Ali al-Kurdi, nicknamed “Abu Israel,” a former “mujahid” in Afghanistan, discusses the Popular Committee which he founded in Yemen to defend the country’s unity against calls for secession, and on the period of his “jihad” in Afghanistan.
He discusses the present and future of the political and military situation in the South of Yemen as one of the fiercest opponents of the Southern Movement, admitting openly that he and his group are ready to conduct “suicide operations” against the secessionists. Text of the interview follows:
Q. How did the idea of establishing this committee come about?
The idea started when we thought of establishing a “Unity Forum of the Sons of Aden,” and when we saw young people and their willingness to defend the unity of Yemen. So we started the Committee and I was elected as its chairman, and of course the support for it came from my side, and to this day it does not have any support from the state.
We are among those from the South who have suffered the scourge, prison, and oppression because of our religious devotion. When we used to pray, people from al-Dalea and Yafi would urinate on us.
We suffered severely [during the socialist rule of the South], and we were not able even to build homes or prosper.
We endured a lot in those days, and we looked to the tribes for authority, whether in Abyan, Shabwa, Al-Dalea, or Radfan.
Q. You say you sons of the South have suffered, but are not the people of the areas you just mentioned also the sons of the south?
Yes they are from the South, but any person governed exclusively by his tribe. I mean to say, it was factional and territorial, and there was no real freedom: no freedom of press, no freedom of religion – only freedom for degeneracy and alcohol and such things.
Persecution and slaughter continued since the British colonialists left in 1967 until the establishment of unity between the two parts of Yemen (North and South, in 1990). Back then we used to be rounded up every day, under the guise of some charge or another, sometimes as «leftist provocateurs» and other times as «right-wing reactionaries», once as part of a supposed «gang» or «clique», but the mother of all crimes was the massacre our ranks on January 13.
Q. Some say you are using in the committee as a means to bludgeon the government’s opponents in the South. Your response?
By God, we, even today, have never been a tool of the authorities. But if we were to be used by them, this would be an honor for us – we will continue to work under our own leadership.
But it is a grave shame to work for a foreign agenda, and to be agents of foreign powers which aim at striking the country and harming its people in the interests of other countries.
And if I were an agent of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, I would take pride in this, but I’m not liked by his government.
Political Security has raided my house and this caused my sister’s miscarriage. I was thrown in prison.
This issue is national, and is not limited just to the defense of the regime. We want to move this country towards better things, and also want to eliminate corruption and do not want to slide back again to the days of “North and South.”
All those who lost power engineered the “Southern Issue” and so on, and we’ve been manipulated since the days of Britain.
There were those who chanted “Aden for the Adenis,” and this was the slogan for those who wanted secession and who did not want any Bedoiun or al-Dhalai to enter Aden.
This was the face of racism and secessionism during our time, but thanks to God and thanks to the men who fought for unity in the 1994 civil war – because of their efforts, we had this new birth as a nation.
Me and my comrades were condemned to death in 1994 by Ali Salem (former Vice President) and Saleh Munasir Al-Sayyali (former Minister of State Security), but when the troops of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the tribes, and the Mujahideen entered, we escaped the death penalty.
Q. Since you founded the Committee for the Defense of Unity, have you received sums of money from the government?
Unfortunately not. I went to the Standing Committee (Central Committee of the General Congress Party, the ruling party) more than once in order to get support for the body, but so far, no one has supported us.
By God Almighty, I support the committee with money I could instead be using to better support my children.
Q. There are those who call you the «Peshmerga» or «Janjaweed», in that you are an ally of the government used to cope with the southern movement. What is your response?
My brother, I ate yesterday a meal for 100 YR of roti and beans. And I was thrown in prison in 1988 because I used to pray – they lied and said it was a political issue, and that I was a follower of the «Muslim Brotherhood», but I knew nothing about them. Also, they charged me with collaborating with the North.
This is the reason I do not want to go back to separation; we are ready to fight and sacrifice ourselves and our families in order not to split the country, and we do not want «federalism».
The President has announced to the former rulers that if they want to rule, they should return to the country, but we in the South do not want them to rule. [Ali Salem] al-Beidh has a death sentence against him, on behalf of the sons of the South, and Yasin Said Nu’man (current Secretary General of the Yemeni Socialist Party), who was prime minister at the time, did not lift a finger against the slaughter that took place in Radfan against the children of Abyan.
The people were being slaughtered like cattle and those who were silent supposedly speak now on behalf of the sons of the South??
Q. Brother Ali … I want you to tell me about your Jihad in Afghanistan and on how, in your view, the jihadist ideology can defend the unity of Yemen?
Before I went to Afghanistan, we were following in the Media of the «Democratic Republic of Yemen» what was being said about the Mujahideen “pawns,” and I was eager to fight alongside the Russians against the «Mujahideen» because of the brainwashing that we were exposed to.
But when I joined the army, I learned that the holy warriors were right, and that the Russians had usurped the country and were destroying the place. I saw it as my religious duty to go to Afghanistan. After my return, I saw that the place for jihad was in Yemen, for the sake of unity, before even the jihad in Afghanistan and in Palestine, and then against the southern movement, and then against the Jews and Christians.
Q. Do I understand from your words that if you were asked to carry out an armed operation against the southern movement, you would agree?
If there were clashes and the leaders of the movement were to rove around the southern regions armed, my companions and I are ready to repel any attack or any armed action. But the issue now is political, and the ball is in the court of the state, and we do not want any fighting in Yemen like there is in Somalia and Darfur.
We want Yemen to be stable state; people are hungry and do not want to enter into a war, but if the Southern Movement insists on violence, we are ready to counter it, even if through martyrdom operations.
Q. Do not you think that your words to me are the same kind of words al-Qaeda and other militant jihadist groups use, and that these ideas do not comply with official Yemeni policy?
I know that this will not please the state, but in my view, al-Qaeda is a global Islamic group which wants to end the American-Jewish occupation of the Muslim world. This is the mission of al-Qaeda in the West, but I will speak about my mission, which is in Yemen.
I must defend it against any foreign colonization. You, as a journalist, know that there was a conspiracy to divide Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Iraq. Iraq is divided, and now Sudan, and they are heading towards Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Q. What is the nature of your activities in defense of unity?
We educate people about the dangers of conflict and division and the risks of tribal factionalism. We alert people to the dangers of separation, in particular that, if Yemen is separated and ends, that means the end of Mecca and Medina too. Because Yemen is their defence; even the Turks, who ruled Yemen, realized this.
We advise people not to cultivate hatred and tell them that they are brothers and that there is no difference between non-Arab and Arab or between Yemen and the U.S., only piety. If these are our activities, how are can we be called radicals?
Q. What is the strength of your committee?
It is estimated at up to 1000 members, mostly those who have lost loved ones during the rule of the totalitarian party (SPD), including women and the families of the missing, including my deputy, who lost her husband in the events of 1986.
Q. How do you look to the assassinations in Abyan and Shabwa targeting some officers and employees of the Political Security?
Frankly, they themselves are responsible for the security chaos and assassinations. Officers detain people, and those people enter prison, and by the time they leave have their heads filled with revenge for the State. This explains some of the momentum the southern movement has.
Q. What do you make of demands for «disengagement»? Are these legitimate demands?
Among the southern movement are people who were state officials; some of them were ambassadors abroad and military leaders and the like. After unity, the population increased dramatically, and is not reasonable to keep these people on as they were.
So these same people, acting in their own interests, began to act as if they were speaking on behalf of the people of the South. But I, a southerner, could not get a home, and we sometimes witnessed 4 or 5 families living in one house.
Those who spoke out in the name of the South at that time were massacred; the South was a wasteland, and now it is growing, as evidenced by the success of the «Gulf 20», and that is a complement to the backers of unity in the South.