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Yemen, Seeking Al Qaeda's Footprints (1999 - 2009)

Upon passing the second checkpoint, Mohammed, our driver from Universal Tourist Agency, discreetly revealed a handgun nestled within his trusty Toyota Land Cruiser. Covered with a “Shemagh”, a traditional Yemeni men's scarf, we ventured into territories beyond government control, ruled by armed Yemeni tribes.

Our journey began in the capital, Sana’a, leading us northward, 280 kilometres to “Dammaj”, a town near the border with Saudi Arabia. Our objective: a religious school with over three thousand students. Yemen hosts approximately four hundred religious’ schools, a significant number founded under Saudi Wahhabism.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on U.S. soil, Yemen aligned itself with the global fight against terrorism. To address American concerns, Yemen closed several of these schools, imposed stringent regulations on Islamic teachings, tightened visa and residency rules for religious students, and deported those residing without proper documentation.

Arriving in a village near “Dammaj” around midday which had transformed into a religious community entirely, its diverse students from across the world gathering here.

These male religious students, hailing from Europe, the U.S., the Far East, Africa, and the Middle East, advocate the teachings and lifestyle of Prophet Mohammed and his followers, embracing the principles of Islam. Life in this remote enclave is simple; there are no TVs or other modern amenities, no photo or paintings on the walls. Any form of imagery is considered "Haram" (forbidden), and most of them remain disconnected from the outside world.

I had to leave my cameras in the car as I delved into the lives of these men, discovering their peace and freedom in this secluded corner of the world. 

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