U.S. media is reporting that Yemeni clerics, including Muslim Brotherhood leader Sheikh Abd al-Majid al-Zindani, called for the protests now underway in Yemen in connection with the controversial film at the center of recent events. According to a Christian Science Monitor report:
As violent protests against an obscure anti-Islamic film spread to Yemen, parts of the capital of Sanaa erupted, underscoring the continuing instability facing the country and laying bare simmering anti-American sentiments. A number of Yemeni clerics, including Sheikh Abdul Majid al-Zindani, a leading Sunni religious leader, called for the protests. Participants said they were initially planned as peaceful demonstrations, but as they escalated, some people attempted to lay siege to the US embassy, with some of them clearing the compound’s outer security perimeter, despite the presence of Yemeni security forces. Some demonstrators burned cars and smashed the windows of security buildings as they set an American flag on fire. Yemeni forces were eventually able to repel the attack, which failed to reach the main buildings of the embassy compound, but it took time to disperse the hundreds of demonstrators in the largely youthful crowd shouting defiant chants, vowing to sacrifice themselves to protect the honor of the prophet Muhammad and, in some cases, lobbing rocks at the Yemeni forces trying to hold them back. A tense standoff ensued between protesters and harried troops who launched tear gas and fired warning shots in the air in a scrambled attempt to disperse the crowd, which diminished by early afternoon. At least 13 demonstrators were wounded and one was reported killed by a stray warning shot. An embassy spokesman confirmed that all members of their staff were ‘present and accounted for.’ “
The U.S. Treasury Department designated Zindani as a terrorist in 2004, describing him as a “loyalist” and “spiritual advisor” to Osama Bin Laden. A 2007 Jamestown Foundation report further explained 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 (http://www.treasury.gov/press/releases/js1190.htm). 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 Jerusalem Post reported in April 2006 that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal 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).
Aside from its deceased leader Abdallah al-Ahmar and his sons (including Hamid, a successful businessman), the most prominent figures of al-Islah include Yahya Lutfi al-Fusayl, Muhammad Qahtan, Muhammad al-Yadumi (who took over the leadership after the death of al-Ahmar), and Abd al-Majid al-Zindani. Al-Zindani is likely the most famous of all and is said to embody the radical component of al-Islah. This former comrade of Zubayri, heads the al-Iman religious university in San’a and spent many years in Saudi Arabia. In the 1980s, he organized for Yemeni fighters to be sent to Afghanistan and thereby gained stature. In the post-September 11 context, Zindani has frequently been described by the American administration as a close partner of bin Ladin. His historical role has protected him from direct government repression. He plays an ambiguous role, acting both as a mainstream popular figure (his criticism of American foreign policy is commonly accepted by Yemenis) and a marginal one, as he represents a bridge to a type of violent militancy that does not appeal to many.
An earlier post reported that in 2011, Yemeni MP’s and politicians were calling for the closure of Al-Iman University, and that the University fosters and funds terrorism and provides students with arms and explosives. The university is said not to be under the supervision of the Ministry of Higher Education and the Yemeni President is reported to have intervened to protect al-Zindani and hindered US efforts to arrest or assassinate him.
Another post from 2011 reported that Al-Qaeda figure Anwar al-Awlaki, killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, had been residing in the homes of various Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
Other earlier posts reported that Zindani:
- Vowed to gather a million signatures to protest a law banning child brides
- Warned against foreign occupation in the cooperation with U.S. counter-terrorism efforts.
- Claimed that violence in the south of Yemen is part of a foreign plot to divide the country.