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Poll finds declining support for terrorism in many Muslim nations

WASHINGTON—Support for Osama bin Laden and for violence against civilians in the name of Islam is falling in many Muslim countries, according to a new poll released Thursday.

"Maybe in some cases it is a response to their own experiences," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, which sponsored the study.

Pew found declining support for terrorism among Lebanese, Pakistanis, Indonesians and Moroccans, the first three of whom have experienced serious recent violence. The findings are based on face-to-face interviews conducted between April 20 and May 31, before the London mass transit attacks.

The major exception is Jordan, where 57 percent of those surveyed said violence against civilian targets is sometimes or often justified. When asked the same question in a 2002 Pew poll, the figure was 43 percent. In Turkey, the sixth Muslim country surveyed, there was no significant change.

The declines are good news, Kohut said. But falling support for terrorism doesn't mean increased backing for the United States. In a survey last month, Pew reported that favorable ratings of the United States increased—especially in Indonesia—following extensive U.S. aid to tsunami relief in that country. Overall, however, favorable ratings of the United States have declined in the Muslim world since the invasion of Iraq, Pew found.

In the latest study, Lebanon's support for political violence showed the biggest drop. Of Lebanese surveyed in 2002, 73 percent said they could often or sometimes support violence against civilian targets. The number fell to 39 percent this year. The country recently faced political violence when a car bomb killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February. The assassination created a great national outcry, mainly against Syria, which was suspected of masterminding the attack.

In most Muslim countries, fewer people today say they have "a lot" or "some" confidence that bin Laden will "do the right thing regarding world affairs."

In Indonesia, the figure is down to 35 percent from 58 percent in 2003, according to Pew. In Morocco, it's down to 26 percent from 49 percent.

One exception is in Jordan, where the number rose to 60 percent from 55 percent in 2003. The other exception is Pakistan, where it's 51 percent compared with 45 percent.

Elsewhere, al-Qaida attacks on Muslim civilians in Iraq are causing the declines, said Muqtedar Khan, a foreign policy specialist at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington.

"What the United States did in Iraq it terrible, but what they (al-Qaida) did is equally terrible," Khan said. "Whether the United States is attacking or Muslim extremists are, Muslims are dying."

Leaders of Islamic governments are likely to gain from the fall-off in support for bin Laden and the United States, said Samer Shehata, a Middle East studies professor at Georgetown University in Washington.

"People in the Muslim world are stuck between their corrupt authoritarian leaders and Osama bin Laden," Shehata said. "And their corrupt authoritarian leaders look good next to Osama."

In the Pew poll, a majority of respondents, except in Turkey, said they approved of Islam's playing a greater role in national politics.

Asked what was responsible for Muslim extremism, close to 4 out of 10 respondents in Lebanon and Jordan blamed the United States. Pakistanis and Moroccans cited poverty as the leading cause. Turks said a lack of education had the biggest effect. Indonesians said it was immorality.

Sample sizes ranged from 500 to 2,191. The margin of error ranged between 2 and 4 percentage points.

To read the survey, go to


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050714 TERROR POLL

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