More than 200 people have been killed in clashes between
Islamic rebels and government forces using warplanes and
tanks; this is not Iraq, but the picture of developments
Thousands of families are at risk as
the clashes continue in the Marran mountains of the
Saddah area, about 150 kilometers north of the capital
Sana'a, and close to the border with Saudi Arabia. It is
the main center of the Zaidi Shi'ite sect founded about
1,000 years ago.
The rebels have been chanting slogans
against the United States and Israel, according to local
reports. Air attacks and tank assaults have not been
successful so far in capturing rebel leader Hussein Badr
al-Deen al-Hothy. Al-Hothy, a former member of
parliament for the al-Haq (Truth) party, leads an
organization called Believing Youth.
government accuses al-Hothy of setting up a group
modeled on the Lebanese Hezbollah to destabilize the
government, and of being involved in attacks on
government officials and institutions, and in stirring
anti-American sentiment at mosques. He is also accused
of preventing people from paying the Islamic tax
zakat to the government and of trying to set
himself up as an imam. Yemen has not had an imam since
Zaidi Imam Hamid al-Din was overthrown as ruler in 1962.
Al-Hothy has denied the accusations. He says
Believing Youth is being targeted because of its faith
in Islam and its opposition to the United States and
Yemeni officials say they have been
keeping an eye on Believing Youth for some time, but had
not believed the movement would become so significant.
has been trying to shed its image as a safe
haven for terrorists ever since it joined the United States in
its "war on terror" after the September 11, 2001, attacks in
the US. It has rounded up hundreds of suspected
militants and captured alleged key members of al-Qaeda,
and it has received military aid from Washington.
"During the US war on Iraq, al-Hothy's
followers were in the front lines of demonstrations,"
President Ali Abdallah Saleh said at a meeting with
Islamic scholars last weekend. "We did not consider that
a problem, we said they are only a few impetuous
youths. But regrettably I have learned that al-Hothy has
formed the Believing Youth organization." Saleh said
al-Hothy has raised the Hezbollah flag instead of the
national flag. "This is against unity."
leader of the Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah,
has denied any links with the rebels in Saddah. "The
Hezbollah policy is not to intervene in other countries'
affairs," he said in a statement.
The clashes in
Saddah have set off political clashes between the
government and the opposition Islamic parties. The
opposition has called on the government to stop
indiscriminate use of weapons and to open peaceful talks
with the rebels.
The opposition has asked the
president to lift the siege of several civilian areas in
Saddah. "This bloodshed, destruction of homes and
assaults on people are truly regrettable and a cause for
sorrow," they said in a statement.
General People's Congress has threatened to take the
opposition to court over its stand.
rebellion has also created divisions among Zaidi
scholars. Some Zaidi Shi'ite clerics have dismissed the
rebellion as only a fitnah (disturbance) among
Yemeni Muslims. Zaidi judge Ahmed al-Shami says the
military action is only following a fatwa issued by the
chairman of the Public Fatwa Authority, Hamoud bin Abbas
These clerics say that al-Hothy does
not represent the views of the Zaidis, and that they
should reject his leadership. Others are supportive of
This week the Yemeni
government ordered closure of all unlicensed religious
schools. "Due to the connection between extremism,
militancy and certain curricula that promote deviant and
alien ideologies, the cabinet has issued orders for the
immediate closure of all schools and centers violating
the education law," the cabinet said in a statement.
The government integrated 140 religious schools
run by Shi'ites, Sunnis and Sufis with government
schools in 1999. But many have continued to work
The order to close the schools reflects "strong
foreign pressure on the government", political analyst
Mohammed al-Sabri told Inter Press Service.
2002, the Yemeni government expelled more than 100 foreign
Islamic scholars, including some from the United Kingdom
and France. The last major terrorist attack in Yemen was
the bombing of the French tanker Limburg in 2002 near
one of the country's ports. Fifteen people are on trial
charged with involvement in this attack, plotting to
assassinate US ambassador Edmund Hall in Sana'a, and
involvement in attacks on Yemeni intelligence offices.
(Inter Press Service)
Jul 10, 2004
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