updated 11/1/2004 2:00:38 PM ET 2004-11-01T19:00:38

A group of Arab intellectuals wants prominent Muslim clerics known for inflammatory views tried by an international court on charges of encouraging terrorism, the intellectuals’ U.S.-based spokesman said Monday, arguing that the clerics’ governments haven’t acted strongly enough against them.

The call appears largely symbolic, but likely will stir debate about inflammatory statements made by radical Muslim clerics in their fatwas, or religious edicts, and through the media and on the Internet. There is neither a venue nor any realistic possibility that clerics would be handed over for such prosecution.

Shaker al-Nabulsi, a U.S.-based Jordanian university professor, said about 3,000 Arab and Muslim intellectuals have signed the petition thus far calling for international trials. Iraqis, Jordanians, Libyans, Syrians and Tunisian intellectuals were among those who signed, al-Nabulsi said.

“The Arab regimes cannot put an end to these fatwas of terrorism; the international community can,” al-Nabulsi told The Associated Press in Cairo in a telephone interview from his Denver home.

Among those the intellectuals want to see tried are Qatar-based Egyptian Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi, who has condoned attacks on American civilians in Iraq and sanctioned kidnapping in wartime. Two prominent Saudi clerics, Sheik Ali Bin Khudeir al-Khudeir and Sheik Safar al-Hawali, also are mentioned.

“Fatwas issued by these sheiks play a key role in releasing the sadism of terrorists and their desire for death beyond any moral bounds and feelings of guilt,” the group said in a statement to be delivered to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan this week.

Essam Telmiya, an aide to al-Qaradawi in Qatar, said the sheik’s office received the statement and was studying it but had no comment for the time being. The Saudi clerics could not immediately be reached for comment.

The call mentions various Security Council resolutions against terrorism that the intellectuals say should be used to set up a tribunal. Those resolutions, it said, “stipulate that effective measures should be taken against individuals and groups involved in terrorism, including bringing them to justice.”

The Saudi clerics, al-Khudeir and al-Hawali, both espoused radical views that made al-Qaida terror mastermind Osama bin Laden one of their followers. After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by al-Qaida on the United States, the Saudi government began reining them in, and they largely have been silenced.

In addition to citing his fatwa about attacking American civilians in Iraq, the intellectuals also accused al-Qaradawi of endorsing the killing of liberal-minded Muslim intellectuals.

Al-Qaradawi, head of the London-based International Association of Muslim Scholars, infuriated many intellectuals and writers when he told journalists in September that U.S. civilians in Iraq are legitimate targets for Iraqi insurgents. Later, he issued a religious edict saying it is permissible under Islam to kidnap in wartime — but not to kill the hostages.

More than 150 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq by various groups, with some demanding ransoms and others making political demands. Dozens have been killed.

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