Thursday, April 14, 2011

Al-Qaeda Group in Yemen ‘Most Serious Threat,’ FBI Official Says

By Justin Blum – Apr 14, 2011

The most serious terrorism threat to the U.S. comes from members of a Yemen-based offshoot of al- Qaeda, said a senior FBI official.

Leaders of the group called al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, known as AQAP, have published articles on the Internet describing their intent to strike the U.S., said Mark F. Giuliano, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s assistant director for counterterrorism.

“While core AQ remains a serious threat, I believe the most serious threat to the homeland today emanates from members of AQAP,” said Giuliano, in remarks prepared for delivery today at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Several key AQAP figures were born and educated in the U.S. and understand the country’s culture, vulnerabilities and security protocols, he said. The group exploits social media to share its knowledge with people of a similar mindset, he said.

“They realize the importance and value of reaching English-speaking audiences and are using the group’s marketing skills to inspire individuals to attack within the homeland,” he said.

AQAP claimed credit for the December 2009 attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight on its approach to Detroit and the October 2010 attempted bombings of air cargo flights headed for the U.S. from Yemen, he said.

Efforts by the U.S. to disrupt al-Qaeda have taken a toll on the group, making training, moving money and communicating “very difficult,” he said. Still, “core al-Qaeda” continues to present a “high threat” to national security, as it has the intent and capability to attack the U.S.

Dollar shortages hit Yemen ship container trade

By Jonathan Saul

Apr 14, 2011

LONDON (Reuters) - A shortage of dollars is leading to slower ship container trade in Yemen although there are no disruptions to seaborne activity from unrest in the country, a port adviser said on Thursday.

Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, relies heavily on its sea lanes for trade.

Roy Facey, port development adviser to the Port of Aden, said the Aden Container Terminal and the neighboring terminal at Ma'alla were seeing a slower number of box consignments being handled, with bagged sugar imports affected.

"The traffic volumes are lower because of the shortage of U.S. dollars in the banks for traders to purchase goods from outside," he told Reuters.

"A lack of dollars in the local market causes serious problems for traders in opening LCs (letters of credit)."

Ma'alla also handles general and dry bulk cargo.

Yemen's opposition rejected an offer on Thursday to join Gulf-mediated talks in Saudi Arabia on a transfer of power and set a two-week deadline for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step aside.

A number of companies and public organizations have boosted security at port facilities around Aden due to the unrest although there have not been disruptions to operations.

"There is no change to the situation at the port, which is operating normally," Facey said.

Saudi and Western allies of Yemen fear a prolonged standoff in the Arabian Peninsula state could ignite clashes between rival military units in the capital and elsewhere and cause chaos which would benefit an active Yemen-based al Qaeda wing.

Yemeni opposition accepts GCC transfer-power initiative: spokesman

SANAA, April 14 (Xinhua) -- Yemen's opposition announced on Thursday that they officially accepted the initiative of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), about transferring power from President Ali Abdullah Saleh to his deputy.

"There was just only one initiative proposed by the countries of GCC on April 3, which we all in the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) accepted and we will go to Riyadh to hold talks regarding this initiative," the JMP's spokesman Mohamed Qahtan told Xinhua.

On Monday, Qahtan told Xinhua that the opposition initially rejected the GCC's final statement on April 10 as "it did not specify when Saleh should leave office and whether his sons and relatives will keep their military and security positions or not."

Qahtan explained that "we have met with the ambassadors of the GCC in Sanaa and then we made sure of everything regarding the final statement of the GCC, including the guarantee of Saleh's step down in detail," he said, confirming that there was no refusal now.

"We know that the protesters have objection to the plan as they want to prosecute President Saleh for the previous clashes that left dozens killed or injured, we in the JMP can guarantee that after Saleh steps aside, we will convince the protesters to accept the new situation and to show mercy on Saleh for the sake of a new Yemen," Qahtan added.

Qahtan neither revealed the exact date specified by GCC for Saleh to leave power nor when they will meet in Riyadh.

The six-nation GCC on April 10 called for President Saleh to transfer power to his deputy and enable the opposition JMP to lead a transitional national unity government in their final statement.

The final statement, which was issued in Riyadh following a meeting of the GCC foreign ministers and Yemen, said after the opposition JMP forms the transitional government, it will be authorized to write a new constitution and prepare for holding elections.

The opposition's confirmation of accepting the GCC plan came as anti-government protests continued on Thursday to rock streets of major cities in rallies demanding an end to the 33-year rule of Saleh, vowing to stage escalating demonstration on Friday.

On Wednesday, defected Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the half brother of President Saleh and commander of the Northwest Military Area, announced that he accepted the GCC initiative.

The leading opposition figure Hamid al-Ahmar also declared on Wednesday that he accepted the GCC initiative.

Yemen has been witnessing daily anti-government protests across major provinces since mid-February, which resulted in a political crisis that undermined security and stability situations in the country.

The president on March 28 said that he has lost control over five provinces, which were seized either by tribesmen or by al- Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) after the government pulled the police out from some towns of major provinces under the pretext of avoiding friction with protesters.

Analysis: Yemen's Saleh hangs on, still hopes to outwit foes

By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent

BEIRUT | Thu Apr 14, 2011

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh is clinging to power despite daily protests demanding his departure. Implausibly, he may still believe he can survive.

Handing out funds and favors, the 69-year-old leader of the poorest Arab country has skillfully juggled complex military, tribal and political networks to stay in office for 32 years.

But more than two months ago, young Yemenis inspired by popular revolts in Egypt and Tunisia began demanding Saleh's removal, blaming him for rampant corruption and mismanagement of an aid-dependent economy overwhelmed by rapid population growth, fast-shrinking oil reserves and an apocalyptic water crisis.

Many army officers, tribal sheikhs, clerics and ruling party politicians have defected to the opposition. Pro- and anti-Saleh military units face off in the capital, Sanaa, where one soldier from each side was killed in a gunbattle on Wednesday.

Saleh can no longer count on support from his U.S. and Saudi allies, who had seen him as an ally against a Yemen-based arm of al Qaeda. Saudi Arabia and its partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) called this week for a transfer of power in Yemen.

Yet the resilient president, whose blood relatives control key security posts, still resists pressure for his swift exit.

"My reading of Saleh's tactics is that every day that he is able to cling to power is another day he can try to undermine those who have defected and the formal opposition, all the while underlining his argument that Yemen will collapse into anarchy without him," said Sarah Phillips, of Sydney University.

"Some Yemenis, particularly those who are highly vulnerable to small fluctuations in local markets, may still prefer the status quo to the promise of prolonged unrest," she said, adding that Saleh was probably trying to exacerbate this fear.

"However, I suspect that the longer he tries this, the more animosity he will create," the Yemen researcher said.


Apart from evoking the specter of civil war or open-ended chaos to terrify waverers, the president can also draw on money, guns and political agility from his depleted survival kit.

"Saleh still has unfettered access to the treasury; he has the Republican Guards, the air force, the Central Security, the ruling party which, with enough money and propaganda of fear of the unknown, can mobilize hundreds of thousands of supporters," said Yemeni political analyst Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani.

The most senior military defector is General Ali Mohsin, who has deployed his 1st Armored Division to protect protesters in Sanaa. The powerful general, who denies seeking the presidency himself, is seen as a potential kingmaker in a post-Saleh era.

"He has been tied to some of Yemen's biggest corruption scandals of recent years and has very substantial business interests," wrote Zaineb al-Assam, of London-based consultancy Exclusive Analysis.

"He is a major player in the energy sector, both in terms of his involvement in major oil deals and as a beneficiary of lucrative diesel smuggling operations."

Yet Saleh has turned even the loss of one of his closest lieutenants to his advantage, Iryani said, enabling him to cast the youth revolution as a conspiracy by Mohsin, the Islamist opposition Islah party and its tribal allies.

At least 116 protesters have been killed in demonstrations that have convulsed Yemen since February 11, echoing the wider popular unrest that has swept the Arab world this year.

Anti-Saleh sentiment is shared by many on a political and tribal landscape fragmented by secessionist discontent in the south, an intermittent revolt in the north and attacks by al Qaeda militants prowling Yemen's under-governed spaces.


Saleh, who had portrayed himself to worried Western donors as their man to fight al Qaeda, may now be seen by them and by Yemen's Gulf neighbors as a liability. The GCC has asked Saleh and his opponents to join talks, which may begin as early as Saturday, to agree on a transition to avert an armed showdown.

The president will certainly seek the most favorable deal for himself and powerful family members who are likely to want to keep their wealth and secure immunity from prosecution.

Saleh, mindful of the court case now faced by Egypt's toppled President Hosni Mubarak, has no desire to step down only to face arrest and prison, said Yemen scholar Gregory Johnsen.

It is unclear how long the standoff will last, but "the longer it does go on, the worse Yemen's economy and the security situation will become. And both of these should motivate outside parties to lend support to a speedy transition," Johnsen said.

The United States, European Union and the GCC all understood the stakes, but had yet to find a transition mechanism, he said, citing conflicting Yemeni responses to the GCC initiative.

Saleh, whose legal term expires in 2013, may be angling for more than immunity for himself and his entourage -- an idea accepted by opposition parties but not the youthful protesters.

"He also wants to restructure the armed forces and to have a say in who in the GPC (ruling party) would get portfolios in the national unity government," Iryani said.

"Above all I think he's still hoping for a change of fortune that will allow him to wiggle out of this and remain in power."

Yemen opposition spurns talks, sets Saleh deadline

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen's opposition rejected an offer on Thursday to join Gulf-mediated talks in Saudi Arabia on a transfer of power and set a two-week deadline for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step aside.

Gulf Arab foreign ministers had said they would invite Saleh, who has faced two months of street protests demanding his resignation, and his opponents to mediation talks on a transfer of power. However, the opposition has seesawed on the offer.

"We have renewed our emphasis on the need for speeding the process of (Saleh) standing down to within two weeks. Therefore we will not go to Riyadh," said Mohammed al-Mutawakkil, a prominent opposition leader.

Saudi and Western allies of Yemen fear a prolonged standoff in the Arabian Peninsula state could ignite clashes between rival military units in the capital and elsewhere and cause chaos which would benefit an active Yemen-based al Qaeda wing.

Yemen's opposition first rejected a Gulf Cooperation Council statement on the framework for the talks, which had been due to take place in Riyadh, because it appeared to offer Saleh a waiver from future prosecution and did not call for an immediate handover.

Later, they met the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait on Tuesday seeking clarification of the GCC understanding of a "transfer of power," which does not specify a time frame for Saleh to step down.

Some opposition leaders had hinted that talks could start as early as Saturday, before Mutawakkil said the clarifications offered by Gulf ambassadors had been inadequate.

"We didn't find in the clarifications that the ambassadors presented anything that meets our demands for an immediate removal," Mutawakkil said. "There was nothing new from the Gulf Cooperation Council ambassadors."

Saleh has accepted the talks framework, while another key player, General Ali Mohsen, a kinsman of Saleh's whose units are protecting protesters in Sanaa, has welcomed the GCC plan.

A transfer of power in Yemen could technically last until the next presidential election scheduled for 2013, a prospect the opposition finds unacceptable.

Saleh has offered new parliamentary and presidential elections this year as part of political reforms, but says he should stay in power to oversee the change or hand over to what he calls "safe hands."