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Yemen Soldiers, Believing God On Their Side, Don’t Fear Bullets With AM-Yemen

June 21, 1994

SAN’A, Yemen (AP) _ The northern soldier didn’t even flinch as southern jets streaked overhead and rained down bombs.

Infantryman Nasr Al-Shaabi wasn’t afraid of the secessionists’ powerful air force.

″There’s only Allah to be afraid of, and he’s on our side,″ Shaabi said, lounging at a captured air base near Aden, capital of the southern secessionists.

Yemen’s 7-week-old civil war is far from being a religious crusade. But some elements of the northern leadership appear keen to invoke the name of God in battle.

Preachers have exhorted northern Muslims to join the fight against what they consider the Godless socialists of the south.

″Our slain soldiers will go to heaven and their dead soldiers will go to hell,″ said Sheik Abdullah ibn-Hussein Al-Ahmar, speaker of Parliament and leader of the Islah party of tribal groups and Muslim fundamentalists.

Religious leaders beseech Allah to strengthen the northerners’ hand in the fight against secession and ″cause death to whomever seeks evil for Yemen and its people,″ said one sermon printed in the official media.

North and south went to war May 4 after the four-year experiment in Yemeni unity fell apart over rivalries between President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the northern leader, and Vice President Ali Salem Al-Beidh, a southerner. Beidh proclaimed the south’s secession May 20.

Many people in the conservative and tribal north look down on southerners, claiming they are less fervent Muslims because of the secular influences of 23 years of Marxist rule there before the May 1990 union.

The southerners, in turn, claim northern fundamentalists are gaining power in government and waging war against the secular south.

Ahmar, whose Islah Party is the country’s second largest after Saleh’s General Peoples Congress, claimed that northerners ″consider this a holy war.″

″We consider unity as part of Islam and those who retreat from Islam are unbelievers,″ he said recently.

At the front, Saleh’s soldiers take him seriously.

In the fiercest battles, northern soldiers move with an almost cavalier indifference, encouraged by Islam’s doctrine of complete surrender to the will of Allah.

″We’re armed with the book of Allah,″ said 1st Lt. Hamud Abdullah Jabari, holding up a pocket-sized copy of the Koran, Islam’s holy book, as warplanes streaked overhead.

Despite the occasional outburst of religious rhetoric, there is little indication the northern government wants to wage a ″jihad,″ or holy war, of the type that has sent Muslim extremists in other countries to carry out kidnappings, hijackings and suicide bombings.

At the front, professional combat tactics are used, rather than the suicidal human wave assaults Iran’s Revolutionary Guard zealots employed in the 1980-88 war with Iraq.

Nor have there been reports of terrorist actions by Muslim fanatics hoping to reach paradise in a war fought mainly by secular troops on both sides.

The last terrorist attack was in December 1992, when fundamentalists bombed Aden’s Golden Mohur hotel, killing a number of tourists.

The press made much last year of Egypt’s allegation that Yemen harbors and trains members of the al-Jihad terrorist group and that Yemenis were involved in last year’s failed assassination attempt on Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Sidqi.

Last year’s parliamentary elections gave Islah a slight margin over the southern socialists, with both far behind Saleh’s party.

Tribalism, religion and geography have brought the two northern parties closer, and in Beidh’s eyes, excluded the socialists.

Deep religious differences still divide north and south despite the merger.

In the conservative north, most women still wear veils. Alcohol is forbidden under Islamic laws.

In Aden, women rarely go veiled and many don’t even cover their hair. Aden also boasts a brewery, the only one on the Arabian peninsula.