As the Yemeni military presses its offensive against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula strongholds in Abyan province, the terror group released a video of the destruction of a tomb in Jaar just before AQAP fighters withdrew from the city. The scene is reminiscent of the Afghan Taliban’s destruction of statues of Buddha in March 2001.
The videotape was released by the Madad News Agency and showed members of Ansar al Sharia, AQAP’s political front, demolishing tombs in the villages of Al Tareyyah, Al Darjaj, and Sayhan near Jaar in Abyan province. The videotape, which was recorded in May and released on June 5, was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. Ibrahim Suleiman al Rubaish, a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay and now a senior AQAP leader, is featured in the video.
AQAP members are shown destroying the al Ja’dani shrine in Al Tareyyah. The AQAP fighters and some members of the village ripped apart the items inside the dome, and lit objects on fire. A backhoe was then used to demolish the domed structure.
Rubaish, who has risen to become a leading ideologue and theologian for AQAP after his release, was present at the demolition, and gave a speech that explained why AQAP destroyed the tomb.
Ibrahim Suleiman al Rubaish, while giving a speech on the destruction of tombs outside of Jaar, Yemen.
“Here are the mujahideen by the grace of Allah the Great and Almighty carrying out what Allah commanded them to do and reviving their jihad in the Cause of Allah…. So, just as they fought democracy and representative councils which make laws alongside Allah, they are destroying the domes which are being worshipped other than Allah, along with the graves and mausoleums, which people try to get close to other than Allah the Great and Almighty,” Rubaish said, according to SITE.
“We fight the idolatry of the palaces and the graves – both are the same,” Rubaish said later in the video after AQAP fighters and villagers moved off to destroy other tombs in the area.
AQAP was driven out of Jaar and Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan, by the Yemeni military three days ago. The coastal town of Shaqra in Abyan was liberated from AQAP control today. AQAP controlled Jaar, Zinjibar, and Shaqra for a 11 months before the Yemeni military launched the offensive in May.
AQAP’s destruction of the tombs near Jaar, and the rationale for doing so, was similar to the Taliban’s destruction of two massive statues of Buddha (one was 175 feet tall, the other was 125 feet) in Bamiyan province in March 2001. The two statues were carved into limestone cliffs sometime between 300 and 500 A.D. The Taliban used “explosives, tanks, and anti-aircraft weapons” to destroy the statues, according to USA Today.
The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was ordered by Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, after his government decreed that the statues were “idols.”
Other Islamist terror groups, including al Qaeda in Iraq, Shabaab in Somalia, the Pakistani Taliban, and Ansar Dine in Mali have targeted graves and religious sites as part of their efforts to erase symbols that they perceive to be against Islam.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.