- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

SANAA, Yemen, Jan. 10 (UPI) — The Yemeni government has launched a campaign directed at Muslim clerics to dissuade them from preaching support for violence and terrorism, the official Yemeni daily Al Thawra reported Friday.

The campaign comes amidst growing hostility towards the United States in Yemen, as elsewhere in the Arab world, over both Washington's support for the Israeli repression of the Palestinian intifada and its widely expected coming war with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

According to officials at the Ministry of Waqf (religious endowments), the new campaign is aimed at enlightening Muslim preachers about their role in promoting true religious values that condemn terrorism and extremism.

Much of Yemen lies outside of the control of the central government and is populated by Arab tribes sympathetic to Islamist radicals, such as the al Qaida terrorist network, and hostile to the West, particularly to the United States.

Al Qaida was created by Osama bin Laden, who the United States holds responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Although he was born in Saudi Arabia, bin Ladin's family comes from the Hadramawt in southeastern Yemen and he is believed to retain ties with that southern region.

The great majority of those Yemeni clerics who admire bin Ladin's religious ideas welcomed the attacks on New York and Washington which they saw as the punishment of God on a corrupt society of non-believers — 83 percent of extremist preachers, according to one opinion poll.

The most recent victims of anti-American attacks were three Baptist missionaries, slain last month at the hospital they ran. Other anti-Western violence included an attack on a French oil tanker, the Limburg, off the Hadramawt coast last October. One man aboard died in that incident, and 17 sailors died when suicide bombers attacked the destroyer USS Cole in Aden harbor in October 2000.

Yemenis, too, have been targeted. Late in December, a gunman killed a prominent secular politician, Jarallah Omar, leader of the Yemeni Socialist Party, after he had spoken on the need to end violence at a meeting of Islamic Isla party.

A former mosque preacher, Ahmed Ali Jarallah, 26, was arrested for the murder. Jarallah in the past denounced President Saleh for a democratic form of government that many Yemeni Muslims feel is alien to and incompatible with Islam.

With rising anti-Americanism has come increased criticism of Saleh. While he supported Iraq during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, he has cooperated with Washington against terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. For example, Saleh approved an attack by a U.S. Predator drone missile last November that killed two senior al Qaida members, including the alleged leader in Yemen, and four others as they were driving in a sports utility vehicle.

Over the past two years, the United States has poured money into Yemen to better the government's ability to deal with Islamic militants and to improve its security generally. Thus, for example, Washington is assisting Yemen in creating a coast guard service.

A Waqf ministry official, Yehya al Najjar, was quoted by Al Thawra as saying, "The preacher's role is to deal with the people's daily religious affairs and increase their religious awareness, and not to incite them to extremism and terrorism."

Of the country's 72,000 mosques, only some 6,000 fall under government control through the Ministry of Waqf. According to observers in Yemen, clerics close to the government would like to see all the mosques placed under the control of the state to prevent any instigation of violence in sermons delivered at Friday prayers. These clerics would also like to see an end to attacks on Judaism and Christianity.

Whether the Yemeni Muslim hard-liners can be convinced to renounce their militant stance against Western influences in their country remains at best moot.

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