YEMEN, FREQUENTLY labelled a safe haven for Al Qaeda operatives, has implemented an unusual and unique tactic in the hope of ridding itself of all terrorist factions in the country.
The Dialogue Committee, established in late 2002 and headed by Judge Hamoud Al Hitar, tries to steer alleged Al Qaeda supporters away from violence by encouraging them to focus on peace and tolerance, using the Koran as its chief tool and guide.
"Dialogue is a good way to dispel the terrorist thoughts that lead to terrorist actions," says Al Hitar. "We believe talking to young people helps them arrive at a good understanding of Islam, an understanding based on solid foundations."
For example, Al Hitar explains, the verses of the Koran say jihad is permissible to protect one's own land but is not permissible to launch attacks on others elsewhere.
"We are trying to show young men it is a personal choice to accept Islam. No one should be forced to become a Muslim," says Al Hitar.
According to Abdul Karim Al Ariani, former Yemeni prime minister and now advisor to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Dialogue Committee has seen some really encouraging results. So far, more than 250 jailed terrorist suspects have been released from prison after repenting to The Dialogue Committee.
"Al Hitar's is one of the most successful experiments in the region," says Al Ariani. "I am confident his methods can succeed."
According to Al Hitar, the committee has expressed its keenness to speak to any leading Al Qaeda figure in the hope of bringing an end to violence. "We want to talk about the foundations of Islam, even with Osama bin Laden if he is willing," says the Judge.
Before his arrest in London pending extradition to the US on charges of terrorism, Abu Hamza Al Masri, head of the London-based Ansar Al Shari'a organisation who is also wanted by the Yemeni government for his alleged links with terrorist operatives in the country, contacted Al Hitar, using a journalist as an intermediary and showed an interest in opening up a dialogue with him. However, the London-based cleric was imprisoned before the two men could make any further progress.
The Dialogue Committee, which consists of five other religious experts in addition to Al Hitar, has drawn interest from the international community with its unorthodox approach. The Judge has travelled to England twice in the last few...