Zindani denies allegations [Archives:2004/716/Front Page]

March 1 2004
A scene from Guantanamo Bay prison, where dozens of Yemenis are being held for holding terrorist views propogated by Osama bin Laden. The U.S. is linking cleric Sheikh Abdulmajeed al-Zindani to bin Laden, but the Yemeni is denying the charges. (Reuters file photo)
A scene from Guantanamo Bay prison, where dozens of Yemenis are being held for holding terrorist views propogated by Osama bin Laden. The U.S. is linking cleric Sheikh Abdulmajeed al-Zindani to bin Laden, but the Yemeni is denying the charges. (Reuters file photo)
Mohammed Al-Qadhi
Sheikh Abdulmajeed al-Zindani, head of Islah's Consultative Council, denied US allegations on his involvement in terrorists' support.
In a press statement distributed Friday evening, al-Zindani said “I am happy to announce to the people my denial to the US Treasury Department charges and if the USA has any evidences, they must be presented to the Yemeni judiciary.”
He added, “The Yemeni government is concerned with defending its citizens and I am a Yemeni citizen.”
Al-Zindani stressed that he condemns terrorism as defined by Muslim clerics and it is can be summarized as that act in which arms are used beyond Sharia'a and law or killing of innocent people.
“Such an act is terrorism which I condemn in all its forms and I already announced that several times,” he said.
The US Treasury Department announced Tuesday that al-Zindani, Rector of al-Eman (Religious) University, has been added to the American government's list of people suspected of supporting terrorist activities.
This statement of al-Zindani came out after intensive meetings for high ranking leaders of the Islah party headed by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hussein al-Ahmar who is also a prime leader of Hashid Tribe and speaker of parliament.
Al-Zindani called a press conference Thursday to comment on the US allegations but when journalists were at the spot, al-Zindani refused to be filmed or recorded and said that Islah leadership would hold an emergency meeting to reply to the US charges.
He said that he could not comment unless he receives documents of the charges by the Americans.
On Friday, an emergency meeting for the Islah top leaders came out with a short statement saying that “Islah leadership holds the State responsible for refuting the US allegations against Sheikh Abdulmajeed al-Zindani because he is a Yemeni citizen.”
Before this meeting, Sheikh Abdullah al-Ahmar met the US ambassador to Yemen Edmund Hull and discussed with him al-Zindani issue. Al-Ahmar asked Hull for details about the US charges for al-Zindani but Hull, according to reliable sources, told al-Ahmar that he does not have those details.
Al-Ahmar even moved along with some Islah leaders to Hadramaut on Friday to meet President Ali Abdullah Saleh to see how the US allegations can be answered.
Al-Zindani was described by the US Treasury Department as a “loyalist” to Osama bin Laden, adding that he “has along history of working with Bin Laden, notably serving as one of his spiritual leaders.”
It also said that al-Zindani has actively recruited for al-Qaeda's terrorist training camps and played a role in the purchase of weapons for al-Qaeda and other terrorists. The US has ordered freezing of al-Zindani financial assets and plans to ask the UN to add al-Zindani to its blocking list.
Yemen Times tried to contact the US embassy to get any official comment on this case but they apologized because it is very sensitive and critical and they do not want to be misquoted. However, John Ballian, Public Affairs Officer at the US embassy in Sana'a said a press statement that adding al-Zindani to the US terrorist suspect list does not “constitute a request for extradition”.
Political analysts described the Islah response to the charges as “clever and cautious” as it does not want to defend him before things become clear, putting the case at the hand of the state because he is a Yemeni citizen and that Islah is not a government but a political party that has no embassies through which to contact the US administration.
However, the case is very difficult for both the government and Islah party, putting the country, according to some political analysts, in a real fix.
On his part, Dr. Abdulkareem al-Iryani, political advisor to President Saleh, said in a press conference in Paris last Thursday that al-Zindani “is a well-known patriot and a former member of the presidential council and held a press conference said that he would respond unless he receives the charges against him. We are sure that he would tell the truth.”
The Los Angeles Times reported January 2003 that prisoners held in connection with the attack against the USS Cole told local authorities that al-Zindani issued a decree or fatwa ordering the strike and that the authorities did not investigate into such allegations which were denied by some leaders of the Islah party.
“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 newspaper 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.
Al-Zindani is the third prominent members of the Islah party who have been accused by the US of having connection with terrorists. Last month, the US accused Sheikh Abdullah Sa'atar of raising money for terrorist operations which he denied.
Last year, Sheikh Mohammed al-Mouyad was arrested in a trap set for him in Germany and then he was turned over to the US which has accused him of collecting more than $20 million for al-Qaeda and Bin Laden.