Monday, May 2, 2011
By Erik Stier, Correspondent / May 2, 2011
The death of Osama bin Laden in a US-led raid this morning has put a fresh spotlight on one of Al Qaeda's most prominent offshoots, the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Even as the US was tipped off to bin Laden's whereabouts in August last year, senior Obama administration officials already saw the Yemeni branch as a greater threat than Al Qaeda in Pakistan, the Washington Post reported at the time.
Yemen's weak central governance, rugged terrain, and widespread poverty have allowed militants to operate fairly freely despite a recent string of airstrikes and raids by President Ali Abdullah Saleh's government, which has increasingly been cooperating with US counterterrorism operations.
IN PICTURES: World reaction to Osama bin Laden's death
But now, with Mr. Saleh's regime's pushed to the brink of collapse, Yemen is in a poor position to rein in extremist activity – including the sort of retaliatory attacks against which the US is seeking to guard its citizens.
"There is no doubt that Al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us," warned President Barack Obama in a speech last night. "We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad.”
AQAP distinct from bin Laden's organization
It was an attack staged off the coast of Aden, Yemen’s southern port city, that first drew significant international attention to bin Laden’s organization. Nearly a year before the 9/11 attacks, Al Qaeda militants carried out a suicide operation against the American naval destroyer USS Cole, killing 17 American officers.
More recently, AQAP has targeted American soil twice in as many years. Both the failed parcel bomb plot of 2010 and the 2009 Christmas Day bomb plot originated in Yemen, where the group is now led by Nasir al-Wuhayshi, a former Guantanamo Bay inmate who for years acted as secretary to bin Laden in Afghanistan.
But today AQAP operates independently of bin Laden's organization and thus his death is unlikely to have any significant impact on the Yemeni offshoot, says Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen specialist at Princeton University.
“Nasir al-Wuhayshi is running AQAP as a parallel organization, in that Wahishi has command and control of people who swear an oath of allegiance to him, in much the same way that they used to for Osama bin Laden,” says Mr. Johnsen. “In terms of the day-to-day operations, I don't see it having a very big impact.”
Muted response in bin Laden's ancestral homeland
Response to the terrorist leader’s death has been remarkably muted in Yemen, bin Laden’s ancestral homeland, which has been gripped by intensifying protests for the past three months.
“The death of Osama bin Laden doesn’t mean anything to us,” said Hossam Logham, a protester in Sanaa’s Change Square. “It’s not going to have an effect on Yemeni people and it won’t affect Al Qaeda in Yemen.”
Many on the streets of the capital were not even aware of the American raid that killed the world’s most wanted terrorist.
Saleh could use Al Qaeda threat to stay in power
But while the end of the US’s 10-year manhunt for bin Laden may not be eliciting a strong response from the Yemeni street, some believe that the news will create opportunities for the country’s embattled president to retain the office he has held for 32 years.
The US has cultivated Saleh as an ally in the fight against Al Qaeda, more than doubling its military aid to $150 million last year. The president recently warned America that his departure would mean gains for the terrorist group.
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“Al-Qaeda are moving inside the [protest] camps and this is very dangerous," Saleh said in a BBC interview. "Why is the West not looking at this destructive work and its dangerous implications for the future?"
Demonstrators claim that Saleh has for years exaggerated the threat AQAP poses in order to gain political benefits. Now, as Saleh appears to have backed out of a Gulf-sponsored initiative that would see him exchange power for immunity, he may be looking to capitalize on bin Laden’s death.
“Al Qaeda in Yemen has always been a political tool,” says Abdulla Yahya Jarallah, a protester in Sanaa. “It wouldn’t be a surprise if he builds up the Al Qaeda threat now.”
ADEN, May 2, 2011 — Yemen's Republican Guard has abandoned a base in southern Yemen following clashes with tribesmen in which two soldiers and a gunman were killed, military and tribal sources said Monday.
Ten days of fighting in Labus, in Lahij province, escalated on Sunday evening, an officer told AFP, saying that two soldiers were killed and three others were wounded.
"As a result of the intensification of clashes and the support from other tribes to the assailants, we had to withdraw, in order to preserve lives," the officer said, requesting anonymity.
"We took our weapons and left the base," he said.
Sheikh Saleh al-Yafeyi said that tribesmen "took control of Jebel al-Arr base after heavy clashes that lasted over 10 days," adding that one gunman was killed and two others were wounded.
But he said that the tribesmen did not enter the base for fear of mines, claiming also that more than 70 soldiers have been released after surrendering, in keeping with tribal traditions.
Five people, including four soldiers were killed in clashes in the same area last week.
Yemen, a deeply tribal country on the Arabian Peninsula, has been the site of deadly protests since late January calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The protests have led to defections and clashes within the army. But the Republican Guard, headed by Saleh's son Ahmed, has remained loyal.
In addition to anti-regime protests, Yemen has been battling a secessionist movement in the south, a Shiite rebellion in the north, and an Al-Qaeda resurgence on its soil.
Mukalla, May 02 (Saba) - The Specialized First Instance Court in Hadramout governorate passed Monday to a ten-year sentence in prison for two Somalis convicted of piracy crimes in the Yemeni territorial waters.
During the hearing chaired by Judge Abdu al-Awadhi, the court convicted Mohamed Ahmed Yousef Mohamed and Mahmoud Mohamed Hasan Fareh, Somali nationals, of attacking and kidnapping ships in the international and territorial waters of Yemen.
The verdict also ruled to confiscate the boat used by the pirates.
It is worth to mention that the two condemned pirates committed on February 6, 2010 piracy acts in the territorial waters attempting to kidnap an Indian ship and a Yemeni boat and led them to an unknown destination.
SANA'A, May 02 (Saba)- A security official has revealed that the march which took place last week was driven by elements of the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) towards the television compound.
Press Secretary to the Minister of the Interior Mohammad al-Mauri said the march was prepared in advance via operations room which is being run by Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, the First Armoured Division commander, and Hamid al-Ahmar a leader Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen "Reform" and others.
Al-Mauri added that the march travelled distance of about 13 km from the university to Al-Thawra city in order to storm the television building and sit-in yard at stadium of Al-Thawra.
He pointed out that armed groups were surrounding the march from the front and rear and centre, denying at the same time, deaths among university protesters.
"We have not had any reports about the deceased that the protesters declared by some of media outlets", he added.
The security official pointed out that the Ministry of Interior has suffered loss more than 21 soldiers since the start of marches and protests led by JMP as well as 1000 injured among security men who came out to prevent the events of chaos with holding only truncheons, and no weapon.
He pointed out that the Wednesday's march claimed lives of 5 policemen and injuring of others 350.
By Fatik A-Rodaini
Sana'a, May 2, 2011- At least one person was killed and a woman was wounded in sporadic clashes in Yemen's southern port of Aden.
Eyewitnesses said that Saleh Yousef Omer, 27, was killed, while a woman was wounded in the clashes between an armed group and republican guards, who tried to open a street was blocked by the armed men in Khor Makser district, near to Al-Saeda zone.
Yemen's southern province of Aden has been witnessing sporadic clashes between outlaws and the security forces in which dozens form both sides were killed and tens others wounded since the rise of protests demanding President Saleh to step down in the country.
By Mohammed Ghobari and Mohamed Sudam
SANAA, May 2, 2011 (Reuters) - Yemeni activists urged street protesters on Monday not to raise banners of Osama bin Laden to avoid inviting a harsher crackdown on demonstrations seeking democratic change in the al Qaeda leader's ancestral homeland.
Bin Laden was killed in a firefight with U.S. forces in Pakistan on Sunday, ending a nearly 10-year worldwide manhunt for the leader of the global Islamist militant network that orchestrated the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Tens of thousands of Yemeni protesters have camped out for three months in public squares across the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state to demand the departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled autocratically for nearly 33 years and has long been a U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda.
"We expect Saleh's regime to work to use al Qaeda as evidence to confront the protests demanding his departure, but we will expose attempts like this," said Meshaal Mujahid, an activist. Another protester said he hoped the death of bin Laden would not detract from the mission of protesters.
"We are not working with al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. We have one cause and it is the fall of the regime. This is what matters to us," said Mohammed Saad, a protester in Sanaa. "To those in the protest squares across the governorates of the republic: Do not get absorbed by the matter of the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden," Yemeni protest organizers advised followers in a message on Facebook.
"Do not raise pictures or banners or mention bin Laden, as the (Yemeni) regime is planning now to exploit this issue for its interests," it added, urging recipients to spread the word.
Western and Gulf allies of Yemen have tried but so far failed to mediate an end to its political crisis, which they fear could trigger chaos that would give more room for an active Yemen-based regional arm of al Qaeda to operate.
Saleh has portrayed himself to Western and Gulf allies as his country's only effective bulwark against al Qaeda. But diplomats say Saleh's record of repressive and corrupt rule has increasingly made him a liability rather than asset for allies.
The Yemeni government, which has struggled to contain al Qaeda within its borders, welcomed the operation that killed bin Laden, and said it hoped for more targeted measures to "end terrorism throughout the world."
But Saleh's sway over Yemen, long shaky in remote provinces where al Qaeda is most active, has weakened further as protests have gathered steam, with security forces and officials deserting large swathes of several provinces.
A Gulf-mediated deal to ease out Saleh and defuse Yemen's political stalemate looked doomed after he refused to sign on Saturday, increasing the threat of instability in the country.
"Saleh keeps playing these games about resigning, but now that bin Laden is dead, there is a chance that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will ramp up its activities, which Saleh will use as an excuse to say that they need him to stay on," Dubai-based security analyst Theodore Karasik said.
The Gulf pact, which had offered immunity from prosecution to Saleh and his family and aides, would have made him the third ruler ousted by a tide of pro-democracy uprisings sweeping the Arab world.
Yemen's opposition has said it still hopes Gulf states will succeed in securing Saleh's signature. Both Saleh and the opposition, which includes both Islamists and leftists, had agreed the deal in principle.
In more violence, four Yemeni soldiers and two gunmen were killed on Monday in clashes between tribesmen and soldiers in Yafie in the southern province of Lahej, where separatists are active, residents said. Some homes were damaged by gunfire.
Violence has escalated recently in southern Yemen, where analysts say the government, which has been trying to contain separatists in the south and Shi'ite rebels in the north, fears secessionists may also be trying to take advantage of the leadership crisis to renew a push for separation.