Haykal Bafana reported that “Al Qaeda militants [had] destroyed” the 800-year-old tomb of Sufi saint Sufyan bin Abdullah in Al Hota town, Lahij province, Yemen, on January 27. Bin Abdullah was famed for having fought for Saladin in 1187 CE, when he ousted the Crusaders from Jerusalem.
Unidentified Yemeni officials “suspect” that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) conducted the attack, because it has committed “similar” attacks before. However, Yemen Press has specified that a thirty-plus-strong motorcycle gang from pro-al-Qaeda Ansar al-Sharia attacked the shrine that night, bombing and tearing down the building and digging up the grave. As Bafana expanded on Facebook, bin Abdullah’s “grave was dug up and his corpse strewn on the ground.”
Aside from anger at the act of violence, the difficulty of protecting such sites and the Islamists’ capacity to strike have caused frustration and pessimism. The attack took place “[b]arely 20 km NW from … Al Anad airbase, where hundreds of US armed forces personnel are based.”
Trying to verify the site of destruction, comparison photographs or satellite images could not be found on Flickr, Google Earth, or Panoramio. However, al Amal News’ photograph and journalist Wael Qabaty’s video of the scene appeared to confirm the shrine’s destruction, and Lahij archaeological office “visited the site and found the shrine no longer exists.”
The Director-General of Preaching and Guidance at the Ministry of Endowments and Guidance, Sheikh Jabri Ibrahim, observed that it was “impermissible in Islam … to attack and dig up graves.” Castigating both Islamists and Islamophobes, Bafana offered: “For those who are confused, let me explain. The one whose tomb was destroyed? He is the Muslim. The AQAP militants who destroyed the tomb? I do not know their religion.”
Sufi shrines and structures have been targeted by Islamists across the region, including Libya, Mali, and Tunisia.