Al-Hitar denies he linked Zindani to Cole attack [Archives:2003/03/Local News]

January 20 2003

Judge Hamoud al-Hitar, a member of the Yemeni Supreme Court, has strongly denied that he said Sheikh Abudlmajeed al-Zindani or any other political or religious figure is involved in the USS Cole suicide attack.
His denial comes after the Los Angelos Times quoted al-Hitar last Wednesday as saying that prisoners held in connection with the Cole attack told local authorities that al-Zindani issued a decree ordering the strike.
Al-Hitar, head of the committee that’s now holding dialogue with Yemeni Afghans in prisons, refuted the allegation and said Saturday that he did talk about the involvement of any political or religious figure in the Cole attack.
The USS Cole exploded on October 12, 2000 in Aden, where 17 US sailors were killed and 39 others injured.
He pointed out that he did not talk with the US newspaper editor at all about al-Zindani, head of Islah Shura Council and rector of al-Eman University, and his involvement in the attack.
The US newspaper reported that al-Hitar said “the government had not investigated the allegations against Sheikh Abdul Majeed al-Zindani to confirm whether he did issue such a religious order, or fatwa, targeting the warship Cole,” adding, “People suspected in the Cole case have said they acted according to a fatwa by Sheik Abdul Majeed.”
Al-Hitar pointed out in a statement to The Times read in English by his daughter, “However, I cannot verify if it was done according to a fatwa by Abdul Majeed.”Yemen Times tried to get al-Zindani to comment on these allegations but it could not get through.
However, Islah spokesman Hamoud Hashim al-Tharihi flatly, according to the US newspaper, denied the allegation.
“The allegations – and the government’s reluctance to investigate, or at least to acknowledge that it is investigating – demonstrate the extraordinary challenges facing Yemen and U.S. officials trying to fight terrorism here,” the US newspaper said.
“Authorities can expect greater opposition if they try to extradite, arrest or even question someone of Zindani’s stature,” it added.
The LA Times said Zindani is a former teacher and confidant of Osama bin Laden and that his radical anti-American, anti-Jewish brand of Islam not only had been tolerated until recently by the central government but was also rewarded with money, authority and legitimacy.
Zindani, who fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, played a central role in helping end a civil war in Yemen in 1994.
“The United States has long wanted to question Zindani in connection with the Cole attack, but authorities here said that the prisoners’ statements are the first evidence that has surfaced in Yemen that might connect Zindani with the blast,” the newspaper added.
The U.S. Embassy in Sana declined to comment, saying only that the investigation into the incident is continuing.
Zindani appeared on Yemen TV last week preaching against fanaticism and terrorism. He denounced terrorist acts and said they had nothing to do with Islam.
The same US newspaper said that after the Cole bombing that Zindani and other prominent figures in the government had connections with the incident.