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

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Five-Nation Tour to Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of state will visit Egypt, Qatar, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam to discuss security issues, Iran nuclear deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership 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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs