SANAA (AFP) – Powerful Yemeni cleric Sheikh Abdulmajeed al-Zendani said on Friday it would be “a religious duty dictated by God” to defend Yemen through jihad, or holy war, if it is occupied by a foreign power.
“From the moment the enemy invites itself onto our territory and occupies us, our religion imposes (the obligation of) jihad on us,” said Zendani, who has been labelled a “global terrorist” by the US administration.
“It is a religious duty dictated by God,” he said during a Friday prayer sermon in the Yemeni capital.
“This order of God cannot be annulled by anyone … not a king, not a president, not ulema (Muslim scholars),” Zendani added in a firm voice.
Zendani was responding in part to comments on Wednesday by the chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, who urged Washington to consider targeting Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen with armed drones, air strikes or covert operations, but not invade the country.
Yemen’s council of clerics, which includes Zendani, had made a similar call on Thursday for jihad if foreign troops join the war on Al-Qaeda in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country.
“If any party insists on aggression, or invades the country, then according to Islam, jihad becomes obligatory,” said a statement signed by 150 clerics read at a news conference.
The clerics also stressed “strong rejection of any foreign intervention in Yemeni affairs, whether political or military.”
They also rejected “any security or military agreement or cooperation (between Yemen and) any foreign party if it violates Islamic Sharia (law)” and the “setting up any military bases in Yemen, or in its territorial waters.”
In his Friday sermon, Zendani repeated that “we reject any interference” in Yemeni affairs, adding that the “right of self defence is a duty.”
He called on his fellow Yemenis to “promote the fatwa (religious decree) in the media and on the Internet,” and urged Arab and Muslim countries to support Yemen “before a catastrophe occurs.”
“The Islamic nation will not stand by with its arms crossed in the face of these Crusades,” he added.
“To defend ourselves and defend our country and our territory, we only fear God … And we are confident in victory,” he told worshippers, who responded with cries of “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest).
Al-Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, claimed responsibility for the botched Christmas Day attack on a US airliner, and Washington has accused the group of training the alleged assailant, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
In the wake of the failed attack, the Yemeni government has intensified its operations against Al-Qaeda, insisting that it can tackle the militants on its own without the need for a foreign military intervention.
One of the members of the council of clerics, Sheikh Saleh Salabani, was blunt in predicting failure for the Americans if they do get involved.
US strikes, he said, would “drive the populace into the arms of Al-Qaeda.”
“We might not love Al-Qaeda,” he said, “but it is for our government to get rid of them and not anyone else.”
And the country’s defence ministry vowed on Thursday to do just that.
It said it would “clear” Yemen of Al-Qaeda jihadists and warned that “intensive operations” will continue against Osama bin Laden’s extremists.
Citizens have been warned not to hide any Al-Qaeda members and have been urged to cooperate with the security forces against the extremists, the defence ministry’s 26sep.net website quoted a security source as saying.
US President Barack Obama has said he has “no intention” of sending troops to Yemen, or to Somalia, in the Horn of Africa just across the Bab al-Mandab Strait.