Sana'a, September 8, 2011– President Saleh very early recognized the need for his government to assist the U.S in its fights against terrorism in the Middle East as he knew that Yemen could very well turn into the next American’s target in terms of military strike.
American security analysts have always claimed that Yemen was one of the terror group’ strongholds, with many training camps and recruitment centers spread across its southern region.
Firmly determined to remain in charge of his country’s affairs, President Saleh promised President Bush to actively combat terrorism in his country and to collaborate closely with his new American ally. Yemen counter-terrorism was born.
For the next decade, America would generously fund Yemen’s terror programs, giving this impoverished nation of the Arabic Peninsula access to several hundreds of millions of dollars. Saleh had de facto become a valuable U.S ally in the region, believed to be by many officials a bulwark against al-Qaeda.
However, many of the president’s detractors have now came out of the wood work claiming that Saleh was using the terror threat to assert his power over Yemen, accusing him of having close ties with members of the group.
But as Yemen southern region of Abyan is being besieged by armed militants operating under the name of “Ansar al Shariah”, an alleged branch of al-Qaeda, Yemenis are discovering the reality of a life under terrorism.
President Saleh and al-Qaeda
On the wake of September 11, and the American military intervention in Afghanistan, president Saleh decided to be pro-active, offering his support to the Bush administration in its chase of al-Qaeda operatives in the region.
In exchange of the support, America opened its check book, willing to oversee chronic mismanagement as it was given extraordinary leeway in Yemen: drones intrusion within Yemeni airspace, surgical military strikes on Yemeni soil, overview of interrogations conducted against alleged al Qaeda sympathizers and so on…
Despite this close “cooperation” however, well-known terror group leaders still remained at large, although being in Yemen’ s public full view. For instance, Sheikh Abdel Mageed al-Zindani, who is an influential Yemeni cleric, an Islah party leader (the government main opposition party and home to some of the most powerful men in Yemen, Sheikh Sadeea al Ahmar and Genaral Ali Mohsen al Ahmra being among them) and one of the most wanted men in the U.S, was never challenged by Saleh’s government. Only when al-Zindani threatened to bring down the regime did Saleh announce the Sheikh’s arrest warrant.
In his decade long fight against Islamism, Saleh did not really succeed in destroying its operating cells in Yemen. Despite the ever growing security units and the national security programs, Saleh merely managed to veil al-Qaeda’s operations in the region, leading many to believe that he was in control.
Defected General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar very publicly accused president Saleh a few months ago of allowing al-Qaeda militants to disturb the peace in the southern province of Abyan as to prove that Yemen would sink into chaos if he was to ever leave. He went further by claiming that Saleh had al-Qaeda operatives within his government and that it had been so for years.
Until March of this year, Mohsen was considered as Ali Abdullah Saleh’s most faithful and longstanding ally. After having been privy to the president’s policies and political maneuvering for several decades, such accusations reverberated loudly through Yemen, putting a question mark on the president’s trustworthiness.
Although foreign media reported the news, no real comments were made by politicians as they choose to look the other way. In Yemen, analysts and politicians went on overdrive.
Yemen’s main opposition party, the JMP (Joint Meeting Party), chorused the general’ statement when Mohamed Qahtan, its most senior spokesman, announced that al-Qaeda was a fabrication. As proof, the JMP told the media that Yemen’s army was doing next to nothing to stop the militants’ advances in the region, accusing it of having surrendered Zinjibar to “Ansar al Shariah”, the terror group allegedly linked to al-Qaeda.
Many Yemenis, most of them anti-government protesters, are convinced that the Opposition is telling the truth.
As for the regime, they are invoking a decade-long partnership with the U.S saying that they had committed themselves to fighting terrorism in Yemen and that the defected General was merely a disgruntled enemy of the government he once served.
Yemen’s Reality Today
Outside the corridors of politics, Yemen’ southern region of Abyan is living the terrible reality of terrorism. Since “Ansar al Shariah” seized, its regional capital, Zinjibar, civilians had had to endure death and destruction.
Thousands of families were seen fleeing the conflict with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, desperately looking for safer grounds. Those who stayed behind are painting a far different reality than what the terror group is said to want to achieve. “Ansar al Shariah” is claiming to be fighting for an Islamist state, based on the teachings of the holy Quran. They say to be fighting for justice and fairness for all.
In Jaar and Zinjibar, local residents are telling the press that the group is preventing them from accessing hospitals. Residents have learned to dread every passing jet fighters as the militants have settled their encampments at the heart of residential communities. Only a few days ago, a mosque was bombed as the government claimed it was used by the Islamists, 30 people died.
Several reports coming from the South have warned that the Islamist insurgency is gaining ground, spreading towards the Oil and Gas rich provinces of Marib and Shabwa.
Whether or not the al-Qaeda threat was used by the regime to rally western support behind an ailing presidency, it has become a reality that no one can ignore anymore. Now that the hat is out of the box, it is putting it back that might be proven difficult.
Source: Yemen Post