American citizen, Haykel graduated from Oxford in Islamic studies and is currently writing a book on the evolution and impact of the Wahabbi and Salafi movements on Saudi Arabia since the 1950s. His passion is to study and teach Islamic politics, and he has been doing that for the last two years as professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University.
An interesting side to Haykel is that he is defending the legal and human rights of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the prime accused in the 9/11 attacks who faces a military trial at the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay.
Haykel spoke to Sheela Bhatt in this exclusive interview about the Mumbai attacks, Al Qaeda and, of course, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
What was your reaction when you heard about the Mumbai attacks?
It was a real shock. I saw that terrorists had attacked multiple sites, and sites of symbolic importance. There was something different about the attack. People who were doing so were influenced by Al Qaeda led by Osama bin Laden. There was simultaneous attacks on different locations, they were targeting American, British and Israeli citizens.
They are known targets of Al Qaeda.
Image: CCTV footage shows the terrorists walking across the train concourse after a shooting spree at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai on the night of November 26. One of them, Ajmal Amir Kasab, was arrested later. Photograph: Reuters. Inset: Bernard Haykel.
Also read: Exclusive! Investigator Rakesh Maria speaks to Sheela Bhatt about the Mumbai attacks