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LA Times’ Babylon & Beyond: Clerics condemn foreign intervention, threaten global jihad

January 15, 2010

A group of 150 Islamic scholars, sheiks and imams in Yemen issued a statement today condemning foreign intervention in the nation’s affairs, with one leading cleric calling for global jihad if Washington sends forces to battle Al Qaeda.

The statement, distributed on glossy yellow brochures and CDs to taxi drivers and passersby, was designed to remind Yemenis and Muslims worldwide that this Arabian peninsula nation will not be a puppet of the United States, said Sheik Ali al Warafi, a member of Yemen’s conservative Islamist party.

Sheik Arif bin Ahmad al Sabri, a member of parliament who read the document aloud to a group of several hundred men and women in a mosque in Yemen’s capital, Sana, called it a crucial step to maintaining freedom and independence in Yemen.

The statement consisted of nine tenets, including denouncing the Yemeni government’s recent military action against alleged Al Qaeda members in Yemen, rejecting further foreign military aid and condemning a recent rumor that foreign powers would be allowed to set up military bases in the country or use its territorial waters.

On Sunday, President Obama announced that the United States has no intention of sending troops to fight militants in Yemen. The clerics acknowledged Obama’s message, and asked that officials involved in the upcoming international conference on Yemen, scheduled for Jan. 28 in London, respect Yemen’s sovereignty.

The Islamic scholars’ statement was presented after a morning sermon by Sheik Abd al Majid Zindani, a radical Salafist cleric, who told his followers that any U.S. military involvement in Yemen would invite global jihad. The last paragraph in the statement reminds Muslims that Islam permits its citizens to call jihad to expel attackers.

Zindani, who the U.S. considers a global terrorist, is said to have been Osama bin Laden’s spiritual leader when both men were in Afghanistan in the 1980s. He also has close ties with Anwar al Awlaki, the Yemeni American cleric who exchanged e-mails with Ft. Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. Zindani’s sermons are often nearly packed and, this morning, a crowd of 200 men milled outside the crowded mosque.

In the women’s section on the second floor, about 200 women, all wearing floor-length black gowns and head scarves, sliced pastries and poured tea, and waited for the sermon to begin. “Zindani is our sheik. All Yemeni people, they love him,” said a young woman in a black veil covering everything except her glinting black glasses’ frame. “I don’t know why they say he is dangerous. He is just fighting for his country, that’s all. That’s what we should all do.”

— Haley Sweetland Edwards in Yemen

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