*** One of those things we certainly do NOT need in that place. MS ***
WINNIPEG (CBC) - A group of clerics in Yemen signed a statement Thursday warning that they would call for a jihad, or holy war, if any foreign military intervenes in the conflict-ridden country.
The warning did not name the United States specifically but appeared to be directed at America's potential for involvement in a fight between the Yemeni government and al-Qaeda in the Arabian country.
"If any foreign country insists on aggression and the invasion of the country or interference, in a military or security way, Muslim sons are duty bound to carry out jihad and fight the aggressors," the clerics said in a statement.
The group of 15 clergymen includes Sheik Abdul-Majid al-Zindani, whom the U.S. says has been a spiritual mentor to Osama bin-Laden, but who remains influential in Yemen and is being courted by the Yemeni government for his backing.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said he does not plan to send America troops to Yemen, but Washington sent nearly $70 million in military aid and training to Yemeni forces last year aid in their fight to root out al-Qaeda, which has made substantial gains in the country in recent years.
The conflict between the Yemeni government and al-Qaeda gained international attention after news that an al-Qaeda-related group in Yemen was reportedly behind a failed Christmas Day attempt to bomb a U.S. passenger jet flying from Amsterdam to Detroit.
Since then, Yemen has stepped up missile strikes and assaults on known al-Qaeda strongholds.
Yemeni political analyst Nasser Arrabyee said the government wasn't always a willing participant in the fight against al-Qaeda, but said recent missile strikes and assaults on known al-Qaeda strongholds demonstrate its renewed commitment.
"I think in the past the Yemeni government was somewhat lenient, but [now] it is completely different. It has declared open war" on al-Qaeda, he said.
Yemeni authorities on Thursday said they have increased security in areas around the capital of San'a in an effort to find al-Qaeda suspects who escaped a raid earlier this week in the southern province of Shabwa.
Yemen's government has little control over large areas of the mountainous country, allowing well-armed tribes to exert control over regions with little interference from the capital.