News / Middle East

Popular Yemeni Sheik Demonstrates Divide in al-Qaida War

Heather Murdock

In Yemen, Sheik Abdul Majid al-Zindani is well-known as an influential, if controversial, leader and scholar.  In America, he is considered a terrorist.  More than anyone else, Zindani personifies the disconnect between how the war on al-Qaida is viewed by Yemenis, and how it is viewed in the West.  Heather Murdock reports for VOA from Yemen's capital, Sana'a.

This is the sound of Sheik Abdul Majid al-Zindani leaving a room.  Journalists and fans swarm around him, waving and jumping, trying to get his attention.  With a bushy red beard, and a famous smile, the sheik is a Yemeni rock star.

Although he is less famous in America than in Yemen, Zindani is also fairly well known in the West.  The U.S. government calls Zindani a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" and accuses him of being a spiritual guide to Osama bin Laden and of funneling money to terrorist organizations.

Ismail al-Suhaili is the head of the political-science department at Iman University, an Islamic college Zindani founded and now heads.  He says the United States has its history confused.

Zindani, like most Yemeni clerics, and the U.S. government, encouraged young Arab men to join Afghanistan's fight against the Soviet Union in the 70s and 80s.  Osama bin Laden may have been one of the fighters, al-Suhaili says, but he was just one of many.  Zindani, he says, has nothing to do with al-Qaida.

But Zindani makes no secret about his hostility towards Western policy.  At a Sanaa press conference he says American leaders lie to the people, and that the World Financial Crisis was caused by U.S. waste in Iraq.

In mid-January, Zindani called for "global jihad" if the West sends troops to fight al-Qaida in Yemen.  Most people here oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and joke that if the U.S. military came to Yemen, everyone would join al-Qaida.

And although Zindani is charged with funding terrorist organizations, Yemenis have a different list of who is a terrorist and who is not.  Hamas, for instance, is widely considered the legitimate government of Palestine, and Zindani, like many prominent Yemenis, openly supports the organization, which the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist group.

U.N. sanctions against Zindani have also been mostly ignored.   An official at Yemen's foreign ministry, Wael al-Hamdani, says the government cannot punish Zindani because he has not broken any laws.

"Sheik al-Zindani is a Yemeni citizen, abiding by Yemeni law," said Wael al-Hamdani. "If he had committed anything he would charged and prosecuted for it."

Some of the sheik's more eccentric offers are controversial in Yemen.  Zindani claims to have invented a cure for HIV/AIDS and says he has discovered scientific proof that women cannot think and remember at the same time, which is why in Islamic court two female witnesses have the same clout as one male witness.

The sheik's domestic policy is also divisive in Yemen.  Last year, Zindani led the opposition to a proposed law that would have banned adult men from marrying little girls.  He also objected to measures that would encourage women in politics, and supported a Saudi Arabian style "virtue police."

But for many Yemenis, even those who hate his politics, Zindani remains a national father-figure and a star.  Politicians say he is too popular to oppose and the very idea the Yemeni government would force the sheik to answer to Western charges is absurd.   

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid