Friday, June 24, 2011

Clash with Islamists looms in Yemen

By Noah Browning in Aden, FT

In the shadow of the volcano that overlooks the coastal metropolis of Aden in south Yemen, the once cosmopolitan district of Mualla is scarred with the signs of revolutionary upheaval.

Placards of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president, have been wrenched from the triumphal archways that reminded southerners of the 1994 civil war that brought independent south Yemen under his rule.

But since Mr Saleh was stricken by an explosion at his palace and taken to Saudi Arabia for treatment this month, the shaky political order he represented has been in almost total collapse throughout the country.

Months of anti-government protests in the capital, Sana’a, gave way to bloody clashes, now in tense stalemate. In Aden, the “Hirak,” or southern secessionist movement, long seething at the region’s marginalisation under northern rule, has exploded into plain view.

Over-running government buildings, protesters have painted over the Yemeni tricolour with the blue chevron and red socialist star of the southern flag.

A funeral on Friday for a youth slain by security forces devolved into deadly skirmishes with southern activists. Most residents nervously seek shelter as the city verges on chaos.

Only the strewn concrete slabs and wrought-iron fences recall the battles just weeks earlier between demonstrators and security forces, both of whom have retreated to the outskirts.

Thousands of refugees from Abyan have fled cadres of Islamist militants who move ever closer from the east. Aden, where only a few security force members remain, teems with armed men and youths organised into neighbourhood watch gangs as residents wonder whether the divided military surrounding the city has the will or ability to repel the militants’ advance.

In makeshift shelters throughout the city’s slums, refugees describe scenes of horror as the self-styled “Defenders of Sharia” group was allowed to over-run their towns in the province of Abyan after a swift retreat by army forces.

“There was nonstop shooting everywhere and we were afraid even to look out the windows, our neighbourhoods were being shelled so heavily,” said Mariam Ibrahim.

She shifted her young grandson on her lap in a sweltering schoolhouse packed with more than 100 people from the town of Zinjibar, which fell to the militants.

US officials – convinced that the militants have ties to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, though their true strength is generally unknown – have intensified drone attacks on suspected operatives to try to deprive them of the leeway afforded by the security vacuum.

“The army disappeared in a matter of hours, with no warning and left us to die at the hands of these groups and the Americans,” said Naif Muktha, another refugee. “The threat of al-Qaeda was manipulated by the regime now that it’s in danger and now we’re the victims of this conspiracy.”

Worry abounds among Adenis that army units stationed outside the city may suddenly withdraw, as they did in Zinjibar, and expose the rebelling populace to punishing combat with the Islamists.

“Southerners have suffered under socialist radicalism in previous decades and now history has turned and we are threatened by religious radicalism,” resident Muhammad Ba Kays noted.

Signs of a looming clash with the extremists are prominent, as graffiti announcing “Freedom for the South” has in many places been crossed out and replaced with “Yes, we want God’s sharia.”

Memories of Major General Ali Muhsin, once Mr Saleh’s top aide and now the chief defector in the army, capturing Aden in the 1994 civil war with the aid of thousands of allied “Mujahideen” and tribes by way of Abyan, still anger many in the area.

“All of these disasters – tribalism, extremism, radical religious schools – they have been imposed on us from the north,” said Qassem Askar, a senior secessionist leader, noting that Ali Muhsin may again be employing these groups for a strategic advantage in the national political crisis.

“Then and now, they seek only the destruction of our will to resist,” he continued, adding that he is still in pain from years of torture in a northern jail. The splintering of the military is especially pronounced around Aden, as some local commanders remain loyal to the president, while others support the revolutionary movement and many appear to be neutral.

In the sun-scorched wastes outside the city, among camel herds and gnarled palms, loyalist tanks heave into motion, their orders and destination shrouded in mystery.

However, local journalists said pro-government units were being positioned not in the east, to confront the militants, but rather in the mountainous west, as a bulwark against divisions aligned with Ali Muhsin on the Red Sea.

“It’s like Lebanon in the 1980s here,” noted activist Azal Omar al-Jawi. “The army leaders are like rival warlords, playing a big political game and treating the area like a strategic chessboard.”

The popular uprising in the south, like its counterpart in the north, stands precariously between a popular revolution and a bloodbath, imposed by traditional strongmen.

Yemeni Instability Emboldens Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; Here’s How the U.S. Should Respond

June 24th, 2011 - by Frank Cilluffo

Today we released an issue brief on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that highlights the current threat that AQAP poses, the implications of AQAP’s ascension in the wake of the Yemeni government collapse and considers options to address the threat. We contend that the current security vacuum that AQAP has exploited to expand and secure its safe haven, also allows the U.S. greater flexibility of counterterrorism options and maneuverability, providing a unique opportunity to reduce AQAP’s capabilities through the use of special operations forces and armed drones.

Here’s a preview:

This week’s escape of 63 suspected al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fighters from a Yemeni prison exemplifies how President Saleh’s departure to Saudi Arabia and Yemeni instability embolden this lethal al Qaeda affiliate. In recent weeks, the writ of government in Yemen has evaporated under the twin strains of the Houthi rebellion in northern Yemen and the Secessionist movement in southern Yemen. AQAP leaped into the security vacuum created by Yemen’s political volatility. As the Yemeni military consolidates its strength in an attempt to maintain state control and fight twin insurgencies, AQAP has further expanded its safe haven in the country’s interior, further increasing their operational capacity

AQAP’s ascension in the wake of the Yemeni government collapse again illustrates the dangers of un- and under-governed states as terrorist sanctuaries. As seen in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, the Sahel and many other places, al Qaeda exploits underlying conditions in these safe havens to plan, train and execute global terrorist attacks. Thus the question becomes this: how does the U.S. counter AQAP amidst pending state failure in Yemen?

Surprisingly, Yemeni unrest provides U.S. counterterrorism efforts a unique opportunity to interdict and significantly reduce AQAP. AQAP’s proven capability and their intent to strike the U.S. homeland, those of our allies, and our interests in the region, coupled with Yemen’s shift from under- to un-governed territory and the collapsing of the Saleh regime all suggest that an immediate escalation in drone operations and targeted Special Operations Force missions could rapidly mitigate the threat posed by AQAP.

Suicide attack kills 3 Yemeni soldiers

ADEN, June 24 (Saba) – A suicide car bomb has exploded in Aden province, killing three Yemeni soldiers and wounding ten others, a security source said on Friday.

In a statement to Saba, the source said that a suicide attack killed three soldiers and wounded ten others as they were patrolling at a street in Aden in addition to the injuring of two people.

"The terrorist attack was carried out by a suicide", the source said, adding that investigations were underway to find out the identity of the suicide and those who stand behind this criminal act.

Five killed in Yemen violence, UN to send mission

By Fawaz al-Haidari (AFP)

ADEN, Yemen — Five people, including three soldiers, were killed in violence across Yemen's main port city of Aden on Friday, officials and medics said, as the United Nations announced it will send a mission next week to the restive country.

A bomb-laden car exploded at an army post killing the soldiers, a security official told AFP.

The attack also wounded four soldiers and burned one of seven tanks stationed there, an officer from the police's criminal investigation department said.

It sparked gun battles between the army and gunmen that left one civilian killed and four others wounded, medics said.

The officials did not blame the attack on any party and no side has yet claimed its responsibility.

It came nearly an hour after soldiers shot dead one man and wounded six others at the funeral of a man who had died a year ago in custody in Aden after being detained for alleged links to Al-Qaeda.

Already tightly-patrolled Aden has seen heavy security deployment since deadly violence erupted late May between alleged Al-Qaeda fighters and the army in the southern city of Zinjibar, raising fears of a spillover of the extremist militants into the main port city.

At least 100 soldiers have been killed in the fighting and 260 more have been wounded, according to a military official.

Meanwhile, the United Nations said it is sending a mission to Yemen on Monday to examine the human rights situation in the impoverished Arab nation, a spokeswoman at the UN human rights office said on Friday.

"We will be deploying a mission to Yemen, an assessment mission to Yemen beginning on Monday. This will be a 10-day mission and a team of three from our office will be going," said Ravina Shamdasani.

"The mission's goal is basically to assess... as you know information that's coming from Yemen has been really difficult to independently verify... the main goal of the mission is to go and assess the situation," she added.

The team is to meet officials, rights activists, members of the opposition as well as victims of violations. It is also planning visits to medical centres and detention centres.

"They will hopefully come back with recommendations for the government," said Shamdasani.

The Yemen has also been gripped in political turmoil since a massive uprising against the 33-year-old rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh erupted in January.

At least 200 people have been killed by troops loyal to Saleh in anti-regime protests, while the president was himself wounded in a bomb blast at his palace mosque earlier this month.

Saleh, who has not appeared in public since the attack, was flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment while the opposition has demanded his Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi to assume power.

A military leader from the powerful Hashid tribe in Yemen voiced support on Friday for protesters' demands to form an interim ruling council.

"We stand with the revolution and the revolutionaries, whatever sacrifices we ought to make," said Sheikh Hashim Abdullah al-Ahmar at a protest in which tens of thousands gathered in the capital, Sanaa.

"The revolution has achieved one of its objectives" with the departure of Saleh, said Sheikh Hashim who was one of the president's bodyguards before he defected when anti-Saleh protests erupted this year.

"We are now working on a peaceful and orderly transfer of power, a mission entrusted to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, a national figure who is accepted by all Yemenis," he said.

Hadi's grip on power is seen as shaky as Saleh relatives continue to run main security systems. Key among them is Saleh's son, Ahmed, who leads the elite Republican Guard.

War in Yemen affecting people in Dearborn

June 24, 2011
By Haroon Mihtar
Press & Guide Newspapers
DEARBORN — The armed conflict in Yemen that has ravaged the Middle-Eastern nation for the past six months, costing the lives of hundreds and crippling the country’s fragile economy, is now affecting the lives of thousands of expatriates residing in the Dearborn area.
Many Yemeni Americans residing in Dearborn have families and homes in the war-torn nation and are facing an anxious uncertainty as they await the final outcome of the conflict that has pitted forces loyal to embattled, and injured, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, against an ever-growing opposition.
The conflict has seen the halt of travel to the impoverished nation by Americans, specifically hundreds of Dearborn residents, causing a blow to Yemen’s tourism.
The State Department recently issued a travel advisory urging Americans not to travel to Yemen and advising American citizens there to leave. The warning has not fallen on deaf ears to most of Dearborn’s Yemeni-American residents, consequently creating significant impact on some local travel businesses.
“The conflict has affected business by at least 75 percemt,” said Mohsin Hubaishi, owner and operator of Mid-East Travel in Dearborn. “This has been a disaster. No one wants to vacation to a potential war zone. It has affected our community in unimaginable ways.”
The conflict has also affected many aspects of the local import-export industry, specifically at places such as DHL, which hundreds of Yemeni-Americans rely on to send vital documents concerning pending immigration cases.
“We have taken a big hit. Business is down at least 70 percent and there is no end in sight,” said Salah Abdulla, manager of United Mail Center, a licensed shipping contractor for DHL located on Dix in Dearborn. “The situation is grim at best. The U.S. Embassy in Sana’a consular services are closed and the airport is intermittently open, so no one is sending documents, it’s a real mess,” added Abdulla.
The conflict has not limited its effect on local Dearborn residents to just economic woes, many Yemeni Americans are waiting for severely delayed immigration cases by the United States embassy in Sana’a, which has suspended consular services due to the turmoil.
Many Americans who are awaiting consular services for loved ones in Yemen have echoed a loud voice of frustration with the U.S. State Department for its lack of action in assisting them during the tumultuous times.
“I feel like I have been treated unfairly, I am a U.S. citizen and I cannot get a hold of anyone to help me,” says Sanad Affara, 26, a Dearborn resident whose wife’s immigration case has been delayed by the U.S. Embassy closing. Continued...

EU leaders underline support to GCC initiative in Yemen

BRUSSELS, June 24 (KUNA) - Leaders of the 27-member European Union Friday discussed the situation in North Africa and the Middle East and voiced concern over developments in Yemen, Syria, Gaza and Bahrain, and reiterated calls on Muammar Gaddafi of Libya to leave. The leaders in a joint statement at the end of their 2-day summit here this afternoon said they remain concerned about the situation in Yemen and urged all parties to stop violence, respect human rights and abide by a permanent cease-fire. and welcomeD the commitment of the Vice President to this end. The statement reiterated "the urgency of an orderly and inclusive transition in line with the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative. " Calling on Gaddafi to quit, the statement noted that Libya's democratic transformation remains a primary interest of the European Union. They stressed the essential role played by the Transitional National Council (TNC) in this process as a representative of the aspirations of the Libyan people.
The EU leaders condemned " in the strongest possible terms the ongoing repression and unacceptable and shocking violence the Syrian regime continues to apply against its own citizens. " They noted with "grave concern reports of Syrian military activity close to the Turkish border at Khirbet al-Jouz " and called for maximum restraint. "By choosing a path of repression instead of fulfilling its own promises on broad reforms, the regime is calling its legitimacy into question," said the statement and called on the UN Security Council to assume its responsibility and give adequate response to the situation in Syria.
The statement noted that the situation in Gaza remains of concern. "Humanitarian assistance delivered to the population in Gaza should be in accordance with the relevant framework and decisions of the UN and should take care not to endanger human lives," it said.
The EU leaders welcomed the steps which are currently being taken towards a democratic transformation in the region, particularly in Egypt and in Tunisia.
EU President Herman Van Rompuy told a press conference after the summit that the EU intends to continue to play a key role in the historical developments which are taking place in Northern Africa and the Middle East. "Without Europe, there would have been an Arab Spring, but without us there will be no Arab summer," he said. The Arab spring , said Van Rompuy, is also an invitation to redouble our efforts for progress on the Middle East Peace Process. "Only the resumption of direct negotiations could provide a realistic chance of improving the situation on the ground, thus leading to a lasting and comprehensive solution," he said.
The EU leaders praised the announcement of the main elements of the new Constitution in Morocco, and welcomed the renewed commitment to political reforms, including a review of the Constitution, in Jordan.
The EU leaders took a positive note of the lifting of the state of emergency and planned constitutional reform in Algeria. On his part, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the joint press conference that the situation in the different countries is very diverse with worrying development in Libya, Syria and Yemen with more positive signs from Morocco and Jordan. "We need to work together. I visited Tunisia in May and I will visit Egypt next month to engage with the current authorities to see what more we can do to help",he said. On Croatia the summit agreed that the EU membership negotiations should be concluded by the end of June 2011 Migration was another issue on today's agenda. Noting the difficult situation currently faced by some EU Member States, the statement reaffirmed the need for genuine and practical solidarity towards the member states most affected by migratory flows. The EU will continue to provide the necessary operational and financial support as the situation evolves, noted the statement.