Thursday, 30 June 2011
Source:CNN, By Hakim Almasmari,
(CNN) -- Government soldiers retook on Thursday the Wahda Stadium on the outskirts of the southern town of Zinjibar after a day of fighting clashes against suspected al Qaeda militants, security officials in Zinjibar said.
The clashes took place in the Abyan Governate in southern Yemen.
At least five soldiers were killed in the clashes since Thursday noon, bringing the total death toll of soldiers to 35, the security officials said, adding that at least seven other soldiers were wounded.
The officials said a greater number of militants were killed during the previous seven hours, but would not cite a precise figure.
The military sent reinforcements to the city after the military began losing control of the stadium, which proved decisive, the officials said.
By late in the day, hundreds of government soldiers were stationed in and around the stadium, they said.
Fierce clashes erupted there Wednesday when suspected al Qaeda militants attacked security forces who were stationed at the stadium.
Hospital officials in Naqeeb Hospital in Abyan said six civilians were killed in the clashes and 17 were wounded.
Yemen has been consumed by unrest for months as protesters have demanded an end to the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's rule. Saleh and other senior officials were wounded June 3 in an attack on the mosque at the presidential palace. Saleh is being treated in Saudi Arabia. Officials loyal to him have said he will return when he has recovered.
In recent weeks, government troops have battled both anti-government tribal forces and Islamic militants, including al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- The Yemeni government has lost control over five provinces, and security in the country is deteriorating, the nation's acting president told CNN in an exclusive interview Wednesday.
In his first interview with a Western TV network, Vice President Abdu Rabu Mansoor Hadi detailed how U.S. drones are using voice recognition to target al Qaeda leaders and help the government win back control.
Hadi has been Yemen's acting president since June 3, when President Ali Abdullah Saleh was wounded in an attack on the mosque at the presidential palace.
During Wednesday's hour-long meeting, Hadi said Saleh's wounds from what he described as an assassination attempt were so severe that he has no idea when the president will return from medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.
Yemeni VP: Saleh is part of the solution Yemen's capital: City on the edge.
Hadi said he saw Saleh immediately after the bomb attack. The 68-year-old ruler's chest had been pierce by a piece of wood and his face, arms and upper body had been burned, Hadi said. But, he added, the president's health was improving daily.
The interview in the sprawling and heavily defended defense ministry underlined the many challenges facing the vice president, who many in the opposition consider to be a weak placeholder until the president returns from Saudi Arabia.
He acknowledges that his house is surrounded by opposing forces, but he challenges claims that he is unable to use the presidential palace. Hadi says he calls Saleh's son, commander of the powerful Republican Guard at the palace, whenever he wants to give him orders.
He countered opposition accusations that he has no power, saying he has been given full authority to sign a new, U.N.-sponsored peace proposal. He outlined plans that are even less favorable to Saleh's opponents than a Gulf Cooperation Council initiative he has already turned down.
Hadi said the new deal would have Saleh stepping down only when a new president has been elected, a far cry from the Gulf Council proposal that would have Saleh handing power to Hadi after 30 days with new elections within 60 days.
At times, Hadi -- who lived in Britain during the 1960s -- shifted uncomfortably in his seat, even joking at the end of the interview that he felt he'd been through an interrogation. Nevertheless, he gave a robust defense of Saleh, challenging the widely held view that the embattled leader is now part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Saleh still has 3 million supporters, Hadi said.
"He is part of the political balance here in Yemen. He has been an expert in dealing with all differences, and with all political and tribal differences," Hadi said.
When asked how al Qaeda may have been taking advantage of deteriorating security, Hadi said government forces were targeting them aggressively. He detailed an ongoing operation in the southern Abyan province, where the capital recently fell to al Qaeda.
He also gave an account of how U.S. spy planes eavesdrop on al Qaeda conversations, running voice recognition analysis that is shared with Yemeni authorities, the CIA and the FBI before targets are attacked.
Hadi said there are two types of drones.
"One is taking pictures and collecting information, and the other one is carrying missiles. Drones carrying missiles, actually these missiles could not be fired ... unless the voice of the enemy himself is recorded," he said.
Often, he said, the United States provides the targeting information and Yemeni military forces carry out the attacks.
Hadi offered few insights into how he plans to end Yemen's spiraling economic hardships, growing fuel and power shortages and rising food prices -- issues that have sparked massive anti-government protests over the past several months and have worsened sharply since the president left for treatment in Saudi Arabia.
But he said he expected Saleh to make a speech to the nation in the coming hours that will help change the situation.
And he said the U.N.-sponsored peace proposal will create a new, parliamentary political system in Yemen, "so it will wipe out or vanish any grievances, any complaints."
Saleh went to Saudi Arabia for treatment after doctors examined him shortly after the attack in early June. They recommended he get attention from specialists, including an eye doctor. Since arriving there, he said, the president had been improving and fully intends to return.
But when asked when that would be, he said he did not know.
"It could be months. This is a decision up to the doctors. ... I have no idea about the exact date when he is coming," Hadi said.
In Washington, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said the chaos in Yemen has been a source of concern to the United States for years. "Al Qaeda, the federated group that's in Yemen, is an incredibly dangerous group that has taken full advantage of the chaos that has been in that country," he told the National Press Club.
But, he added, the military cannot provide the whole answer. "The security piece is a necessary condition, but it is insufficient in and of itself and it's taken us a long time to figure that out."
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peacehomme The fear is that after Saleh, a new leader will emerge. The Saleh system is detested by over 70% of the population. Prolonging the uncertainties in Sanaa is bad for all and OK for the radicals.
Wednesday, 29 June 2011
ADEN/SANAA (Reuters) - At least 26 Yemeni government soldiers and 17 Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda were killed on Wednesday in heavy fighting for control of a stadium near the southern city of Zinjibar, officials said.
The military setback, following reports that 300 of his soldiers had defected to the opposition, was another blow to President Ali Abdullah Saleh as recovers in Saudi Arabia from injuries sustained in an attack on his palace in early June.
Yemen, the poorest Arab state and a neighbor of the world's largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, has been shaken by months of protests against Saleh's three-decade rule, a resurgent wing of al Qaeda and a separatist rebellion in the south.
The United States and Saudi Arabia fear that al Qaeda may use the chaos to launch attacks in the region and beyond.
Yemeni officials said the militants seized control of the stadium from government forces, who have been using the facility -- built recently to host a regional football tournament -- to support troops fighting to dislodge the militants from Zinjibar.
An official said losing the stadium, located near a military base from which government forces had been launching attacks on Zinjibar, exposed a military base that had been used to launch attacks on the militants in Zinjibar. A counter offensive to retake the position was in progress, he said.
"The militant control of the field will leave the back of the camp from the east exposed," the official said.
Yemeni officials had been reporting successes against the estimated 300 militants who seized control of Zinjibar in May in the midst of a groundswell of popular protests against the nearly 33-year autocratic rule of Saleh.
His opponents say his forces handed over the city to the militants to bolster his argument that his departure would lead to an Islamist takeover of the Arabian Peninsula state.
Yemeni air force planes had killed at least 10 gunmen in attacks on Zinjibar earlier on Wednesday, a local Yemeni official said. One strike mistakenly hit a bus traveling from Zinjibar to Aden, the official added, killing five passengers and wounding 12 other people.
Earlier in the day, opposition officials reported that more than 300 members of Yemeni security forces, including 150 from the Republican Guards led by Saleh's son Ahmed, had defected to rebels.
"From the podium of the Square of Change in Sanaa, an announcement has been issued that 150 soldiers from the Republican Guards, 130 Central Security soldiers and 60 policemen have joined the revolt," an opposition message said.
No government officials were immediately available to comment on the report.
If confirmed, the mutinies would be a serious reverse for Saleh, who has spent the past three weeks receiving medical treatment in Riyadh for wounds suffered in the June 3 attack.
The defections are the latest in a series by security forces since the anti-Saleh uprising began in February. Most prominent was the defection in March of Brigadier General Ali Mohsen, who has since sent in his troops to guard protesters in Sanaa.
The protests have culminated in battles between Saleh loyalists and gunmen from the powerful Hashed tribal federation in Sanaa that brought the country to the verge of civil war.
Months of unrest have cost Yemen $4 billion, a senior Yemeni official said on Wednesday, adding the Arab state was in talks with potential donors to help plug a gap of $1.5 billion in government commitments for projects funded by Sanaa.
"We are talking with the IMF, the World Bank and donor countries, whether Gulf Arab states or others. There may be some discussions next week with the IMF," Abdulla al-Shater, deputy planning and international cooperation minister, told reporters on the sidelines of a financial conference in Saudi Arabia.
Yemen has been largely quiet with a ceasefire in place since Saleh was injured in the attack, which investigators say was caused by explosives planted in the palace mosque where he and several senior government officials were praying
Saleh, 69, who has not been seen in public since the attack, has resisted pressure from the United States and Saudi Arabia to hand over power to his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, under a Gulf nations' initiative to end the crisis.
Hadi has been running the country in Saleh's absence, but the opposition wants the president to officially hand over power to him to pave the way for new elections.
Officials have said the president will soon make his first public appearance since the attack with a recorded message to be broadcast on Yemeni state television.
In further violence, a bomb killed a colonel when it exploded in his car on Tuesday night in the port city of Aden, a security source said on Wednesday.
The source said that Colonel Khaled al-Yafi'i was the commander of a military outpost guarding the Aden Free Zone business park's entrance.
The outpost was targeted by a car bomb on Friday that killed four soldiers and a civilian and injured 16 other people.
No one has claimed responsibility for the colonel's killing, but Islamist militants affiliated with al Qaeda are active in southern Yemen.
Tuesday, 28 June 2011
SANAA — Three French aid workers kidnapped in southeastern Yemen a month ago have been "located" and are "alive," the deputy information minister told reporters on Tuesday.
"Security services have managed to locate the French. They are alive," Abdo al-Janadi said.
Yemeni authorities "cannot provide any information on the kidnappers or their demands to ensure the safety of the investigation and to secure their release as soon as possible," he added.
The three -- two women and a man -- were kidnapped in the Hadramawt town of Seyun, 600 kilometres (370 miles) east of Sanaa on May 28.
The trio are part of the French non-governmental organisation Triangle Generation Humanitaire, and were working with a group of 17 Yemenis in Seyun.
"They were kidnapped because they had written a letter to Yemeni security services asking not to be accompanied by anyone for protection," said Janadi, who added that their demand was accepted.
A Yemeni security official had said their car was found on the road some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Shibam, a city known as the "Manhattan of the Desert" because of its spectacular high-rise mud-brick buildings.
Foreigners have frequently been kidnapped in Yemen by tribes who use the tactic to pressure the authorities into making concessions.
More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Yemen over the past 15 years, with almost all of them later freed unharmed.
Monday, 27 June 2011
ADEN, Yemen - Yemen said on Monday its security forces had foiled a planned al Qaeda attack in the southern province of Aden.
Separately, a ruling party leader said the first speech by President Ali Abdullah Saleh since he was taken to Saudi Arabia for treatment after a bombing, was expected to be carried by Yemeni state television on Tuesday.
The state news agency Saba quoted a security source as saying six people "among some of the most dangerous elements" of al Qaeda were captured while trying to enter the province, which is the location of a port and an oil refinery.
The report said they planned to attack "vital and economic installations," giving no further details.
Yasser al-Yamani, a leader of Saleh's ruling General People's Congress, told Al Arabiya television that Saleh's speech was expected to be aired by state television on Tuesday, but signaled the president was unlikely to offer to end his three decades of rule.
"The president is the legal and constitutional president of Yemen according to elections," Yamani said.
Yemeni officials had said on Sunday that Saleh, not seen in public since an attack on his palace in early June, was well enough to soon return to Yemen and would make a media appearance within the following couple of days.
Speculation about Saleh's health and the likelihood of his return to Yemen have been rife since he was hurt when a bomb went off on June 3 in a mosque in his presidential palace.
The president has not been seen in public since the explosion, which killed several people and wounded the prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and the speakers of both parliamentary chambers. It is not clear what role if any Saleh, under pressure to step down, sees for himself in ruling Yemen.
Yemen has been rocked by months of protests against Saleh. Before that he was grappling with a rebellion in the north, separatist violence in the south and a resurgent wing of al Qaeda.
Months of popular protests Saleh step down have brought near chaos to Yemen, which is home to al Qaeda's potent regional wing.
The Yemeni army has been battling hundreds of Islamist militants affiliated to al Qaeda who seized control of the southern city of Zinjibar and smaller towns in the province of Abyan. The United States and Saudi Arabia fear that al Qaeda will exploit the country's chaos to launch attacks.
The security source said the arrested militants, all bomb experts, carried detonators and communications equipment.
The state news agency Saba, which frequently plays up the threat from al Qaeda, gave no further details and the report could not been independently verified.
Saba said five al Qaeda militants had been killed and seven Yemeni soldiers were injured in clashes in Abyan.
Opponents of Saleh say the president let his forces hand over control of Zinjibar to militants in order to stoke fears that only his rule could prevent an Islamist takeover.
SANAA: At least 11 people, including six al-Qaida militants, were killed and 35 injured in clashes between the army forces and al-Qaida militants in Yemen's port city of Aden Sunday, Xinhua reported on Monday.
"Three soldiers, six al-Qaida militants and two passers-by were killed in shelling in the eastern entrance of Aden on Sunday and another 15 soldiers and about 20 al-Qaida elements were wounded," a military official said, requesting anonymity.
The al-Qaida militants have stationed themselves outside Al-Alamkey entrance of Aden city about a week ago in an attempt to invade the port city, said another official.
Yemen has been gripped by five-month-long protests across the impoverished Arab state, demanding long-time president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.
Prolonged impasse triggered deterioration in security and economic situations.
Sunday, 26 June 2011
Sanaa- Two prisoners have confessed to digging a tunnel that led to the escape of 63 inmates last week, Yemen's state-run SABA news agency reported Sunday.
Dozens of suspected al Qaeda militants escaped Wednesday from a jail in the Yemeni city of Mukalla, a senior security official said.
An Interior Ministry official said 63 members of al Qaeda had managed to break out of Almakla prison, according to SABA.
He said three inmates were killed, another two were arrested, and a prison guard was killed.
He asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Some of the escapees had already been convicted; others were awaiting trial, the official told SABA. They escaped through a 35-meter (115-foot) tunnel, he said.
Witnesses said armed militants began attacking the prison at about 8 a.m. and fired heavy artillery before escape.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
The prison warden, his deputy and a number of guards have been suspended for questioning, SABA said Sunday.
Mohammed Qahtan, spokesman for Yemen's largest opposition bloc, Joint Meetings Parties, said he thinks security officials loyal to the ruling family are responsible for the escape and that the government would create chaos to stay in power.
Yemen has been consumed by unrest for months as protesters have demanded an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's rule. In recent weeks, government troops have battled both anti-government tribal forces and Islamic militants, including al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Saleh and other senior officials were wounded June 3 in an attack on the mosque at the presidential palace and taken to Saudi Arabia for treatment.
Saleh was expected to make a public appearance within the next two days, presidential adviser Ahmed al-Soufi said Sunday afternoon. He wouldn't say whether Saleh would be making that appearance in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa or in Saudi Arabia, where he has been treated for his injuries.
Al-Soufi added that Saleh still has "light burn marks" on his face, but denied some reports claiming the president's face had been disfigured by the attack.
In recent days, the Yemeni government's control has been receding, said Christopher Boucek, an associate in the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "There are instances where you can say that the Yemeni government is instigating some of this chaos -- with the goal to demonstrate to the United States, Saudi Arabia and others that this regime -- the government of President Saleh -- is the best to fight al Qaeda."
Boucek said the Yemeni government is more concerned with protecting itself from the popular revolt than with going after al Qaeda.
As a result, he said, the government has repositioned its counterterrorism forces, retreating from areas such as Abyan province where it had lost ground, and circling the wagons.
However, a Yemeni official briefed on security operations rejected Boucek's conclusion. "What about the blood of 66 soldiers?" he said, citing the number of soldiers who he said have died in Abyan province alone in recent weeks. Another 291 soldiers have been wounded in operations there that killed six of the most wanted al Qaeda operatives and 40 other militants, he said.
The United States has been aiding Yemen's military in its fight against Islamic militants amid fears that al Qaeda is exploiting the political chaos and leadership vacuum engulfing the unstable and impoverished Arabian Peninsula country.
Source: Xinhua, 26/06/2011
Yemen's government has welcomed a proposal from the UN Security Council calling for all-around dialogue to resolve the country's political crisis.
The UN Security Council earlier expressed grave concern on the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Yemen. It urged all parties to show restraint and engage in an inclusive political dialogue.
For its part, the Yemeni government said it is ready to engage in talks with opposition parties. It added that the proposed dialogue would be based on an earlier reconciliation initiative brokered by the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Saturday, 25 June 2011
ADEN- Yemeni authorities have detained the director of a prison for questioning over the escape of 63 al Qaeda inmates earlier this week, state television said Saturday.
It said the deputy director of the al-Munawara prison in the southern city of al-Mukalla also was detained for questioning. It gave no further details.
The United States and regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia are worried that Yemen, rocked by months of popular protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year-old rule, could slide into violence that would be exploited by the local al Qaeda wing to launch attacks in the region and beyond.
The prisoners escaped Wednesday after they dug a 35-m (yard) long tunnel. They attacked prison guards, killing one and wounding two, before they escaped, the state news agency Saba said.
It said security forces pursued the prisoners, killing three and recapturing two.
Yemen state television said Saturday that the body of a fourth inmate had been found. It said he had been sentenced to death.
All the prisoners were Yemeni and most had been jailed after returning from Iraq where they fought alongside militant, he said.
The current head of al Qaeda's wing in Yemen, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, was among 23 prisoners who escaped from a Yemeni jail in 2006.
Yemen is battling hundreds of Islamist militants associated with al Qaeda who have seized control of the southern city of Zinjibar and other adjacent towns.
SANAA -Yemen's Interior Ministry published the names of 43 members of the opposition it accuses of blowing up oil pipelines and attacks on power pylons, its news agency said on Friday.
The Ministry of Interior said members of the Joint Meeting Party coalition were behind the pipeline attacks in Maarib province and the attacks on pylons, causing a fuel crisis and power cuts, the Saba news agency said, listing the names on its website.
It quoted a source at the ministry as saying "the ministry has registered the names of those elements in the black list and circulates their names".
Months of protests by hundreds of thousands of Yemenis demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down after 33 years in power have taken their toll on the country's infrastructure and public services.
In March, tribe members opposed to Saleh attacked electricity pylons in the central Maarib province triggering power outages in parts of the capital Sanaa.
The same month, a blast on Yemen's main oil pipeline had stopped the flow of light Marib crude to the Aden refinery, bringing it to a halt and leading to country-wide fuel shortages.
The government had blamed the pipeline blast on tribesmen supporting opposition groups demanding Saleh's ousting. A senior official said Yemen had lost nearly $1 billion in revenues since the blast.
Earlier this month, the 150,000 barrels-per-day refinery received a 600,000-barrel shipment of crude from top oil exporter Saudi Arabia as part of a promised 3 million barrels.
The source quoted by Saba said the ministry would engage all security agencies, including the national security and the security departments of the governorates, to arrest them.
The source also said the ministry allocated a reward of 3 million Yemeni rials ($13,500) for those reporting a wanted person or provide information leading to the arrests.
The fate of Saleh, who is recovering from a surgery in Saudi Arabia after an attack on his palace on June 3, is at the centre of a political crisis that has paralysed Yemen and threatened to tip it into civil .
Friday, 24 June 2011
UNITED NATIONS-The UN Security Council expressed "grave concern" on the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Yemen, the Council's president Nelson Messone said here on Friday.
The Council urged all parties to show "maximum restraint" and to "engage in an inclusive political dialogue," Messone, the permanent representative of Gabon who holds the Council's monthly rotating presidency, said after the Council heard a briefing from the UN's Special Advisor on Yemen Jamal Benomar.
Messone said the Council welcomed the ongoing mediation efforts of the Gulf Cooperation Council to help the parties find an agreement on a way forward.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will go on a mission to Yemen from June 27 to July 6 to assess its human rights situation after hundreds of persons have died this year during clashes between government forces and protesters.
Yemen is one of many countries across North Africa and the Middle East where demonstrators have taken to the streets in large numbers this year to call for greater democracy and freedom.
Four people were killed including three soldiers when a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb in a military position in the southern city of Aden, official sources
and local residents said Friday.
One of the four dead was a passer-by.
Five more soldiers and five padders-by were injured in the attack had the hallmarks of Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda fighters are trying to exploit the current unrest in Yemen to strengthen their presence more and more specially in the south where they want to control the strategic ports of international navigation. About three million barrels of oil pass through the Arabian sea and red sea every day .
Source: The National,
By Mohammed alQadi, ,24/06/2011
SANA'A // A top United States official increased the pressure on Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, yesterday by calling for an "immediate" transfer of power along the lines of a GCC-brokered plan.
"We continue to believe that an immediate, peaceful and orderly transition is in the best interest of Yemeni people. We urge all sides to engage in dialogue that peacefully moves Yemen forward," said Jeffrey Feltman, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, in Sana'a yesterday.
Mr Feltman told reporters the US was supporting the GCC plan because it has the approval of the Gulf states as well as some parts of the Yemeni opposition and even Mr Saleh's ruling party.
"The United States supports the initiative proposed by the Gulf Co-operation Council as a credible path to confront the challenging political situation in Yemen. We encourage all parties to move swiftly to implement the terms of the agreement so the Yemeni people can soon realise the security, unity and prosperity that they have so courageously sought and so richly deserve," he said.
The call comes as Mr Saleh is being treated in Saudi Arabia for injuries sustained in an attack on his palace on June 3.
Diplomatic attempts to bring about a transition of power have failed before. Mr Saleh announced his support for the GCC plan three times, but reneged on signing the plan at the last minute. Under the plan, Mr Saleh would hand power to his deputy, Abdurabu Mansur Hadi, within 30 days in exchange for a promise of immunity from prosecution for himself, his family and inner circle.
"We would expect the president to take the best interest of Yemen and it is a Yemeni decision whether he will come back or stay in Saudi Arabia," Mr Feltman said.
"The president said he supports the GCC initiative and we expect this support is still there. This initiative has certain scenarios; how it is signed and implemented," he said.
A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mr Saleh was not likely to return to Yemen soon because of his serious injuries. The diplomat said the attack on the presidential mosque was not with rockets but several bombs that had been planted there. A security official told The National that five bombs were planted inside the mosque and one outside. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said only two of the bombs detonated.
Mr Feltman said that the US was providing support in the investigations into the attack. Gerald Feierstein, the US ambassador to Yemen, said: "Investigations are still going on and they are at the early stages". The diplomat said the investigations might take several months.
Mr Feltman met Mr Hadi, opposition leaders, representatives from civil society, students, business leaders and other foreign diplomats during his visit.
Thursday, 23 June 2011
Source: The New York Times,
By LAURA KASINOF,23/06/2011
SANA, Yemen — As the Arab Spring has turned to summer, this impoverished nation has fallen into chaos, raising fears in Washington that it will become the next headquarters of Al Qaeda — particularly with the declining influence of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, one of America’s staunchest allies in the fight against terrorism.
But Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, long one of Yemen’s most powerful military commanders and now a prominent opposition figure, says that familiar scenario has it just about backward.
Once it comes to power, he says, the opposition will become a far more dependable counterterrorism ally for the United States than President Saleh ever was. Mr. Saleh, now laid up in a Saudi hospital, is the problem, the general says, not the answer.
“As long as this regime is in power, Al Qaeda will continue to exist in Yemen,” said General Ahmar, sitting in his office at the headquarters of the army’s First Armored Division, which he leads. “Now, counterterrorism cooperation is based on material cooperation only. It is for the exchange of funds. How much will you give me if I can kill a person for you?”
As soon as political power is no longer consolidated in the Saleh family, General Ahmar vowed: “We will deal with terrorism as a critical issue. It will fight the terrorists as a matter of life or death. Not for material gain.”
Commonly regarded as the second most powerful man in Yemen, General Ahmar announced his support for what he called Yemen’s “peaceful youth revolution” a few days after the massacre on March 18, when government-linked snipers killed 52 protesters.
It was a watershed moment for the uprising. Immediately after General Ahmar’s announcement, soldiers from the First Armored Division were deployed around the perimeter of Sana’s large antigovernment protest to protect the demonstrators. Protesters would kiss the soldiers’ foreheads as they entered the area, and many protesters suddenly got the feeling that the movement to oust the Saleh government could actually succeed.
Numerous other military commanders, ambassadors, ministers and other officials followed in General Ahmar’s wake the same week, declaring their support for the protesters and saying that the days of the Saleh government were nearing an end. It was also the starting point for negotiations among the opposition, the ruling party and Western governments, notably the United States, for Mr. Saleh’s exit.
His refrain that Mr. Saleh and his family have not been serious partners in Washington’s counterterrorism campaign is frequently heard these days from leaders in Yemen’s opposition movement. Though not a member, General Ahmar is very close to Al Islah, Yemen’s Islamist party and the most powerful force in the country’s official opposition.
There are those in the opposition and ruling party who are skeptical of General Ahmar’s intentions. Though an affable man, he was an integral part of the Saleh government and was responsible for some of its corrosive policies. He played a central role in commanding the mujahedeen who returned from war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan to fight in the Yemeni military, especially in Yemen’s civil war in 1994.
For the past six years, he commanded Yemen’s war against Houthi rebels in the country’s north, during which human rights organizations have said his army committed a number of war crimes against civilians. Coupled with major corruption allegations, his critics say, he is far from the ideal national hero.
Radhia al-Mutawakil, a prominent Yemeni human rights activist, said she decided to take a lesser role in the protest movement because of him.
“We can’t prevent anyone from joining the revolution,” Ms. Mutawakil said. “The revolution is for anyone. But to accept him and to deal with him as a hero, that was a very big problem. He is a very important part of the regime. Ali Abdullah Saleh and Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar are the same thing.”
But General Ahmar has been trying hard to put a gloss on his dubious past.
“He was weakened by the Saada war and realized that by joining the protesters he can cleanse some of the bad image,” said a high-ranking government official, an independent, who knows the general personally.
General Ahmar now says he believes in political change through peaceful means, and that his goal is to build a civil state, free of corruption. A division of the army under his command is currently engaged in the battle against militants in the provincial capital, Zinjibar, “to show America that we are serious in the fight against Al Qaeda,” said his spokesman, Abdulghani al-Shumeeri.
Even when the home base of the First Armored Division, sitting high on a hill in northwestern Sana, was attacked by government forces, killing 35 soldiers, General Ahmar did not retaliate.
“We acted patiently this way in order to maintain the peaceful path of the revolution,” he said. “God willing, the revolution will achieve victory, peacefully.”
Fighting broke out in late May in Sana between Mr. Saleh and his rival tribal leaders, the Ahmar family, who are not related to General Ahmar. The general’s First Armored Division mostly stayed out of that conflict. Now, large groups of ragged-looking men stand outside his army base every morning, waiting to enlist.
General Ahmar, who is from the same village as Mr. Saleh, started to distance himself from the president in 2001, when he believed that Mr. Saleh was positioning his son Ahmed Ali to take over after him, analysts say. On at least one occasion, spelled out in a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, Mr. Saleh tried to assassinate General Ahmar by giving the Saudi Air Force the coordinates of a base where the general was staying during the last round of fighting in the Saada war in 2010.
General Ahmar says he is now dedicated to completing Yemen’s revolution and has no designs on power for himself. At one point in negotiations with Mr. Saleh, both men apparently agreed to resign and leave the country. The deal fell through, with each side blaming the other. But General Ahmar says he is still prepared to go ahead.
“If they ask me to leave my place for the interest of Yemen, I am ready to do it at any moment,” he said. “I don’t have any desire to keep my position in power or no aspirations for power either. Our genuine aspiration is to lead the revolution into a safe harbor and to ensure its success.”
However, when asked whether Mr. Saleh would return from Saudi Arabia after his wounds had healed, the general would say only “we have no information on this.”
Wednesday, 22 June 2011
By Nasser Arrabyee,22/06/2011
A senior Yemeni official said Wednesday that President Saleh will take two weeks before he return from Saudi Arabia denying earlier official statements that Saleh will return Wednesday,Thursday or Friday.
The Assistant Secretary General of the ruling party Sultan Al Barakani,said president Saleh would take about two weeks before he comes back.
President Saleh is supposed to be reasonably recovered from injuries and burns he suffered in a missile attack on his Palace on June 3.
No one of the top aides of Saleh who were injured with him in the same attack would return from Saudi Arabia as their injuries were more serious.
Saleh's supporters all over the troubled country seem to be confident that their beloved leader is coming back despite the 6-month protests against his 33 year rule.
They enthusiastically swear that the feast they are making to celebrate Saleh's return would be documented in Guinness Records as the biggest feast in the world. The sky of Yemen,cities towns, and villages, was lit up for six about six hours with bullets in what was seen like an all-out war in the night of Wednesday June 8th when Saudi officials said Saleh's surgery was finished successfully. Dozens of people were injured from the falling bullets.
Women and children started Tuesday to give sweets and cookies to soldiers and security people in the streets of the capital Sanaa and some other cities to rejoice the recovery and return of Saleh.
"We love him, we just love him, we'll die for him," said the 55-year old mother and house wife,Rawyah Awadh, one of hundreds of women who have already started to participate in the awaited biggest feast.
Opposition parties refuse his return and wants him only to transfer all his power to the vice president Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi according to a US-backed and Saudi-led GCC deal.Now Hadi is the acting president according to the constitution.
The young protesters demand a transitional council and do not recognize constitutional legitimacy and they talk about "revolutionary legitimacy", although the majority of them belong to these opposition parties who support Hadi.
US and Saudi Arabia lead international and regional efforts for peaceful, orderly and constitutional transfer of power to Hadi who is accepted and respected by almost all parties.
Writing this report was based on dozens of interviews with officials, oppositions figures, diplomats and anti-and-pro young protesters and normal people who love president Saleh.
Sultan Al Atwani,Secretary General of the Unionist Nasserite Party, the third largest in the opposition coalition, said, "The transitional council should be the last step.some of the young people are naive and zealous."
The young protesters insist that Hadi and the remaining of the regime should go.
"Yes they have the right to talk about the revolutionary legitimacy , but if the power is transferred to vice president and the ruling party approves it, this will be good," Said Al Atwani.
The acting president and all officials in their meetings with opposition and Americans and Europeans insist to delay talks about power transfer until President Saleb comes back.
"We can not talk about signing while president and top officials of the State are in the hospital," said Sultan Al Barakani,Assistant Secretary General of the Ruling Party, referring to signing the GCC deal for power transfer.
Al Barakani,who survived the missile attack on the presidential Palace on June 3, said the priority now for his ruling party and opposition is to form a unity government to run the country.
"A national unity government should be formed from us and them ,fifty fifty, to run the country for 10 months maximum and then elections," he said.
The senior official praised the role of Saudi Arabia to solve the current crisis in his country.
"Saudi Arabia is the best to resolve the problem because it has good relations with all parties," he said.
However, Saif Al Asali,economic professor,and former minister of finance, has no hope that the opposition and ruling party can do anything together after the failed assassination against Saleh and his top aides.
"The government and opposition can not meet under one ceiling after the bloodshed," said Al Asali.
"The youth should have their own entity without the traditional leaderships of the opposition, the young people should lead themselves."
The independent young protesters blame the US and Saudi Arabia for trying to thwart their revolution.
Najeeb Abdul Rehman, a leading independent protester, said ,"
If this revolution fails,some of the protesters will go fight with Al Qaeda,and the remaining will go fight with AlHouthi rebels."
"They would blame America and Saudi Arabia for that failure and they would side with their enemies," the leading protester added referring to Al Qaeda as the enemy of America and Al Houthi rebels as the enemy of Saudi Arabia.
Opposition leaders and young protesters seem to be very afraid of President Saleh's return.
"Saleh is very bewildering, he can slap you and kiss at the same time, and you do not know what to do,to blame him for slapping or thank him for kissing," said Mohammed Al Sadi,Assistant Secretary General of the Islamist Party, Islah.
Some western diplomats doubt about signing the GCC deal when Saleh returns.
"If Saleh kept maneuvering for four months without signing,why would he sign now after he and his senior officials were nearly killed," said the diplomat on condition of anonymity.
Some of the opposition leaders say Saudi Arabia is now doing everything to find an appropriate successor for Saleh far from the dominance of the Islamist, the brotherhood.
"The Saudi Arabia would not allow the brotherhood to rule in Yemen at all ,at all."said Hassan Zaid,Secretary General of Al Haq Party,one of the opposition coalition party. Al Haq is the Shiite party from which leader of Al Houthi rebels, slain Hussein Al Houthi,dissented.
"The power would not be transferred to vice president Mr Hadi because he is close to Ali Muhsen who is brotherhood and fundamentalist," said Zaid referring to the defected general Ali Muhsen who was mainly blamed for the wars against the Shiite rebels in Saada during 2004-2010.
"The solution is the departure of Ali Muhsen and Saleh and all traditional leaders of the oppositions parties including me," Zaid concluded.
Tuesday, 21 June 2011
President Saleh's supporters make the biggest feast in the world to celebrate his recovery and return
Source: The New York Times,
By LAURA KASINOF, 21/06/2011
SANA, Yemen — Out of the ancient, ornate mud brick buildings and across the narrow alleyways where barefoot children play, a chant emerges frequently in the old walled city here in the capital. Seemingly at random, someone will raise his voice to announce: “The people want Ali Abdullah Saleh!”
Mr. Saleh’s government has suffered high-level defections and the loss of international support. The exact state of his health remains in question after an attack on the presidential compound forced him to seek treatment in Saudi Arabia. Crowds in the capital on Monday demanded that his sons also leave.
Still, the embattled Yemeni president has his fervent followers, especially in the old city.
“I am 100 percent sure that he’ll come back,” said Mohammed al-Ghaithi, a high school student who with his brother mans the family shop in a neighborhood of the old city, Al Jala, known for its historic bathhouse.
Their numbers are impossible to gauge with certainty, and motives among them are hardly uniform. Many of the tribesmen who show up at pro-Saleh rallies on Fridays are shipped in from across the country and paid by their sheikhs, who are in turn paid by the government. Thousands gather, and even illiterate people hold signs that read “yes to constitutional legitimacy.”
For months, Mr. Saleh gave weekly speeches at the rallies, and the ostentatious shows of support helped him justify keeping his grip on power in the face of the far larger and more organic antigovernment sit-ins here and around the country.
Also among the pro-Saleh camp: hundreds of paid thugs who roam the streets of Sana, with batons in hand ready to beat up a stray young antigovernment protester at random, and ruling party businessmen who greatly benefited from the corruption of the Saleh government.
However, many of the residents of the old city, whom Yemenis tend to stereotype as simple and kind, fit a different mold — though they do attend pro-Saleh rallies on occasion and many have low-level government jobs.
They are neither incredibly poverty-stricken nor involved in tribal warfare. With schools and hospitals near at hand and peace in the streets, they say they feel that Mr. Saleh brought them the stability in which they want to live their lives.
“The first thing is that people in Old Sana are educated,” Mr. Ghaithi said. “But another important thing is that there is more security here than any other place in the capital. We feel that this security comes from Saleh.”
When Mr. Saleh returns from Saudi Arabia, said Abdullah Swaid, a shopkeeper, “we will make the biggest feast in the world.”
“It’s going to stretch from Tahrir Square to 70th Street,” he said, referring to a square that is dominated by a pro-Saleh camp and a stretch of street about a mile away where pro-government rallies are held on Fridays.
There is a tent set up at the antigovernment protest camp in Sana University representing the old city, but several protesters say their car tires have been slashed when parked near their homes in the old city.
One evening, days after Mr. Saleh went to Saudi Arabia, his supporters celebrated by shooting Kalashnikovs into the air for hours when official media announced that he had come out of surgery successfully. Some people in the old city said it sounded as if war had broken out.
Local press carried reports of hundreds of people being injured by the falling bullets and of several being killed. The loyalists say they will light up the sky again with gunfire when Mr. Saleh returns from Riyadh.
“It was a miracle that he didn’t die,” Mr. Swaid said, sitting cross-legged on the ground in his shop, which was dark — there is very little electricity in Sana these days. “Everyone around him died. And somehow he didn’t die.”
The old city, where posters of a dapper-looking Mr. Saleh are plastered throughout, is also marked by a distinct hatred for Mr. Saleh’s main tribal rivals, the Ahmars, who were engaged in a bloody battle with the government for about two weeks early this month.
One afternoon, children were throwing their shoes at a scurrying rat. “That’s Hamid al-Ahmar!” they yelled, naming the most outspoken of the family. Adults make scoffing noises when any of the Ahmars are mentioned.
Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani, a prominent Yemeni political analyst, said that in the unlikely event that the Ahmars took power, people would flock back to Mr. Saleh’s side and even “take up arms.”
But if there is a relatively peaceful transfer of power —as the United States and Saudi Arabia are seeking — Mr. Iryani said hard-core supporters would most likely accept the reality that Mr. Saleh’s rule was finished. After all, many high-ranking members of the ruling party are in favor of such a proposal, brokered by Persian Gulf nations, which Mr. Saleh declined but was resuscitated after he left the country.
Of course, not everyone in the old city supports him.
While chatting around Mr. Ghaithi’s shop in Al Jala, a friend, Rami Hani, yelled as one of his neighbors walked by. “He’s an Islahi, he’s an Islahi,” he said, meaning a member of the most-powerful opposition party. As Mr. Hani made a pejorative gesture, the man hurried around a corner.
One night, a group of three men stood chatting quietly outside a dry cleaning shop lined with racks of the suit jackets that men from northern Yemen wear over their white robes.
“I go to the university at times during the week,” said Mohammed, who did not want his last name used out of fear of retaliation. “But on Fridays, my dad beats me if I don’t go to 70th Street.”
Monday, 20 June 2011
ADEN, Yemen-Yemeni authorities said government forces made progress on Monday in efforts to dislodge Islamist militants holding the southern city of Zinjibar.
"The army is besieging the remnants of the terrorists and is on the verge of completely cleansing Zinjibar," the local provincial governor, Saleh Hussein al-Zuari, said in comments on the Yemeni defense ministry's 26 September website.
It was not possible to verify his statement. No comment was available from the armed Islamist group in the city.
A military spokesman said troops had killed 17 militants as of Monday -- five more than the figure given on Sunday, the first day of the offensive in Zinjibar. Five soldiers had died and 21 were wounded, the military added.
Last month's seizure of Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province, caused thousands to flee and raised fears that militants with ties to al Qaeda were gaining ground as veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh resisted pressure from his U.S. and Saudi allies to stand down in favor of a transition to democracy.
Saleh has been in a Saudi hospital since being wounded in an attack on his palace on June 3, but he retains power.
Saleh's opponents say his forces handed over Zinjibar to the militants in order to bolster his argument that his departure would lead to an Islamist takeover of the poor Arab state.
Sunday, 19 June 2011
At least a dozen Islamic militants and two Yemeni troops died overnight as Yemen fights to wrest control of Abyan province from militants, a senior security official in the southern province told CNN Sunday.
Qasim Bin Hadi, the head of security in Zinjibar in Abyan, said that the city has turned into a ghost town and that clashes between government forces and al Qaeda militants have been nonstop the past two days.
"Bodies of dead people are everywhere in the streets," said Bin Hadi.
Separately, more than 100 influential religious and tribal leaders said President Ali Abdullah Saleh was not able to lead the country and should step down.
"Saleh was injured seriously during the assassination attempt on his life. We call on Saleh to hand over powers to his vice president Abdu Rabu Mansoor Hadi, to save the country from further clashes and bloodshed," said the statement, which was circulated to the media.
Saleh and other senior officials were injured June 3 in an attack on the mosque at the presidential palace. Saleh is being treated in Saudi Arabia. Officials loyal to him have said he will return when he has recovered.
Among the clerics who signed the statement was Sheikh Abdul Majid al-Zindani, Yemen's most prominent cleric. The United States considers al-Zindani a terrorist, accused in 2004 of supplying weapons to al Qaeda. But in Yemen, he wields considerable influence.
The influential signatories are the latest in a growing number of powerful voices seeking Saleh's ouster and demanding a transitional government be formed as quickly as possible.
Yemen has been consumed by unrest for months as protesters have demanded an end to Saleh's rule.
In recent weeks, government troops have battled both anti-government tribal forces and Islamic militants, including al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Militants seized control of the town of Zinjibar several weeks ago, local people in the southern city told CNN.
Many of the deaths overnight were caused by airstrikes targeting militant hideouts in Zinjibar and Jaar, another city in the province, the security official said.
"Clashes are still continuing," said the official, "and the government has sent hundreds of additional troops to the area in an effort to retake the province from the militants."
The official asked not to be named because he is not authorized to talk to the media.
The official added that at least four soldiers have been injured in clashes over the past 24 hours.
Bin Hadi, the head of security in Zinjibar, said the bodies of the dead -- many of them civilians -- "rot in the streets of Zinjibar.
"Clashes are not in one place in the city, they are in every corner. The government is doing everything in its power to rid the province from the terrorists," he said.
According to residents in Zinjibar, militants have succeeded in seizing a large number of heavy artillery from the government during the clashes the past two days.
Saturday, 18 June 2011
Source: Reuters, 18/06/2011
By Joseph Logan
Dubai- Fearing both civil war and sweeping political reform as results of the crisis in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is struggling with its role as regional kingmaker.
While publicly backing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, still in a Saudi hospital after being wounded in fighting in the capital Sanaa after months of protests aimed at ousting him, Riyadh has also tried to broker a succession on its own terms.
That has entailed forging relationships with tribal chieftains, politicians and army officers long cultivated by the Saudis as counterweights to Saleh's 33-year rule, but who are too many and too fractious to provide a ready-made successor.
And the very process of negotiating a political exit for a neighboring ruler it no longer supports has raised talk of representative government, feared by the kingdom that is the world's No. 2 oil exporter.
"It (Saudi Arabia) will try to stop a move to any real democratic system in the country," political analyst Ahmed al-Zurqa said. "This is the problem."
The Saudi-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) mediated three aborted deals with Yemeni opposition parties under which Saleh would step down and be spared prosecution for misconduct including bloody crackdowns on protesters who took to the streets as pro-democracy activism swept the Arab world.
Each time, Saleh backed out at the last minute.
His last demurral, in May, triggered two weeks of fighting with the al-Hashed tribal confederation led by the al-Ahmar family, culminating in a June 3 attack on Saleh's palace.
That may have sealed Saleh's fate for the Saudis, said Sheila Carapico, a Yemen expert and political science professor at the American University of Cairo.
"We don't even know if he'll be well enough to go back (from Saudi Arabia), but apart from that, I think they've lost faith in him," she said.
SON, NEPHEWS NOT JUMPING SHIP
Saudi and Yemeni state media still stress Riyadh's relationship with Saleh but the flirtation with his enemies is evident.
Sadeq al-Ahmar, a leading al-Hashed figure, said after a round of clashes which devastated parts of the capital that he was keeping a truce only out of respect for Saudi King Abdullah.
Opposition parties ranging from socialists to Islamists of both the Sunni and Zaydi Shi'ite sects, and which signed off on the GCC deals, lost credibility with "Arab Spring"-inspired youths who have emerged as a separate Yemeni constituency.
"We believed, and still believe, that the Gulf states do not want the youth revolution to succeed in Yemen, so that its effects won't spread to the other states of the region," said democracy activist Omar Abdelqader.
Those opposition parties have participated in negotiations with Yemen's acting leader, Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, in which the absent president's fate was not broached.
U.S. diplomats helped broker those talks. But with Washington apparently preparing to pursue attacks on al Qaeda in Yemen with more use of CIA-operated drones, analysts believe it may have satisfied its real needs in Yemen, and will leave kingmaking to the Saudis.
"I don't think the U.S. has a policy on Yemen," Carapico said. "One part is we back the Saudis and whatever they want is good enough for us, and then the other part of it is we really, really don't like al Qaeda."
The balance of forces on the ground suggests no one contender will simplify the task of succession by emerging stronger than the others.
Though Saleh's ruling party suffered high-profile defections, several of his relatives -- including a son, Brigadier-General Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, who leads the Republican Guard -- retain command and seem to have achieved military parity with the president's enemies.
"I don't think you're going to see many more people jumping ship at the moment," said James Spencer, a defense and political risk consultant. "Saleh's son and nephews have hung on ... Ahmed Ali has made it clear he's not going to go meekly."
Source: Yemen Observer
By Fares Anam,18/06/2011
The Yemeni widow of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden will return home within a few days, said her brother Zakria al-Sadah.
“She will arrive in the coming days, according to the Embassy of Yemen in Pakistan, where they are completing the legal procedures,” he said.
Al-Sadah said he had not had any contact with his sister, adding that he communicated through Yemeni and Pakistani diplomats.
However, the Yemeni Embassy in Pakistan are assured him that she was in good health.
A Yemeni diplomatic source told the BBC that the Yemeni authorities struck a deal with Pakistani authorities for the return of the widow of the al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden›s as well as her children.
The source also said that final arrangements for the return of Mrs Bin Laden and her children occurred after days and days of negotiations between the foreign ministries of Yemen and Pakistan.
The Yemeni Ministry of Foreign Affairs will oversee the passage of Mrs Bin Laden and her children from Pakistan to Yemen where she will live with her family added the source.
Mrs Bin Laden’s father called the Yemeni authorities and Pakistan to request that his daughter be allowed to return to Yemen as soon as possible after the death of her husband.
Friday, 17 June 2011
SANAA, Yemen — It was an awkward moment for Yemen’s acting head of state.
In a meeting on Monday, top opposition leaders referred to Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi as Mr. President. A senior ruling party official, deeply loyal to embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh, retorted that Hadi was only the vice president.
“I am the acting president according to the Constitution,” Hadi replied with a smile, trying to strike a middle ground, according to two senior officials who were at the meeting at Hadi’s house.
For 17 years, Hadi served in relative anonymity as Saleh’s vice president. Today, he is widely perceived as someone who might guide his strategic Middle Eastern nation through a peaceful transition period that would end Saleh’s nearly 33-year-long rule and usher in a new political era.
But the question on many minds is whether Hadi has the strength and will to take on Saleh’s allies, including his son and nephews, who have remained inside Yemen even as the president recuperates in neighboring Saudi Arabia from severe injuries from a June 3 attack on his presidential compound.
Saleh’s relatives continue to wield enormous influence in his absence. This week, security forces loyal to Saleh’s son and nephews were posted in front of Hadi’s residence, a sign that many interpreted as a warning to Hadi to not cross any red lines imposed by Saleh and his family.
“He is in the middle of the hammer and the bench,” said Sultan al-Atwani, a senior leader of Yemen’s traditional political opposition.
On the one hand, Hadi is now facing mounting pressure from Yemen’s various centers of power — from youth activists to traditional opposition parties to power tribal leaders — to formally assume presidential authority.
On the other, Atwani said, “parts of the regime, the sons and nephews, do not see him as legitimate. They see him only as the vice president until the president comes back.”
Compared with other top Yemeni leaders, Hadi is relatively unknown to the United States and its allies. But in a nation deeply riven across political, tribal and geographical lines, American officials appear to regard Hadi as unifying figure who might appease all the various competing interest groups, assuring a smooth handover of power until new elections can be held.
And having spent much of his career in the military, including a stint as defense minister, Hadi could potentially provide a positive answer to the most pressing question being posed by the American government about Yemen’s future: Will Saleh’s successor be as committed to fighting Yemen’s emboldened Islamist militants and an ambitious al-Qaeda branch, which has targeted American soil?
U.S. officials say they are encouraged that Hadi is reaching out to the opposition. “We believe that there is no time to lose in moving on to the democratic future that Yemen deserves,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Thursday, referring to Hadi’s efforts to promote a political dialogue.
Hadi’s office did not reply to repeated requests for an interview.
How loyal will Hadi be?
Hadi, 66, was born in the southern province of Abyan. Educated in a military school in Aden, when south Yemen was a British protectorate, he later went to Britain, Egypt and Russia for further military studies.
Afterward, he rose through the ranks of the South Yemen military. An avid reader, he speaks fluent Russian and good English. In contrast, Saleh did not receive much education and entered the military in his teens.
In 1986, when civil conflict erupted between two factions of the ruling socialists, Hadi left for North Yemen, where he became close to Saleh. After North and South Yemen were reunified in 1990, Hadi became defense minister.
In 1994, when civil war broke out, Hadi played an important role in defeating the southern socialists. Later that year, Saleh appointed Hadi as his vice president; in 1997, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general.
The mere fact that Hadi was able to remain vice president under Saleh for so long speaks to his skill at political survival. Saleh, one of the Middle East’s master political tacticians, swiftly marginalized anyone that he felt threatened his grip on power.
“He listens very well,” said Ali Saif Hassan, a political analyst who knows Hadi socially.
In the four months since Yemen’s populist revolution galvanized the country, divisions in Yemen’s political tableau have deepened. Government soldiers have fought rival tribal militias, turning parts of this sprawling capital into a war zone.
The military and security forces are divided in their loyalties to Saleh, his son and nephews — and to Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, once Saleh’s closest ally who defected in March after snipers loyal to Saleh killed more than 70 protesters on a single day. There is also infighting within Saleh’s own tribal confederation, the Hashed, which has long controlled Yemen’s government and economy.
Hadi’s non-threatening nature and background appeal to all sides.
He is from the south and would appease southerners who have long wanted someone from their region to become president after Saleh, who is a northerner. Hadi is neither a Hashed nor a Sirhan, the clan of Saleh, Mohsen and other major figures in the ruling party and military, and hence acceptable by the opposition. They also like that he’s well educated, and shows no signs of tribal loyalties.
“He’s not looking to hold onto power.” said Hassan Zaid, a top opposition leader.
Hadi is perceived as being close to Mohsen; they worked closely together during the 1994 civil war. But Hadi has not shown any signs so far that he would side with Mohsen against Saleh. In fact, publicly he has rejected any suggestions that he replace Saleh, predicting that the president will return home within days. Many of Saleh’s allies in the government are convinced that Hadi will remain loyal.
“He is one of the closest people to the president,” said Ahmed Bin Daghr, assistant secretary general of the People’s General Congress, the ruling party.
Pressure is building on Hadi to make a choice.
In recent days, thousands have protested in front of Hadi’s residence, and many opposition leaders hope that Hadi will accept the idea of becoming an interim president, with elections to follow, under a constitutional procedure allowed when the president is deemed incapable to rule. Others want him to create a transitional presidential council.
This week, Sadeq al-Ahmar, the head of Yemen’s most powerful tribal family, wrote a letter urging Hadi to formally declare himself president. He promised that his own forces would deal with Saleh’s sons and nephews, whom his militias challenged in pitched battles against government forces this month.
“I told him we would give him whatever he needs, and much more,” Ahmar said in an interview inside his residential compound, shattered by rockets and shelling. “He has to take action.”
Source: CNN, By Barak Barfi,17/06/2011
With the departure of Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh, the local political scene has become a battle of the sons.
Saleh’s firstborn son Ahmad is now locked in a contest with the progeny of the country’s late paramount tribal chief, Abdallah al-Ahmar, who passed away in 2007.
Their emergence as the key players in Yemen does not portend a peaceful resolution to the country’s impasse. The sons lack their fathers’ keen political talent, which provided a country historically wracked by violence and insecurity a modicum of stability for the past 33 years.
From Libya to Syria, the sons of long-time leaders have taken the lead in shaping the future of their countries. But they have proved far less skilled at reading the region’s prevailing winds than their fathers.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sold his country to the Iranians and their Lebanese Shi’i client Hezbollah, sacrificing the influence his father Hafiz had so carefully cultivated over three decades.
In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak’s son Jamal hastened his father’s downfall by allowing his corrupt business friends to turn the country’s state coffers into their own personal bank accounts.
But it is in Yemen that the failures of the second generation are most pronounced and perilous.
In a nation where the threat of violence is a component of conflict resolution, political miscalculations can have vast repercussions. And with Saleh’s son and al-Ahmar’s children lacking their fathers’ tact, they risk exacerbating a conflict that has all but crippled the country.
Since February when protesters began demanding that President Saleh resign, al-Ahmar’s sons and successor as head of the Hashid tribal confederation has exhibited an audacious streak that contrasted with his father’s subdued and temperate policies. A French journalist who interviewed the elder al-Ahmar described him as “an ambiguous person who prefers to exercise power rather than exhibit it.”
Abdallah never allowed ideology to dictate his policies. Though a tribal chief, he supported a 1962 republican revolution that deposed a monarchy that privileged the country’s clans.
Though head of the opposition, he established a condominium arrangement with the president dividing the country’s portfolios between them. Al-Ahmar acted as a quasi-Foreign Minister by handling relations with Yemen’ s Persian Gulf neighbors and managed the country’s tribal affairs. Together, the elder Saleh and al-Ahmar successfully navigated the tempestuous waters that sunk a number of Yemen’s former leaders.
Today, al-Ahmar’s sons risk torpedoing their father’s accomplishments. Lacking their elder’s political astuteness, they have been far too overt with their ambitions for power.
Worse, their public criticisms of the president have exceeded the limits established by their judicious father. In a 2009 interview with the pan-Arab news channel al-Jazeera, Abdallah’s son Hamid unleashed a scathing attack against the president, calling for “changing the government in Yemen by substituting a government more beneficial to Yemenis, a government that can protect its citizens. This government neglected their stability.”
The conduct of Sadiq, al-Ahmar’s son who succeeded him as head of the Hashid tribal confederation, has been just as brazen during the three months of protests that have rocked Yemen.
He has spared no effort in trying to bring down Saleh, including providing for the protesters’ material needs in the makeshift camps all over Yemen. He has accused the government of waging an assassination campaign against its opponents.
By effectively declaring war on the president, the al-Ahmars unraveled the fragile tribal-republican modus vivendi their father carefully cultivated with Saleh. Convinced they were spearheading the campaign to remove him, Saleh finally responded last week by shelling their family compound.
Much like the al-Ahmars, the president son’s Ahmad has also failed to grasp the intricacies of Yemen’s delicate power balance. Raised as a privileged son of the country’s small elite, he did not experience the same “trial by fire” that gave his father the shrewd political skills to shepherd the country through successive crises.
But even in this world, Ahmad has faltered. He failed out of the prestigious British military academy Sandhurst, where Persian Gulf leaders send their children. Elected to parliament in 1997, he showed no interest in legislative affairs and is said to have never attended its sessions. Instead, he pursued various business interests and attended Formula One races.
Though he ended his political career after one parliamentary term, he still aspired to succeed his father as Yemen’s president. These ambitions put him on a collision course with the country’s main power broker, General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar (who is of no relation to Sadiq and Hamid).
As Saleh paved the way for his son to take over by making him head of the Presidential Guard, he simultaneously marginalized the general by removing his supporters from key military posts.
But Ahmad went even further. Lacking his father’s calculated and calibrated tactics, he clashed with al-Ahmar’s units and prevented his takeover of key government institutions. Al-Ahmar saw his influence in the country diminishing at the expense of Ahmad’s ambitious exploits. So when the president’s grip on power loosened, the general decided to settle accounts with the Saleh family by throwing his lot in with the protesters. In doing so, he signaled the death knell of the Saleh era.
Today, it is these sons who rule the country with General al-Ahmar lurking in the background. Having fueled the current conflict by fraying the tribal and military alliances that propped up the fragile country, Ahmad and the al-Ahmar brothers are in no position to rescue the nation from its current malaise. For without their fathers’ political acumen and vision, it is unlikely that they can put aside their overblown ambitions to reach an accord that will end the violence destabilizing Yemen.
Thursday, 16 June 2011
Clans and Tribes Forge New Yemen Unity
Source: THE NEW YORK TIMES
SANAA- Yemen — After more than four months of insurrection, this tormented country may seem to be more divided than ever, with rival rallies still seizing the capital every week and fierce gun battles raging in the north and south.
But the protest sit-ins occupying Yemen’s major cities have brought Yemenis together in remarkable new ways, creating makeshift communities in which the old barriers of tribe, region, clan and gender are crumbling.
In the sprawling tent city outside of Sana University, rival tribesmen have forsworn their vendettas to sit, eat and dance together. College students talk to Zaydi rebels from the north and discover they are not, in fact, the devils portrayed in government newspapers. Women who have spent their lives indoors give impassioned speeches to amazed crowds. Four daily newspapers are now published in “Change Square,” as it is called, and about 20 weeklies.
The very length of Yemen’s protests — far longer than the 18 days of Egypt’s Tahrir Square uprising — may be helping to forge new bonds and overcome this country’s deep fissures, even if the country’s political elite (and their henchmen) continue to shoot and kill one another in the near term.
“In a sense I’m happy the revolution is taking a long time, because these meetings and arguments are healthy,” said Atiaf al-Wazir, a blogger and activist. “We can’t say everything has changed, but the seeds of change are there.”
The sit-ins are taking place across Yemen, and in some areas elaborate deals have been made to allow tribesmen to join the protest without fear of being ambushed by their rivals. Many people have abandoned their jobs, adding to the economic collapse that now threatens the country.
In Sana, the protest area is virtually its own city, complete with restaurants, medical clinics, auditoriums and gardens. In addition to the newspapers, there are numerous art galleries and exhibits, and an endless series of seminars and lectures.
Unlike Tahrir Square in Cairo, the Sana protest area is not a central plaza. It is a dense network of streets running alongside the walls of Sana University — with pre-existing shops, homes and offices — and is therefore more sustainable as a community. Almost every tent has televisions and Internet, with wires and cords snaking over the canvas to the buildings nearby.
The numbers in the square have dwindled somewhat in recent weeks, with the summer heat, fighting in the capital and fuel shortages. Some protesters may have been discouraged by the long wait, and by Yemen’s uneasy political void. The president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is recovering in Saudi Arabia from burns and shrapnel wounds sustained during an attack on his palace mosque, and the capital is abuzz with constant rumors: the president is dead, the president is returning in an hour to seek revenge on his rivals.
Still, the square remains amazingly vibrant, a carnival-like city within the city. Tribesmen with daggers in their belts strut through the crowd, singing antigovernment “zamils,” or tribal chants. (“God burned your face, oh Ali,” one of them went, in a derisive reference to the president.) Vendors wheel wooden trays of glistening red tomatoes and cucumbers, while others sell fruit juices, popcorn and fried foods.
Banners bearing the names of countless political factions hang between buildings, and the faces of martyrs killed during government crackdowns decorate the tents. Underfoot is a slurry of mud, plastic bags, fliers, food and leaves of qat — the plant Yemenis chew in the afternoons for its stimulant effect.
“There are new values forming here,” said Dughesh Abdel Dughesh, a sociologist. “You can see a big sheik sweeping the street, nuclear physicists taking away garbage.”
Mr. Dughesh moved to a tent in the square early on in the protest along with his wife, two sons and three daughters. He began giving lectures on sociology and arranging for seminars on other subjects.
Not all the encounters are positive. On Tuesday, two protest factions clashed after disagreeing over a planned march, and more than a dozen protesters were beaten, some of them hospitalized.
The protesters’ spirit of reconciliation may turn sour — much as it did in Egypt after the revolution there — if the Yemeni uprising gives way to more violence, or fails to achieve substantial change.
Mr. Dughesh, a liberal, said hard-line Islamists began stealing chairs from his tent after he taught co-ed seminars. Islamists have also intimidated women who spoke or sang in the square. Yemen’s main Islamist party, Islah, became a dominant influence early on in the protest, taking over from the politically independent youths who were the pioneers. Many protesters lament that, saying the harder-line Islah members are intolerant of the square’s diversity.
Others say the frequent confrontations between Islamists and liberals are healthy, like those between all the factions and currents represented in the square. Yemeni society is deeply conservative, and any changes to the place of religion or the role of women will come slowly. But some women say the square has changed their lives forever.
“Before, we were sitting at home like pigeons trapped in a cage,” said Jamila Ali Ahmed, a passionate 29-year-old who wore a full black niqab covering all but her eyes, like most Yemeni women. “When we arrived to the square, we felt the beauty of freedom. We feel proud now and we want a dignified life.”
On Monday evening, as a light rain fell, several dozen Yemenis crowded into a tent known as the Academic Forum. A Sana University hydrologist, dressed in a natty blue suit, was delivering a lecture on Yemen’s dire water problems.
Across the alley, a white-turbaned Zaydi imam, his face illuminated by a yellow lamp in the gathering darkness, spoke to a crowd of young men about the religious duty to expel unjust rulers. In the distance, a song was played by Muhammad al-Adra’ee, a celebrated figure in the square who entertains crowds with his dead-on mimicry of the Yemeni president.
Nearby, Abdel Raghib Ghaylan, a 32-year-old teacher, was beaming as he handed out copies of a survey on how to improve Yemen’s educational system.
“This is the real Yemen — the Yemen we’d like to see,” Mr. Ghaylan said.
Later in the evening, tribesmen from the provinces of Bayda and Marib formed two lines and began performing an athletic dance full of leaps and shouts. A poet arrived — there are countless poets in the square — and began singing verses that the tribesmen repeated in unison.
“Our people made a revolution peacefully,” the men sang, as a drummer beat a rhythm on a drum held between his knees. “No airplanes, no guns, we have just our faith, our strong faith.”
Source: New York Times,16/06/2011
By Laura Kasinof
SANA, Yemen — Militants made a serious incursion early Wednesday into a provincial capital in Yemen’s southeast, warning government officials to leave or face retaliation. The attack was the latest case of armed groups’ taking advantage of the security vacuum created by the country’s prolonged political crisis.
Southern Yemen is a hotbed of antigovernment factions, including separatists and Islamic militants, only some of whom belong to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen’s local branch of the international terrorist network.
The militants, whose affiliation was not known, took over the central bank and a police base, along with other key buildings in the city of Hawta, the capital of restive Lahij Province, residents said. Security forces withdrew, they said, leaving civilians to try to fight off the militants. They said the militants announced through megaphones that all government officials must leave within 24 hours or face retaliation, and then retreated from the city.
“In the morning, fear was controlling all of the civilians,” said Ayed, a Hawta resident who did not want his last name used out of fear of retaliation. “Many stores closed. Many civilians left town. Now there is a state of apprehension in the city. There are few people on the streets.”
An official from the Lahij governor’s office and another Yemeni official confirmed the clashes, but said security forces had fought the militants. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the news media.
The official from the governor’s office said two soldiers were killed. He said he did not know what group the armed men belonged to.
Two weeks ago, rebels took over parts of the capital of Abyan, the province to the southeast of Lahij. There, in the city of Zinjibar, security forces continue to battle militants, forcing hundreds to flee to the port city of Aden. In March, militants overran another city in Abyan, Jaar.
It was unclear whether the incursions were by one group or several. Zinjibar and Hawta are about 75 miles apart. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has not claimed responsibility for the fighting in Abyan and Lahij on jihadi Internet forums, according to terrorism experts.
Meanwhile, President Ali Abdullah Saleh remained in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment of serious injuries he suffered in an attack on the mosque at the presidential palace on June 3. The vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi, is officially acting as president, but Mr. Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali Saleh, has moved into the palace, and neither he nor Mr. Hadi has shown any indication of planning for a real transfer of presidential power called for by Western and Persian Gulf governments. Antigovernment protests continue daily in major cities throughout the country.
To contain the Yemeni Qaeda group during this time of uncertainty, the Central Intelligence Agency has begun using armed drones to attack those identified as members. An American official acknowledged Tuesday that the United States was building a secret air base in the Middle East to serve as a launching pad for the drones.
Last week, an American drone strike killed several militant suspects in Abyan, including one identified as a midlevel operative for the Qaeda branch. According to witnesses, four civilians were also killed in the airstrike.
Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Source: FT , By Abeer Allam
Sanaa-A senior Yemeni official has declared as “out of the question” the possibility of a swift transition of power away from the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, accusing western governments of misreading the situation.
A June 3 attack against Mr Saleh, who is recovering in Saudi Arabia, has changed the “rules of the game” and the government was not obliged to hand over power under such circumstances, according to Hisham Sharaf Abdullah, the country’s trade and industry minister and a senior ruling party official.
“The Americans and Europeans wanted to hastily close the Yemeni file and move on as if it was Tunisia or Egypt,” Mr Abdullah told the Financial Times. “Our response: ‘Not before the president’s return,’ and we shot millions of bullets in the air on Wednesday to make this message clear. They got the message.”
In a display of power last Wednesday night, Mr Saleh’s supporters kept the capital Sana’a awake by sending long bursts of machinegun fire and fireworks into the air in what state media reported were celebrations to mark Mr Saleh’s recovery.
The US last week called for an immediate handover of power to end the political turmoil that has embroiled Yemen for months. Gerald Feierstein, the US ambassador to Sana’a, has held several meetings with Abdu Rabu Mansur Hadi, the vice-president, to urge him to form a national unity government.
Analysts say finding a solution to the crisis in Yemen is not easy. Mr Saleh has a strong power base nurtured through 33 years of rule and patronage. Even if he is no longer in the picture because of his severe injuries, his family controls key posts, including the Republican Guard, headed by his son Ahmed.
“If, God forbids, anything happens to the president, we still have the president’s son, we still have most of the army and a strong party,” Mr Adbullah said. “And we have 50 to 60 million pieces of personal weapons.”
Analysts argue talks focused on a transition are the best option for resolving the crisis, though they are also being impeded by questions over Mr Saleh’s health and a possible return.
“The vice-president needs to start [the] transition, but it is unclear if he going to be able to do that or if he has the respect, recognition and authority to do that,” said Chris Boucek, a Yemen expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Foreign ministers of the Gulf Co-operation Council will hold a meeting in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to discuss the Yemeni crisis.
Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Source: The New York Times,
By MARK Mazzetti, 15/06/2011
WASHINGTON — The Central Intelligence Agency is building a secret air base in the Middle East to serve as a launching pad for strikes in Yemen using armed drones, an American official said Tuesday.
The construction of the base is a sign that the Obama administration is planning an extended war in Yemen against an affiliate of Al Qaeda that has repeatedly tried to carry out terrorist plots against the United States.
The clandestine American operations in Yemen are currently being run by the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, with the C.I.A.’s assistance and with the approval of Yemen’s fragile authoritarian government.
But with Yemen’s embattled government on the brink of collapse, Obama administration officials are concerned that a future government might not support American operations. By putting the operations under C.I.A. control, they could be carried out as a “covert action,” which can be undertaken without the support of the host government.
The construction of the base, first reported by The Associated Press, is further evidence that the administration sees armed drones as the weapon of choice to hunt and kill militants in countries where a large American military presence is untenable.
Since he took office, President Obama has drastically escalated the C.I.A.’s bombing campaign in Pakistan using armed drones, and the spy agency has carried out more than 25 strikes there this year.
The American official would not disclose the country where the C.I.A. base was being built, but the official said that it would most likely be completed by the end of the year. Discussions about the C.I.A.’s taking over operations in Yemen began last year, the official said, before the political uprising and violence that broke out in the country in recent months.
Last month, the military renewed its campaign of airstrikes in Yemen, using drone aircraft and fighter jets to attack Qaeda militants. One of the attacks was aimed at Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric who is one of the most prominent members of the Qaeda affiliate group, which is called Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
By Abeer Allam 14/06/2011
Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, Yemen’s acting president, and the country’s opposition parties failed to agree on a plan for a transition of power in their first meeting since president Ali Abdullah Saleh was flown to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment after the June 3 attack on his presidential compound.
But they agreed to form a committee to rein in inflammatory media rhetoric to prepare the country for a “democratic transition in the future”, according to opposition members.
Saba, the state news agency, said the two sides discussed calming security and media tensions as a first step towards starting the political process.
Yemen has been engulfed in a four-month-long political crisis, and Monday’s meeting between Mr Hadi and the coalition of Yemen’s main opposition parties followed mounting pressure from western and Gulf countries for an end to the deadlock.
Members of the opposition said they wanted to discuss the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, which stipulates holding an election and the resignation of the president, but Mr Hadi insisted on limiting the discussion to restoring normalcy and main services and the withdrawal from the capital of the al-Ahmar armed militia, Mr Saleh’s main political rivals.
“It was an excellent start, we discussed how we can join efforts to build a better future,” said Mohammed al-Mutawakel, an opposition leader. “Political reform is the best way to guarantee security.”
In the capital Sana’a, a ceasefire has held between forces loyal to Mr Saleh and tribesmen of Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar of the powerful Hashid tribe, to which Mr Saleh belongs. Bloody street battles embroiled the capital Sana’a two weeks ago after Mr Saleh backed out of the GCC plan for the third time. Dozens of people were killed and thousands fled Sana’a.
Most of the capital is under government control, with checkpoints and roadblocks placed in the main streets. But areas leading to the Siteen road, where protesters demanding the ouster of Mr Saleh since February are camped, are controlled by checkpoints of General Ali Mohsen, the powerful army office who joined the opposition in March.
A senior government official told the Financial Times this week that political transition was “out of the question” before Mr Saleh’s return because of the attempt against the president’s life.
Analysts say the West and the Gulf may back off from insisting on an immediate transition of power in the face of resistance from Mr Saleh’s supporters and family who still control key security and army posts. Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, had earlier said the US wanted a “non-violent transition that is consistent with Yemen’s own constitution”.
Mr Saleh has insisted that he will not give up his constitutional rights as president and resign before the end of his term in 2013.
“It is going to be a very long process, each side insists on their position and they are not budging,’’ said Mohamed Abu.
Source: Xinhua 14/06/2011
The army forces intensified air-strikes against al-Qaida targets in Yemen's southern province of Abyan, carrying out a number of strikes on Tuesday, a local military official told Xinhua.
Strikes by the air forces warplanes shelled several al-Qaida hideouts in Jaar city, the official told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
A number of trucks of al-Qaida militants were shelled, which left serious casualties among the militants, he said, adding that a large-scale of bombing was also launched on al-Qaida sites in Zinjibar city.
Meanwhile, local residents told Xinhua that dozens of al-Qaida militants were seen Tuesday morning at a cemetery, in what is believed they were burying the victims of the bombing.
A tribal mediation led by a powerful tribesman began on Tuesday, a local tribal chief told Xinhua by phone.
In recent weeks government troops in the south have battled both anti-government armed tribesmen and al-Qaida militants.
Monday, 13 June 2011
Source : AP, 14/06/2011
WASHINGTON —Defense Secretary Robert Gates sounded cautiously optimistic about developments in Yemen, where the government and opposition tribes have engaged in armed clashes, pushing the country toward civil war.
Gates said in an interview that the Yemen situation has calmed since President Ali Abdullah Saleh left for neighboring Saudi Arabia on June 5 for medical treatment of wounds he suffered in an attack on his compound in Yemen's capital, Sanaa.
"I don't think you'll see a full-blown war there," Gates said.
A little over two weeks before ending his 4½ year tenure as Pentagon chief, Gates sat for an Associated Press interview that touched on a range of issues, including his expectations for a smooth handoff to his designated successor, current CIA director Leon Panetta. Gates will retire June 30.
Sunday, 12 June 2011
SANAA, Yemen — Islamist extremists, many suspected of links to al-Qaeda, are engaged in an intensifying struggle against government forces for control of southern Yemen, taking advantage of a growing power vacuum to create a stronghold near vital oil-shipping lanes, said residents and Yemeni and U.S. officials.
Over the past few weeks, the militants have swiftly taken over two towns, including Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, and surrounding areas and appear to be pushing farther south, said Yemeni security officials and residents. Increasingly, it appears as if al-Qaeda’s regional affiliate is seeking for the first time to grab and hold large swaths of territory, adding a dangerous dimension to Yemen’s crisis.
U.S. and Yemeni officials worry that a loss of government control in the south could further destabilize this strategic Middle Eastern nation, already gripped by political paralysis, violent conflicts and fears of collapse.
The government has not allowed journalists to visit Zinjibar. This article is based on more than a dozen interviews with provincial officials, government employees and tribal leaders from Abyan, as well as Yemeni and U.S. officials, and telephone interviews with residents of Zinjibar and surrounding areas.
They describe a ghost town where streets are a canvas of destruction, struck by daily shelling, air assaults and gunfire. There’s no electricity, water or other services. Tens of thousands, mostly women and children, have fled the city. Men have stayed back only to protect their homes. The extremists man checkpoints, and any semblance of authority or governance has vanished.
“They want to create an Islamic emirate,” said Mohammed al-Shuhairi, 50, a journalist in al-Kowd, near Zinjibar. “I have lived through wars here in 1978, 1986 and 1994. But I have never seen anything as bad as this.”
The Islamist extremists are mostly from various Yemeni provinces but also include other Arabs and foreign fighters. They call themselves Ansar al-Sharia, or Supporters of Islamic Law, residents said.
In an April 18 interview on jihadist Web sites, Abu Zubayr Adel al-Abab, described as a sharia official with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, as the Yemen branch is called, said the militants identified themselves as Ansar al-Sharia.
“The name Ansar al-Shariah is what we use to introduce ourselves in areas where we work to tell people about our work and goals, and that we are on the path of Allah,” said Abab, according to a translation by the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence.
The takeover of Zinjibar underscores the growing aggressiveness and confidence of AQAP, which appears to be taking advantage of political turmoil triggered by the populist rebellion seeking to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The crisis has further deepened since Saleh was severely wounded in a June 3 assault on his presidential palace, forcing him to fly to neighboring Saudi Arabia for treatment and raising doubts about his ability to rule.
Long before the death of Osama bin Laden, American officials considered AQAP among the most significant threats to U.S. soil and worried that it could create a launchpad to target the United States and its allies. The capture of Zinjibar and nearby towns gives the group access to the Red Sea and its vital oil shipping lanes. The militants are also well positioned to attack the port city of Aden, about 30 miles south.
U.S. State Department and intelligence officials have worried that AQAP will exploit the worsening security situation in Yemen, and American officials have closely tracked the fighting in Zinjibar as a possible early test of the group’s strength in the region. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said AQAP’s sizable presence puts the country on a different tier compared with other nations hit by political unrest.
“It’s the reason why we’ve had such an ongoing, robust counterterrorism cooperation,” Toner told reporters last week. “But as we’ve said many times, that cooperation isn’t hinged on one individual.” Regardless of who leads Yemen, he said, “we’re going to continue to work with the [current] government” to keep the terrorist group from gaining a foothold.
The rise of the Islamist extremists also complicates a political landscape that is crowded with several groups seeking power, including youth activists, the traditional political opposition, Saleh’s loyalists, powerful tribal leaders and defected military generals.
Although the extremists have not declared any national political aspirations, many fear that they could end up ruling portions of the south in the same way the Houthi rebels have done in the north, further dividing the country and eroding the authority of the central government.
“If they remain, they will have great impact on Yemen’s politics,” said Qassem al-Kasadi, a ruling party lawmaker from Abyan. “They could end up ruling over portions of the south. In the areas they have taken over, they are already manning checkpoints and ordering residents to follow sharia.”
Collapse in authority
Yemen’s rugged south has long provided a hiding place for AQAP militants, who are shielded by sympathetic, anti-regime tribes and impenetrable mountains. One of the group’s top leaders, radical Yemeni American cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, whom the Obama administration has targeted for assassination, is thought to be in the south.
The New Mexico-born Aulaqi has been implicated in attacks on the United States, including the 2009 Fort Hood, Tex., shootings that killed 13, and the failed Christmas Day attempt that year to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner. Last year, AQAP dispatched parcel bombs on cargo flights to the United States.
It’s unclear how many of the extremists are AQAP members. Thousands of Islamist militants, including many former jihadists who fought in Afghanistan, Iraq and other Muslim nations, live in Yemen. Many have past links to al-Qaeda and express sympathy for the group’s core philosophies. Others have tribal, social and inspirational ties to the terrorist network.
In March, the militants easily seized the small agricultural town of Jaar and surrounding areas, as government troops abandoned their posts. On May 27, extremists took control of Zinjibar, taking advantage of a collapse in authority as government forces battled tribesmen in the streets of Sanaa, the Yemeni capital.
Many of Saleh’s opponents accuse him of intentionally ceding ground as a warning to his allies in the United States and the Arab world, as well as ordinary Yemenis, that the nation would collapse if he were to fall from power. They say he has long exaggerated the threat of AQAP to secure funds and support from the West.
“Al-Qaeda appears whenever the regime wants, and they disappear whenever the regime wants,” said Ahmed Abdullah al-Azani, another lawmaker from Abyan. “If the regime wants, it can easily kick these Islamists out.”
Kasadi said he did not believe that Saleh would allow the Islamists to take over so much territory as a ploy to remain in power. “It’s not in the government’s favor if a province falls,” he said. “That shows part of the government has fallen.”
‘We left everything’
In Zinjibar, residents said government buildings and stores are shut down; many were destroyed by the shelling and airstrikes. Government officials and other sources of authority reportedly have fled.
The militants, mostly bearded youths dressed in civilian clothes, are said to control the streets. They retreat during air assaults, then reemerge when things quiet down. Residents described the extremists as polite and not oppressive. There are as many as 700 militants in Zinjibar and surrounding areas, said Yemeni security officials.
In recent days, as the extremists seek to push farther south, the fighting has intensified. That forced Hussein Nasser Abdullah, 48, on Wednesday to quickly leave his home along with 35 relatives, joining thousands of other families. Some sleep inside public schools in Aden, the rest with relatives and friends. “We left everything back there,” Abdullah lamented.
Ali Ashoor sent his wife and three daughters to another town. He spends his days searching for food and water. By nightfall, he locks himself inside his home and sleeps on the first floor, enveloped in darkness and fear. Saturday night illustrated why.
“I can hear bullets and shelling. Both sides are attacking us,” the 56-year-old retired government employee screamed over his cellphone. “I feel my home will get bombed at any minute.”
“Our future is unknown,” he added moments later.