Global media are reporting that a Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood leader has reversed his earlier position and is now calling for the resignation of President Saleh and for the establishment of an Islamic state. According to a New York Times report, which fails to identify Sheik Abdul Majid al-Zindani as a Muslim Brotherhood leader:
SANA, Yemen — As thousands of demonstrators for and against President Ali Abdullah Saleh took to the streets on Tuesday, a cleric who is a former mentor of Osama bin Laden joined them to call for the replacement of the government with an Islamic state.The cleric, Sheik Abdul Majid al-Zindani, has been on the United States Treasury Department’s list of “specially designated global terrorists” since 2004, suspected of fund-raising for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. His call was a marked contrast to the message of the rebellions that brought down the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and now threaten the rulers of Libya, Bahrain, Oman and, to this point, Yemen, where uprisings have been seen as secular and inspired by democratic goals. In the past, he has publicly opposed terrorism, if not jihad, or holy war, and his word as a spiritual leader carries considerable political and moral weight in Yemen…..Mr. Zindani spoke on an open-air stage before several thousand anti-government protesters, guarded by his own private security force of 10 men carrying AK-47’s and shielded from the scorching sun by two umbrellas wielded by aides. He called for Mr. Saleh to step down and described the fervor for reform as an opportunity. “An Islamic state is coming,” he said, drawing cries of “God is great” from some in the crowd. He said Mr. Saleh “came to power by force, and stayed in power by force, and the only way to get rid of him is through the force of the people.” For many years, he maintained ties with Mr. Saleh even though he was a founder of the Islamic opposition Islah Party. Some in the crowd said they supported his appearance because of his position against the president. “Yes, he is a big influence,” said Saleh Al Garani, 25, an unemployed antigovernment protester. “But what’s important is that he says ‘get out.’ We all agree because he says Saleh has to go.” Others said Mr. Zindani’s appearance at the demonstration did not denote a broader Islamic influence on the Yemeni protests. The cleric has been a supporter of Mr. Saleh for five years, said Abdul-Ghani Al Iryani, a political analyst. “Now he has jumped ship because he’s seen that Saleh is slowly losing his power base and therefore he wanted to be with the winning side,” Mr. Iryani said. “That’s all there is to it.”An earlier post reported that Yemeni politicians and MP’s were calling for the closure of a university associated with al-Zindani and that al-Zindani had appealed to end the current protests in Yemen.
A previous post reported that Yemeni MP’s and politicians had called for the closure of a university associated with al-Zindani and that al-Zindani had urged the ending of the anti-government protests.
Another previous post reported on the role of the Islah Party, the local Muslim Brotherhood organization in Yemen, as part of what was described as a “cross-ideological inter-party coalition.” Zindani is one the most important leaders of Islah who has been the head of the the party’s Shura (advisory) council for at least three terms. The U.S. Treasury Department has designated Zindani as a terrorist and describes him as a “loyalist” and “spiritual advisor” to Osama Bin Laden. A 2007 Jamestown Foundation report further explains Zindani’s terrorist activities:
According to a statement from the U.S. Treasury Department, al-Zindani’s involvement with al-Qaeda includes recruiting, purchasing weapons and acting as a spiritual leader for the movement, as well as acting as a contact for Kurdish Iraq’s Ansar al-Islam. The Yemen government has ignored appeals from Washington for the arrest of the sheikh and the seizure of his assets (Arab News, February 24, 2006). Al-Zindani was recently identified in a U.S. federal court as the coordinator of the October 2000 suicide attack in Aden harbor on the USS Cole. A two and a half year-old lawsuit filed in Virginia by the families of the 17 servicemen killed in the bombing has recently finished by finding the country of Sudan responsible for the attack, opening the way for compensation payments from the US$68 million in Sudanese assets frozen by the U.S. government. The suit also alleged that al-Zindani selected the two suicide bombers that carried out the strike, although the sheikh was never charged by Yemeni authorities with complicity in the attack (The Virginian-Pilot, March 12). Yemen’s minister of foreign affairs, Dr. Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, welcomed the decision, ignoring the alleged role of al-Zindani, while declaring the verdict proof that Yemen was in no way involved in the attack on the U.S. destroyer.
Also, the Jeruslaem Post reported in April 2006 that Hamas leader Khaled Marshaal had met with Zindani at a fundraising event at the Hamas office in Yemen. The report stated that at the event, Zindani “praised Hamas suicide bombers and and called on his followers to donate money to assist the Palestinian people.”
In addition to his leadership of the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood, Zindani also has strong links to the global Muslim Brotherhood including serving on the board of global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi’s Union of Good Hamas fund-raising organization and his relationship to Muslim Brotherhood figure Zaghloul el-Naggar of Egypt. The connection with el-Naggar is based on both men’s position as leading exponents of the so-called “scientific basis of Islam.” As the Jamestown report explains:
Al-Zindani is also a leading exponent of the scientific basis for Islam, as outlined in various passages of the Quran that the sheikh interprets as descriptions of everything from black holes to photosynthesis. Last December, al-Zindani, a former pharmacist, claimed to have developed a cure for HIV/AIDS. Unlike other HIV/AIDS medicines, the sheikh’s discovery allegedly has no side effects while eliminating the disease in men, women and even fetuses. Al-Zindani asserts that he will reveal the herbal formula for “Eajaz-3” once a copyright has been obtained. Although the sheikh claims the inspiration of his creation “came from God,” no proof of the cure’s effectiveness has yet been presented (Yemen Observer, December 19, 2006). In the last few months, five Libyan children receiving treatment for HIV at al-Zindani’s al-Iman University have been deported in response to allegations of Libyan assistance to Shiite rebels in Yemen’s Sa’ada province (Yemen Observer, March 6; Terrorism Focus, February 20).
Although the Jamestown report says that Zindani “has lately made a slight retreat from the Islamist global arena”, his activities represent one of the challenges to the notion that there is some kind of “firewall” between the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda/and or jihadist organizations.