Al-Qaeda's flogging of five people in the southern Yemeni city of Jaar last weekend has drawn widespread denunciation from officials and the public.
Eyewitnesses told a local newspaper, al-Masdar, that members of Ansar al-Sharia, an al-Qaeda affiliate, flogged five young men in public on Saturday (November 12th) on charges they "took narcotic pills".
The newspaper stated the young men were brought from an al-Qaeda prison to the centre of Jaar Stadium, and each one was caned 80 times. Such punishments are considered hadd, the implementation of Sharia provisions, such as cutting off hands of those who steal or executing murderers.
Clashes have been on-going between the Yemeni army and al-Qaeda elements in Abyan province in recent months after al-Qaeda took control of Jaar in late March and declared it an Islamic emirate.
Ahmed al-Rahwi, deputy governor of Abyan, told Al-Shorfa that al-Qaeda's flogging of five individuals is a crime, which the population and the government strongly oppose.
"People are complaining about this terrorist and regressive group which claims to be acting in the name of religion, but it is the one violating religious principles by committing murders and causing thousands of people to be displaced as they flee their homes," he said.
"The flogging incident is another example of crimes committed by [al-Qaeda] such as cutting off hands and executions carried out in a ridiculous manner, where the perpetrators are using religion as a propaganda tool for their own purposes. They believe they are carrying out the laws of Sharia, but they are ignoring the fact that no one gave them this right," al-Rahwi said.
He said the people of Jaar "are helpless and live in a state of fear and horror", and predicted that the city will soon be void of its residents, who will continue to flee because of al-Qaeda's acts.
Col. Mohammed al-Qaidi, spokesman for the Yemeni Interior Ministry, told Al-Shorfa that Yemen is in a constant state of war against terrorism.
"What al-Qaeda is perpetrating, especially by carrying out hadd punishments, are crimes which have been denounced. These are illegal groups; therefore what is built on falsehood is, in its turn, false."
"Al-Qaeda has no legitimacy or legal justification to carry out hadd punishments such as cutting off hands, floggings or beheadings," he said.
Mohammed al-Akwaa, a scholar and mufti of the Dhamar governorate and a member of the Yemeni Scholars Committee, told Al-Shorfa that authority to implement hadd punishments belongs to the Yemeni president through the judicial branch.
He stressed that Sharia law clearly states that the ruler of the country alone has the authority to carry out hadd punishments, and that other parties are prohibited from doing so.
Dr. Said Obaid al-Jamhi, president of al-Jamhi Centre for Research and Studies, said, "Al-Qaeda's acts in Jaar are similar to what the Taliban did in Afghanistan, as they embraced the outer shell of Islam without going deep into its essence, in an attempt to create the illusion of implementing Sharia law. They tarnished Islam and distorted its image worldwide."
Al-Jamhi said that al-Qaeda and its affiliates carry strong influence in Abyan because of their terrorist activities, designed to intimidate anyone who disagrees with them.
He said individuals who carry out hadd punishments is evidence of a fundamental misunderstanding of Islam.
"Implementing hadd punishments is the state's responsibility, and if every group that takes control of a region decides to implement the hadd, this will cause chaos. These laws require a fair judicial system that guarantees the accused the right to defend himself. This is not the case in Jaar."