DUBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader condemned a French move to ban Islamic face veils and urged Yemeni clerics to call for jihad against an alleged U.S. intervention in Yemen, in an Internet message posted on Tuesday.
Ayman al-Zawahri said in the audio recording that a bill passed by French lawmakers which could fine women for appearing in public with face-covering veils was “an attack on Islam.”
“This is the freedom of the infidels and not the freedom of Muslims who hold fast to their religion,” the Egyptian militant leader said. “France with all its power is unable to expose the head of a nun but it attacks every veiled woman.”
The new law, which still has to be vetted by a constitutional body and approved by the Senate, could make France the second European country after Belgium to criminalize the veil.
Two Saudi clerics have declared Muslim women are exempt from wearing full veils in France, but added they should avoid visiting it as tourists.
A physician by training, Zawahri does not have the formal religious credentials of senior clerics, although his influence may be wider among militant Islamists.
Zawahri, in his second message this month released on Islamist websites, also ridiculed Yemeni clerics, who he said promised jihad, or holy war, against the United States if it interfered in Yemen, but who he said ignored signs that the government was cooperating with U.S. forces.
Noting that Amnesty International had called on Washington to explain its role in Yemen, Zawahri asked: “Is Amnesty International more concerned about defending the Yemeni people than they (the clerics) are?”
Amnesty International released a report in June suggesting that the United States may be playing a role in Yemen after releasing photographs that showed remnants of alleged U.S. missiles and cluster bombs used in an attack in south Yemen.
“What more are they waiting for to call for jihad? ... are they waiting for the U.S. soldiers to appear on the streets of Sanaa in their tanks?”
Zawahri is thought to be hiding in mountainous territory close to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Reporting by Erika Solomon and Firouz Sedarat; Editing by Jon Boyle