Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Gulf mediator gives up on Yemeni political deal

May 18, 2011

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — The head of a coalition of Gulf countries seeking to broker an end to Yemen's political crisis gave up on Wednesday and left the country, opposition and government leaders said.

Yemen is reeling from three months of massive street protests demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh after more than three decades in power.

The Gulf Cooperation Council sought to mediate a deal for Saleh to leave power in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Saleh snubbed the deal last month, prompting a visit from the coalition's head, Abdul-Latif al-Zayyani, to try to break the impasse.

But al-Zayyani, who is from Bahrain, ended his five-day visit Wednesday without closing the deal, leaving each side blaming the other for its failure.

In Washington, the White House said that John Brennan, who is an assistant to U.S. President Barack Obama, had called Saleh on Wednesday urging him to accept the GCC-brokered plan. He called it "the best path forward for Yemen to become a more secure, unified and prosperous nation."

This represents a change in the U.S. stance toward Saleh, who was considered an ally in fighting al-Qaida's active Yemeni branch.

Opposition spokesman Mohammed al-Sabri said al-Zayyani told the opposition he was leaving because he couldn't get Saleh to sign.

"He said that since they were not able to reach an agreement, he was leaving Sanaa and would not come back," al-Sabri said.

Al-Sabri said Saleh had repeatedly tried to amend the deal by adding conditions that the opposition rejected.

Ruling party official Yasser al-Yemani confirmed al-Zayyani's departure, adding that Saleh refused to sign until the sit-ins across the country had ended.

"Saleh will not leave power as long as the security situation remains unstable," he said.

The mass protests have posed an unprecedented challenge to Saleh's rule. Several top military commanders and ruling party officials have defected to the opposition, while a crackdown by government forces has reportedly killed more than 150 people.

Yemen, Saudi Arabia's southern neighbor, faced crises even before the protests. It is plagued with widespread corruption, a weak central government, a Shiite rebellion in the north, a secessionist movement in the south and an active branch of al-Qaida in its weakly governed provinces.

The GCC nations behind the mediation effort were Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

U.S. urges Yemen president to sign transition deal

WASHINGTON May 18 (Reuters) - The White House urged Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Wednesday to sign and implement a transition of power deal so that the country could "move forward immediately" with political reform.

John Brennan, an adviser to President Barack Obama, called Saleh earlier in the day, the White House said in a statement.

"Brennan noted that this transfer of power represents the best path forward for Yemen to become a more secure, unified, and prosperous nation and for the Yemeni people to realize their aspirations for peace and political reform," the statement said.

Brennan also reiterated that all parties in Yemen, a key U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda, should "refrain from violence and proceed with the transition in a peaceful and orderly manner."

Matchmaker describes how he found bin Laden a nice Yemeni wife

Mohammed al Qadhi

May 17, 2011

SANA'A // She wanted to be a "martyr of God" and bear children to "this precious man of noble origin". He wanted a nice Yemeni girl who was "religious and moral".

With those stipulations, Yemeni cleric Sheikh Rashad Mohammad Ismail claims he played matchmaker for the world's most wanted man.

In 1999, by his account, he arranged the marriage of Osama bin Laden to his fifth - some reports say sixth - wife, Amal al Sadah. She was 18 at the time, one of 17 children of a civil servant from the city of Ibb. Bin Laden was 43, and soon to shock the world with terror.

Now, Sheikh Ismail, 37, is demanding that Ms Sadah, who was with her husband when he was killed on May 2 by a US commando team in a secluded compound in Pakistan, be released from custody and US interrogation in Islamabad and returned to her native country.

A self-proclaimed "warrior-priest", Sheikh Ismail said he met bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998, nine years after he arrived as a 15-year-old to fight the Soviet occupation. He said his ties to bin Laden, which cannot be confirmed, include serving as a military assistant to the terror leader from 2000 to 2001.

Yemen, bin Laden's ancestral homeland, is home to an active regional arm of al Qa'eda that claimed responsibility for a foiled 2009 attempt to blow up a U.S.-bound plane. It was also blamed for bombs found in cargo en route to the US in 2010.

Sheikh Ismail said he returned to Yemen before the bin laden-planned September 11 terrorist attacks on the US and was jailed in Ibb by Yemeni security for three years. Even so, his loyalty to the al Qa'eda chief remains unshaken.

"The Americans made his dream and wishes come true; which was to die fighting the infidels," he told The National in a recent interview in Ibb.

"This death is a turning point that will open a new chapter for the fight with the Crusaders," he added.

Despite the foreboding tone, Sheikh Ismail has fond recollections of the matrimony he allegedly nurtured between bin Laden and Ms Sadah.

"He wanted to marry a Yemeni girl and did not put any conditions on me except that she should be religious and moral. He did say he wanted to have a bond with the descendents of Prophet Mohammed," said Sheikh Ismail.

He said he immediately thought of Ms Sadah, whose deeply religious family claims to trace its ancestry back to the Prophet Mohammed.

Sheikh Ismail said he talked to the family of Ms Sadah in Ibb, a leafy city in Yemen's south-west, and they welcomed the idea. He said Ms Sabah herself accepted bin Laden proposal even after she knew about his spartan way of life.

He said the ultraconservative family accepted his proposal in part because of bin Laden's reputation for piety and high morals. This contradicts the account her father gave Reuters news agency in which Ahmed Abdul Fattah al Sadah was quoted as saying he rebuffed bin Laden's overtures several times before granting his blessing.

Mr Sadah also told reporters his daughter came into contact with bin Laden's circle as a teenager attending an Islamic religious school, where she was a student of the wife of Rashad Mohammed Saeed, whom he described as an aide to the militant leader.

"Rashad asked his wife to nominate a girl to marry bin Laden because he wanted a Yemeni wife. The teacher selected my daughter," Mr Sadah said, adding that the man initially told him a Pakistani businessman wanted his daughter's hand.

Sheikh Ismail said the family did not ask for a dowry but that US$5,000 (Dh18,367) was spent to purchase "gold jewellery and clothes" for the wedding ceremony which was reportedly held in Afghanistan in late 1999 or 2000. Mr Sadah has said he received no money from bin Laden for the marriage.

Sheikh Ismail, described as an "eloquent" preacher by his followers in Ibb, said he explained to Mrs Sadah that she would live a simple life in a "house made of mud bricks with no refrigerator, heater, or washing machine".

"I told her everything about his austere life and she accepted and said the hereafter is the lasting life. I then realised she was religiously and spiritually qualified to be a partner of this man and she was really what we wanted," he said.

He claims bin Laden used to speak highly of Ms Sadah and that he prayed for Sheikh Ismail for bringing him such a wife "who never complained or blamed him".

"She wanted to be a martyr of God; she is a faithful woman. It is a great honour for anybody to have a kinship or descendants from this precious man of noble origin," Sheikh Ismail said.

Sheikh Ismail said the last time he met the couple was in August 2001. "[Ms Sadah] paid farewell to my wife and told her to tell her family that she was very happy with Sheikh Osama and found in him what she wanted: a religious man who fears God and that she is worshipping God and prays to be a martyr," he said.

The news of bin Laden's killing, he said, made Mrs Sadah's father and mother in Ibb sad but not inconsolable.

"They are proud their daughter is the wife of a heroic martyr," he said.

But, in the Reuters report, Mr Sadah said: "My daughter was Osama bin Laden's wife, nothing more, and she had no relation to the al Qa'eda organisation … We are not in favour of bin Laden's actions and the al Qa'eda organisation. We believe in coexistence between people."

The father said that after the September 11 attacks, he lost all contact with his daughter, now 29, last speaking to her after the birth of her first child, a girl named Safia.

"We did not know until now where she was or how she was living or how many children she had," he said. "We had been planning for her mother and one of her brothers to visit her but the September events thwarted this plan."

According to reports, US authorities in Pakistan have interviewed three of bin Laden's widows, including Ms Sadah and two Saudi wives. Ms Sadah was reported to have earlier told Pakistani interrogators the family had lived for five years in the compound where bin Laden was killed by US special forces.

Mr Sadah said his family had met the Yemeni foreign minister, who promised to help get his daughter and her children repatriated. Pakistan has said it will repatriate bin Laden's widows and their children.

Until that happens, Sheikh Ismail has a message of hope for Ms Sadah locked away in Pakistan.

"We will not forget you and we will do our best to bring you back to your family. My advice is to be patient and we are confident that you will be back home and live decently among her family," he said.

He also urged the Pakistani government and the US to preserve the dignity of Ms Sadah, warning that any harm to her would be unacceptable.

"The Americans have to understand that honour is more precious to us than blood," he said.

Source: The National

Could al-Qaida launch attacks on U.S. from Yemen?

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, May 17 (Xinhua) -- Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)could gain a foothold in Yemen that would allow the terror group to stage a "spectacular attack" against the United States or U.S. interests, according to a think tank report released on Tuesday.

"If the organization is seeking to attack us, it's actively seeking to attack us, and it will try to attack us this year," said Katherine Zimmerman, the study's co-author and analyst at the American Enterprise Institute at a panel discussion in Washington on Tuesday.

Indeed, recent events in the region have benefited the organization and placed it in a strategically advantageous position.

"For the U.S., the most dangerous situation comes from what (Yemen-based) al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has gained from the unrest," she said, referring to the current anti-government protests that have swept the Arab world and spilled over into Yemen.

As a result, Yemeni counter-terrorism forces have moved from al-Qaida strongholds into the capital to protect key infrastructure there, a move that has increased al-Qaida's operating space.

"This allows the group (the AQAP) to train for, to plot for and to attack the U.S. and its interests," she said.

Of note, however, is that the United States has ramped up security and taken action to prevent such a scenario from unfolding, she added.

The al-Qaida group in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of the organization founded by Osama bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan by U.S. forces earlier this month, has staged attacks against the United States in the past. The most notable was a foiled plot launched on Christmas Day 2009, in which an operative attempted to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear on a flight bound for Detroit.


The report, entitled "Crisis in Yemen and U.S. Objectives," also argued that Washington could experience backlash for any backing of current President Ali Abdullah Saleh, should the government change hands.

Yemeni protesters continue to call for his resignation in the third month of demonstrations, while Saleh urged the opposition to stop "playing with fire," media reported. Moreover, any new government would have other concerns to attend to, such as the country's tanking economy, and that could give the AQAP some breathing room.

U.S. forces have conducted drone strikes on parts of the country in a bid to kill key members of AQAP, one of the latest being an attack that killed two suspected members of the organization but missed the intended target, radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

Frederick W. Kagan, co-author of the report and one of the architects of the U.S. surge in Iraq, said the current U.S. approach is unlikely to meet much success.

"If we are going to have a successful military approach to the AQAP problem, it's going to have to go beyond drones," he said.

The report argued that drone strikes against terror suspects have been used in the embattled country with only limited success and have not prevented al-Qaida from operating.

Still, the deployment of large numbers of U.S. ground troops would be unwise, as well as counterproductive and resulting in undesirable consequences, he added.


The United States has been criticized for lacking a strategy for Yemen. Recently, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted that Washington had no plans on the table for a Yemen without Saleh.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Edmund J. Hull argued that more of a strategy exists now than a few years back. The real challenge, however, is implementation.

"Washington often thinks once it has articulated the problem and articulated a strategy, somehow the job is done," he said.

"Well guess what? The real slips, the failures more often occur when you try to implement that strategy. And you don't even know if it's a useful strategy until you've tried to implement it seriously," he said.

He believes the United States so far has a workable approach for Yemen and that 300 million U.S. dollars in U.S. aid -- criticized by some as not enough -- is sufficient funding for now.

As for the current U.S. goals in the battered country, foremost is to defeat al-Qaida and deny the group or its splinter organizations any safe haven, as well as to disrupt cooperation between it and other radical groups, especially al Shabaab in Somalia, the report said.

The secondary goal is to prevent regional instability, manage refugee outflows and the development of any humanitarian crisis and secure a free passage in the Bab Al-Mandab Strait linking the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, the report said.

GCC's deal to end Yemen troubles has failed after three days of discussions

Hakim Almasmari (Foreign Correspondent)

May 17, 2011

SANA'A // An attempt by the Gulf Co-operation Council at mediating a deal to resolve Yemen's political crisis has reached a dead end, a senior official said yesterday.

After three days of talks in Sana'a, Abdul Latif al Zayani, the GCC general secretary has not succeeded in convincing the Yemeni government and opposition to sign the GCC proposal and the Yemen crisis could take longer than expected to solve, the official said.

"Zayani is extremely disappointed with the negotiation tactics of Yemen's ruling party and opposition," said the official. "Both sides are not expected to sign for at least one month or two, and this keeps the Yemen fate unknown and dangerous."

A new GCC proposal is expected to be brought up very soon, they added, without providing details, but President Ali Abdullah Saleh is not yet convinced to leave office. "Saleh can't imagine himself living in Yemen and not being president of the country, he said.

The Qatari Shark Awsat newspaper quoted a senior GCC official as saying Mr Zayani's visit - his fifth - will be his final one if Mr Saleh continues to snub the proposal for him to resign.

Leaders of the main opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) said that the GCC is losing confidence that a solution can be reached.

"They are trying very hard, but the dirty game of Yemeni politics is making them consider stepping aside," said Ahmed Bahri, head of the political arm of the opposition Haq party.

Mohammed Abulahoum, a former senior figure in the Saleh administration and now president of the opposition Justice and Building Bloc, met with Mr Zayani several times this week. Despite the lack of progress in the talks, he said the GCC will continue to pressure both sides to help prevent the country from sliding into a civil war.

"Zayani has been very sincere in dealing with the Yemen crisis," said Mr Abulahoum. "He wants to help the people of Yemen, but Yemenis must want to help themselves first."

The JMP opposition has refused to meet with the GCC general secretary until Mr Saleh signs the proposal. But, later yesterday, in one of Mr Zayani's unofficial meetings with the opposition officials, they expressed disappointment at the weak Gulf stance in exerting pressure on Mr Saleh to accept the deal. "Every time Saleh is not happy, the GCC change a little in the proposal. We know Saleh and his tricks and the GCC nations are only starting to understand him," said Mohammed Basendowah, the president of the opposition preparatory dialogue committee. "We will not be involved in the GCC proposal for now, and it's Zayani's job to convince Saleh to sign, not ours."

The GCC's transition plan was initially accepted by both the government and opposition. Under the deal, Mr Saleh would resign and hand power to his vice president within 30 days of signing. The deal offered Mr Saleh and his inner circle, including relatives who run branches of the security and military forces, immunity from prosecution.

The proposal began to unravel, however, when the president said he would only sign as a head of the party rather than as head of state. Last week, GCC member Qatar withdrew its support of the plan, blaming Mr Saleh for the impasse.

Dr Khaled Akwa, deputy minister of local administration in Mr Saleh's government, said there is a lack of trust in the president and concern that he is trying to buy more time to reorganise his political cards.

"Saleh's words are not credible and of no value. Even if he signs, everyone expects him to find an excuse to change his stance," he said. "He is preparing his family and close aides for the post-Saleh political era."

The youth movement largely credited for leading the anti-government protests for the past three months have called on the GCC nations to withdraw their proposal. "We will not give Saleh immunity. Qatar pulled out of the proposal, Kuwait is next, and soon the GCC proposal will have no power to it," said Salah Sundus, a youth leader in Sana'a. "We will decide the fate of Saleh, not the GCC."

In addition, Abdul Kareem Eryani, Mr Saleh's political adviser, told Mr Zayani that the problems in the south of Yemen with separatists and in the north with the Houthi rebels must also be given priority in the GCC proposal.

Source: The National