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Al-Qaeda: Yemeni town cursed by its name

world Updated: Jul 11, 2010 02:40 IST

Surrounded by mountains and weighed down by poverty, a Yemeni town bears the dubious honour of carrying the same name as Al-Qaeda.

The residents of Al-Qaeda, 220 kilometres northwest of the capital Sanaa, say the name has brought shame on the town.

Al-Qaeda (Arabic for the base) was once a commercial hub where custom duties on trade between north and south Yemen were collected decades ago, according to older residents.

"The name of the town of Al -Qaeda has nothing to do with the organisation headed by (Osama) bin Laden," Colonel Abdullah al-Shaddadi, the local security chief, said.

But the inhabitants have been faced with "suspicion" because of the name ever since the rise of the jihadist group led by bin Laden, whose ancestral homeland is Yemen, Shaddadi said.

"There are many of them who are lucky enough to receive scholarships to study abroad, but they face trouble because Al-Qaeda is their hometown," the security chief said.

"One of Al-Qaeda’s inhabitants travelled to an Arab country for medical treatment, but airport authorities detained and interrogated him, and then sent him back after finding the name of Al-Qaeda in his passport," he said.

But the link has also brought a measure of fame to the town as "foreign journalists come to visit only for its name," he said.

In an attempt to clear the record, Shaddadi said the town "has many people who drink alcohol and consume drugs," both of which are strictly forbidden in Islam.

"How could those be followers of bin Laden?"

He insisted Al-Qaeda was "absolutely free of jihadists and extremists."