Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Is Anwar al-Awlaki's importance to Al Qaeda overstated?

Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki has been referred to as an Al Qaeda leader, strategist, or ideologue – and now, as a successor to Osama bin Laden.

Sanaa, Yemen

By Erik Stier, Correspondent / May 10, 2011

Following the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, some Western analysts see Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen as next in line to lead Al Qaeda because of the preacher's inspirational role in past attacks on America from a nation considered increasingly important for the global terrorism brand.

The US-born cleric has been a high priority since President Obama made him the first American approved for targeted killing in April 2010. Last week, the US confirmed that drone strikes in Shabwa province were aimed at the Yemeni-American who is said to have inspired the Fort Hood shooter, the 2009 Christmas Day underwear bomber, and last year's parcel bomb plot targeting America.

But while Mr. Awlaki may be garnering attention in the West, there is little evidence to indicate that he wields significant influence within Yemen’s Al Qaeda offshoot – Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – much less its central command in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Five key members of Al Qaeda in Yemen (AQAP)

“Anwar al-Awlaki is not the leader of AQAP, he’s not the spiritual head, and he's not the main ideologue. He's not any of these things that are often put out in the media,” says Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen specialist at Princeton University. “If there's one name that people in the West know, it’s Anwar al-Awlaki … but that doesn’t make him the most important player in AQAP, and I would argue that if the US were to kill him, AQAP would continue without missing a beat.”

First US strike since 2002

Awlaki may not be a key player in Al Qaeda’s hierarchy, but his role in the organization is nevertheless unique. Having spent much of his life in the US, Awlaki has been a leading voice bringing extremist ideology to the English-speaking world. Technologically adept, he has disseminated Al Qaeda dogma via Facebook, YouTube, and AQAP’s English-language publication, Inspire.

Yemen, one of the most conservative countries in the Islamic world, has a rugged landscape, weak central government, and devastating poverty that have combined to create fertile ground for extremist ideology.

On May 5, drone strikes in the southern province of Shabwa, a suspected haven of Al Qaeda militants, killed two brothers alleged to be mid-level operatives in Yemen’s Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The following day, US and Yemeni officials confirmed that the strike, the first carried out by US drones in Yemen since 2002, was an attempt to assassinate Awlaki.

Protesters upset by West's shift in focus to Al Qaeda

The renewed focus on Yemeni extremism following Bin Laden’s death has been considered a blow to demonstrators calling for the resignation of longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The president, who has been in power for 32 years, was on the brink of tendering his resignation under a Gulf-sponsored initiative that would have seen him transfer power in 30 days in exchange for immunity from prosecution. But the mercurial leader now appears to have backed out of the deal.

Protesters fear that renewed international attention to the Al Qaeda threat could provide a lifeline to Mr. Saleh, one of Washington's key counterterrorism allies.

The May 5 US drone strikes, they say, are indicative of America’s continued reliance on Saleh, despite the fact that at least some in Washington and many in Sanaa believe he has exaggerated the threat posed by AQAP to curry favor and funding from the West.

“The threat of Al Qaeda is much smaller than is being projected right now,” says Hamza Alshargabi, a prominent Yemeni activist and blogger. “There are violent elements in every society, including the US. The difference is that our people get more press.”

Analysts estimate that AQAP is composed of a core group of several hundred members among the country's 24 million people.

In recent weeks, Saleh has sought to highlight the threat posed by Al Qaeda within the country, often associating the extremist group with the official opposition parties and demonstrators. That AQAP, and Awlaki specifically, have publicly lauded efforts to topple Yemen’s regime, has raised concern among Western policymakers wondering what comes next after Saleh.

Already dangerously fragile, Yemen has been further destabilized by months of political turmoil that have not only shifted attention away from domestic extremism, but may be creating opportunities for extremist groups like AQAP to increase their operations.

“The US has to realize that in the long run, supporting President Saleh stepping down sooner rather than later is in its best interest when it comes to counterterrorism,” says Mr. Johnsen. “As the security situation in Yemen deteriorates, as the economy continues to crumble, the question now has to become what does Yemen look like if President Saleh stays in power?”

One Soldier Killed and Two others Wounded in Dhammar

By Fatik Al-Rodaini

Sana'a, May 10, 2011- At least one soldier was killed and two others were wounded in Yemen's southern province of Dhammar.

Sources said that an armed group attacked the headquarters of the Central Security in Dhammar, killing one and wounding two others. Official sources mentioned that the armed group belongs to Sheikh from the opposition collation attacked last night the headquarters of the camp.

At least 15 Yemeni provinces have been witnessing unrest situation since the beginning of February. President Saleh has been facing nationwide protests since the beginning of February demanding his immediate ouster.

Britain, US eye Yemen as next target

May 10, 2011

The British Prime Minister has offered the US government his country's SAS anti-terrorists units to get involved in hunting down prominent terrorists anywhere in the world.

David Cameron, who is apparently overjoyed by the claimed killing of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden at the hands of US special troops, has agreed that the elite British troops be deployed beyond Afghanistan in order to assassinate al-Qaeda commanders.

This is while that Britain already has counter-terrorist teams located in the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan and in Yemen, where they are responsible for training indigenous troops in counter-insurgency, counter-IED and counter-intelligence techniques.

According to defence sources, Britain and the US have clinched agreement to expand their operations beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan and into Yemeni territories.

The hunt for prominent terrorists, such as Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaeda's second-in-command, and Mullah Omar, the former Taliban leader, would continue in and around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region as well, defence sources said.

A senior officer warned that despite the death of al-Qaeda's leader, the terrorist organisation will still remain a potent threat for years to come.

"Al-Qaeda has lost momentum, and the death of bin Laden will only make it more difficult for the organisation to conduct attacks. It will hard for al-Qaeda to find another iconic figure but despite this we should avoid talk of 'winning'”, he said.

"This is a useful military event which should be used to help deter the threat. It demonstrates the reach and persistence of the US government to achieve justice. But, overall, I believe this is a case of 'situation, no change'. This was a significant event during a long campaign", added the unnamed officer.

Yemen's Youth Revolution Announces Final Plans to Force Saleh to Step Down

By Fatik Al-Rodaini

Sana'a, May 10, 2011- Yemen's youth revolution and the opposition coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties, announced on Tuesday their final plans to force Yemen's longtime embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down immediately.

In a statement posted in the internet, it said that the next Tuesday it will be the Day of Crawling to the republican palace where President Saleh lives in order to force him to step down.

''President Saleh takes benefit from the time in order to deplete the youth revolution,'' the statement said. "By escalating our reactions against him we can achieve the victory to our revolution," statement added.

The statement contented on ten steps which will accomplish the goal of youth revolution.

Youth revolution's statement coincided with the meeting of the leaders of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, Tuesday to discuss regional issues. The political crisis in Yemen between President Saleh and the opposition is on its agenda after a recent GCC plan to end the stalemate fell apart.

Youths in Yemen believed that the Saudi and US stance wanted to deplete their revolution in favor of President Saleh.

The GCC offered an initiative to solve the current crises in Yemen between the tuling GPC and the opposition, but it was stalled because Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh rejected to sign the agreement.

President Saleh has been facing nationwide protests since the beginning of February demanding his immediate ouster.

Yemeni Opposition Activists Rally as Gulf Leaders Discuss Stalemate

VOA News May 10, 2011

Yemeni opposition activists staged more rallies demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Tuesday, as Gulf leaders met in Saudi Arabia to discuss Yemen's political stalemate.

Activists chanted anti-Saleh slogans in the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, and burned tires on a road in the country's third largest city, Taiz.

A day earlier, Yemeni security forces fired tear gas and live rounds at anti-government demonstrators blocking a road in Taiz, killing at least three people and wounding dozens more.

Leaders of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council gathered in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, Tuesday to discuss regional issues. The political crisis in Yemen between President Saleh and the opposition is on its agenda after a recent GCC plan to end the stalemate fell apart.

The group that includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had proposed a plan for Saleh to step down within 30 days and hand over power to a deputy in return for legal immunity. The plan also called for the establishment of a unity government including the opposition.

But Saleh has refused to sign the deal in his capacity as president as the GCC requires, saying the he will sign only as leader of the ruling General People's Congress Party. Saleh told supporters on Friday that he will resist calls to resign until a solution comes forward that meets constitutional standards.

GCC envoys are attempting to intervene and mediate in the deadlock.

Yemeni opposition activists angered by corruption and poverty have been staging daily protests since January to demand an end to Mr. Saleh's 33 years in power.