Thursday, April 7, 2011

Yemen-based al-Qaida seizes swaths from Lodar to Balhaf gas port

April 07, 2011

The Yemen-based al-Qaida group seized control over swaths of hundreds of kilometers from Lodar city of Yemen's southern Abyan province to southeast Shabwa province's city of Rodhom, near Balhaf gas port, sources close to the group told Xinhua.

Two local tribal chieftains confirmed the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) set up checkpoints and makeshift military camps from Maeen area in Lodar city of Abyan to Ain Ba-Mabad area in Shabwa's cities of Azzan and Rodhom, where Balhaf gas port is located.

They told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that AQAP also seized the coastal road from Al-Awas in Abyan to Al-Haibala in Shabwa, off the Arab Sea.

Abyan, some 480 km south of the capital Sanaa, is a key stronghold of resurgent al-Qaida wing which have carried out frequent attacks against the Yemeni security and military personnel since 2009.

One of the sources close to the AQAP said the explosion behind the bullets factory in Jaar on March 28 that left 150 people killed was triggered by a cigarette lit by a resident who stormed the plant.

"After AQAP militants took over the plant and seized a number of heavy and armored security vehicles, they moved the gunpowder from the ammunition factory to another safe place," the source told Xinhua, requesting anonymity.

"AQAP then put some of its armed members to guard the plant, but the second day (March 28) the local residents came in large numbers and insisted to go inside the plant to collect the remaining gunpowder," the source said.

"After the residents came into the plant and started to collect some old machines and remaining gunpowder, one of them lit a cigarette, which triggered a series of huge blasts," he added.

Yemen has witnessed weeks-long anti-government protests demanding an immediate end to the 33-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The political crisis recently resulted in deterioration of security stability after the government pulled the police out from some towns of major provinces under the pretext of avoiding potential friction between police and protesters.

Source: Xinhua

EU to reassess bilateral relations with Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen as violence continues

7 April 2011

BRUSSELS (BNO NEWS) -- Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on Thursday proposed reconsidering the European Union's (EU) bilateral relations with Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen as the countries continue to oppress their own people.

On Thursday, MEPs passed a resolution and called for a reassessment of bilateral relations with the three countries, the suspension of talks on a future Association Agreement with Syria, expressed concern about the presence of international troops in Bahrain, and called for an investigation into the death of 54 protesters in Yemen.

MEPs said the pending Association Agreement negotiation between the EU and Syria must be suspended until the Syrian authorities carry out "expected tangible democratic reforms."

The resignation of Syria's government on March 29 "will not be enough to satisfy the growing frustrations of the people", they added.

President Bashar al-Assad must put an end to repression of political opposition and human right defenders, lift the state of emergency and undertake genuine political, economic and social reforms, said the resolution.

The resolution also underlined that the use of violence by a state against its own people must always have direct consequences, calling on both the EU and national governments to revise bilateral relations with Bahrain and Yemen, and consider imposing asset freezes or travel bans.

The text condemns interference by the authorities of both countries in the provision of medical treatment and denial of access to health facilities for injured protesters.

In addition, Parliament called for independent investigations into attacks on protesters in all three countries.

In the case of Yemen, the United Nations or the International Criminal Court should lead an inquiry into the March 18 attacks, in which 54 people were killed and more than 300 injured, the resolution said.

Furthermore, Parliament expressed deep concern about the extent of poverty and unemployment in Yemen, considering that the EU and the Gulf Cooperation Council should grant it specific financial and technical support as soon as President Saleh is ready to make way for a democratically-established government.

During Wednesday's debate, MEPs had called for EU Member States to stop the arms sale to the three countries, complaining of a lack of concrete measures by the External Action Service.

World Citizen: Will Yemen Become America's New Afghanistan?

Frida Ghitis
07 Apr 2011
One of the worst-case scenarios looming over the West and moderate Muslims in Arab countries is that extremist groups could hijack the current wave of pro-democracy revolutions or otherwise take advantage of the unrest to expand their footprints and strengthen their operational capabilities. Nowhere are those fears better-founded than in Yemen, where conditions have for years made the country a prime candidate to succeed Afghanistan as a base of operations for al-Qaida.
While an outcome that benefits al-Qaida is far from assured, there are strong reasons to believe this is a plausible scenario and clear factors that would make such an outcome extremely dangerous for the West.
Like Afghanistan in the 1990s, Yemen presents some of the ideal conditions for al-Qaida to establish a major presence. In fact, the country is already home to a few hundred al-Qaida operatives. Unlike Afghanistan, however, Yemen is not located in a remote region of Central Asia. Instead, its geographical position makes it an ideal base from which to create havoc in the region and beyond. Standing at the mouth of the Red Sea, Yemen overlooks a narrow and easy-to-disrupt choke point for maritime commerce between Asia and the Mediterranean. Its location on the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula makes it a pivotal point for the flow of goods, including oil, between East and West, as well as for the movement of people and ideology throughout the Middle East. If Yemen became a place where al-Qaida can operate freely, it would present an even greater threat than Afghanistan did, and certainly a far more serious one than Gadhafi's Libya, another country where the West decided to take military action.
Like other popular uprisings in the region, the movement that now seems likely to topple President Ali Abdullah Saleh after 33 years in power was ignited by young liberal activists, not by groups seeking Islamic rule, much less Islamic terrorists or their supporters seeking to take over the country. In fact, Twakol Karman, one of the principal organizers of Yemen's uprising, is a woman who heads Women Journalists Without Chains and names U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as her role model.
But the character of the protests has been changing since they started more than two months ago.
The opposition, which already existed and was recognized as a legal political party even before the demonstrations began, is a coalition called the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) made up of Yemen's Socialist Party and its Islamist party, Islah. The latter, which had little to do with the movement in its early days, has now taken a leading role. That is a source of great concern for those worried about a rise of Islamists friendly to al-Qaida in Yemen.
One of Islah's top leaders is Abdul Majid al-Zindani, listed as a terrorist by the U.S. government. If Saleh fell and Islah gained power, the country would likely become an attractive refuge for al-Qaida, much like Afghanistan was before Sept. 11.
America and its allies entered Afghanistan in 2001 after that country, under Taliban control, allowed al-Qaida to operate without restrictions, establish training camps and plan the Sept. 11 attacks. As the 10th anniversary of those attacks approaches, al-Qaida has become a very different organization. It is much less centralized, in part because it finds it difficult to operate with the ease it enjoyed in Afghanistan. But that could change if the chaos threatening to engulf Yemen allows the group to significantly expand the foothold it already has in the country.
There is no question that al-Qaida already has a strong presence in Yemen. The country's deep divisions, ideological makeup and extreme poverty have made it a hospitable environment for the group for many years. One of al-Qaida's earliest strikes against the U.S. occurred in Sanaa, the Yemeni port where al-Qaida suicide operatives detonated explosives on the hull of the USS Cole in 2000, killing 17 American sailors. More recently, two recent thwarted attacks originated in the country: the 2009 Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airliner and the 2010 shipment of explosive-laden ink cartridges placed on planes bound for the United States.
American officials know that Yemen has become one of al-Qaida's largest bases of operations outside the Afghanistan/Pakistan region, and Saleh has managed to effectively exploit Washington's concerns. Under Saleh, the two countries developed a mutually beneficial, if not completely trusting relationship. Saleh managed to extract massive aid from the U.S., which allowed him to more successfully tackle the more pressing threats against his rule -- namely, an insurgency in the North and a separatist movement in the South. In return, Saleh allowed U.S. forces to freely pursue al-Qaida operatives in Yemen's territory.
The U.S. military has launched missile attacks against al-Qaida targets inside Yemen's territory, with Saleh's full acquiescence. One of the secret diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks has Saleh telling U.S. officials, "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours." But another shows the level of mistrust Saleh felt toward Washington, when he described Americans to a State Department counterterrorism official as "hot-blooded and hasty when you need us" and "cold-blooded and British when we need you."
For about two months, the Obama administration watched the uprising and tried to stand by Saleh, calling for restraint and reform even as Saleh's repressive state security machine started killing scores of protesters. Saleh did offer programs of reform and even promised to step down after parliamentary elections next year. But the opposition has continued to demand his immediate resignation. In the meantime, the brutality of the anti-protest actions intensified. Now Washington seems to have reached the phase that Saleh described as "cold-blooded and British."
Washington remains extremely concerned about what will happen in Yemen after Saleh. The country has essentially no civil society and no middle class. It is deeply religious and has extremely high levels of illiteracy and poverty. In addition, its small territory already has two separate armed conflicts and an even greater one looming in the near future: Its receding water table could make Yemen the first country to run out of drinking water. Yemen has all the makings of a failed state, the kind of place where al-Qaida thrives. And yet, Washington feels that its support for Saleh has become unsustainable. The regime has lost any veneer of legitimacy, and the protesters seem unstoppable. The U.S. is reportedly sending word that it wants Saleh to leave now.
One recent development may offer the West a path that is, if not ideal, then at least acceptable, although it is far from guaranteed.
Much of Washington's collaboration with Yemen has focused on its military. If the post-Saleh picture in Yemen includes a strong U.S.-friendly military, then the West might still be able to count on the country to push back against al-Qaida.
The possibility for just such a scenario presented itself in late-March, when Yemeni Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar broke with Saleh following a particularly bloody day of government attacks against protesters. Al-Ahmar declared, "According to what I am feeling, and according to the feelings of my fellow commanders and soldiers, I announce our support and our peaceful backing of the youth revolution." The split between al-Ahmar and his backers on one side and Saleh on the other could lead to even more civil conflict and more good news for al-Qaida -- or it could provide Washington with a vehicle for preventing a worst-case scenario from becoming a reality in Yemen.
Source: World Politics Review

ARABIAN PENINSULA: Arab leaders work toward Yemeni President Saleh's resignation

April 7, 2011

Arab Gulf states involved in mediating a political crisis in Yemen tightened the screws on the country's embattled leader President Ali Abdullah Saleh this week, announcing that it was their hope that he would step down from power after more than two months of deadly protests.

Speaking on Thursday, the Qatari prime minister, Sheik Hamad ibn Jassim Jaber al Thani, said members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council "hope to reach a deal with the Yemeni president to step down," according to the official Qatari news agency QNA.

Details of the deal the GGC is hoping for were not immediately clear, but some reports say the plan entails having Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for the last 32 years, hand over power to an interim council consisting of political and tribal leaders.

Over the weekend, the Yemeni opposition suggested Saleh let Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi take over to lead a caretaker government.

The announcement from the GCC comes a couple of days after foreign ministers of the council reportedly agreed over the weekend to contact both the Yemeni government and the opposition "with ideas to overcome the current situation."

President Saleh in turn warmly welcomed the GCC initiative to mediate in the country's political turmoil, affirming in a statement carried on Yemen's official news agency Saba on Wednesday "the necessity of a serious and fruitful dialogue to overcome the current crisis."

It remains to see what his reaction will be to the Qatari prime minister's statement.

Meanwhile, a Yemeni opposition leader told Agence France-Presse on Thursday that any efforts to get Saleh out of office were "naturally welcome."

Some media reports also say the Yemeni government and the opposition have been invited for talks in the Saudi capital of Riyadh but that no date has been made public yet.

Thani's statement, however, could be a good indicator that the Gulf Arab states, which previously have backed Saleh, have decided that it's time for him to go.

Yemeni medics and witnesses say around 125 people have been killed in the country's clampdowns on protesters. Anti-government demonstrators started launching protests across the country in January.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Two Anti-Saleh Protesters Wounded in Taiz Province

By Fatik Al-Rodaini

Sana'a, Apr 7, 2011- At least two anti-government protesters were wounded in Yemen's southern province of Taiz after being shot by security forces.

Eyewitnesses said that the Republican guards fired live bullets toward anti-Saleh protesters who were chanted anti-government slogans demanding the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Yemen's southern province of Taiz has been witnessing huge rallies demanding the fall of Saleh regime, which led at least 15 to deaths and dozens of serious injuries.

Yemeni Government Refuses an Offer by Arab Gulf States

By Fatik Al-Rodaini

Sana'a, Apr 7, 2011- Yemeni government refused an offer by Arab Gulf states to mediate between President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the opposition coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties, JMP, who demanded President Saleh to step down.

Informed sources said that Yemen's government described the proposal as unconstitutional.

The Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC invited Saleh and the opposition to a mediation session in Saudi Arabia.

On the other hand, Yemeni opposition coalition, JMP, welcomed the offer by the Arab Gulf states.

The Yemen's refusal came amid the escalation of the antigovernment protests in Yemen and the continuous deadly crackdown on the protests, mainly in Taiz, Hodeida and Sana’a.