Saturday, June 25, 2011

Five Myths

Challenging everything you think you know

Five myths about Yemen

By Stephanie Sanok, Published: June 25

Since January, Yemenis have taken to the streets in massive numbers, protesting the economic policies and allegedly corrupt practices of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and demanding that he resign. Earlier this month, Saleh sustained serious injuries in an assassination attempt and left the country for treatment. Of course, the situation in Yemen is far more complex than the personality, politics and policies of a single man. To understand the events there, including the dramatic prison break of more than 60 Islamic militants this past week, it’s necessary to understand Yemen’s socioeconomic and security dynamics — and to see beyond some widespread misunderstandings.

1.Yemen is the latest country to join the Arab Spring.

In Tunisia and Egypt, popular uprisings against autocratic leaders ushered in the Arab Spring, in which democracy-minded protesters throughout the region have used civil resistance and social media to bring about regime change or reform. Yemenis did these things, too. But their story is not a simple extension of the Arab Spring.

After a forced unification in the 1990s, northern and southern Yemenis clashed repeatedly, including in a brief civil war in 1994. Southern separatists still periodically demonstrate against the northern-run government. Meanwhile, in the north, Shiite rebels also claim grievances against the primarily Sunni government in Sanaa, the capital. Violent uprisings have led to Saudi armed intervention and suggestions of possible Iranian involvement. This rebellion also continues.

With separatists in the south and rebels in the north, the central government has essentially no control of vast areas outside the capital. Yes, many of the 24 million Yemenis want to fix the nation’s rampant poverty through representative governance. But civil war remains a very real possibility. And it’s a possibility that existed before the Arab Spring and that goes far beyond a rallying cry for democracy.

2. With Osama bin Laden dead, Yemen has become al-Qaeda’s new stronghold.

Osama bin Laden’s death shocked the global terrorist network. Yet long before the spectacular May 2 raid that killed him, al-Qaeda operators had found a home in the ungoverned spaces of Yemen and many other nations.

John Brennan, President Obama’s principal counterterrorism adviser, said in Decemberthat the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) poses a greater threat to U.S. national security than the main al-Qaeda branch in Pakistan. More recently, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, told Congress thatAQAP is currently the greatest threat to the United States. One of its leaders, a U.S.-Yemeni citizen named Anwar al-Aulaqi, has links to several attacks on the United States, from the failed car bomb in New York’s Times Square last year to the Fort Hood shootings in 2009. AQAP claimed responsibility for the unsuccessful Christmas Day attack on a Northwest Airlines jet in 2009 and the attempt to send bomb-laden packages via U.S.-bound cargo flights last October.

Yet, while U.S. officials believe that AQAP is more agile and aggressive than al-Qaeda affiliates elsewhere, it is important to recognize that operatives in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and northern Africa’s Maghreb region may also be growing in numbers and capabilities. Yemen is an al-Qaeda stronghold, but it is not the only one that deserves attention.

3. Saleh’s close ties to Washington have made him hated at home.

Despite the north-south divide in Yemen, the unified complaints against Saleh focus on his economic, social and political policies, which have left his people impoverished. His pro-U.S. stance is unpopular, but anti-Western sentiment has played a far smaller role in this year’s protests than have his domestic policies.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world. Roughly half its children suffer from malnutrition. Water is running out. Rising prices of basic commodities — bread, milk, meat – have made daily life much more difficult. Unemployment hovers around 35 percent, 10 percentage points higher than the regional average, with young people the most likely to be out of work. The situation will only get worse — Yemen is projected to double its population by 2025, just as oil supplies and revenue run out.

As in anti-regime protests elsewhere, Saleh’s abysmal economic and development policies made him a lightning rod for the frustration of a huge segment of Yemeni society. They took to the streets regardless of his relationship with Washington.

4. A stronger president could deal with the al-Qaeda threat.

Immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States and Yemen launched a combined offensive to eliminate AQAP’s leadership and damage its infrastructure. This effort was quite successful, and it proved that Saleh’s regime could contribute to counterterrorism operations.

However, those efforts have faltered in the past few years as AQAP has taken advantage of high unemployment, poverty and the instability caused by internally displaced Yemenis and refugees from Somalia.

Any central leader would be ill-equipped to address all of these challenges at once, particularly in light of a possible civil war. The opposition has said it supports a transfer of power to Vice President Hadi, but it’s far from clear that he could succeed where Saleh could not.

5. U.S. military assistance of $1.2 billion will make a key difference.

The U.S. Central Command has proposed providing Yemeni forces with $1.2 billion in training and equipment over the next six years.

But this aid — which would include automatic weapons, coastal patrol boats, transport planes, helicopters and logistics advisers — could not unify Yemen or increase the government’s control outside the capital without considerable economic and social development aid. U.S. assistance needs to strike a more appropriate balance to address the underlying causes of unrest.

Before the 2001 attacks, the United States delivered a few million dollars in development assistance to Yemen. By 2010, State Department aid totaled about $63 million annually. Yet this was only about 40 percent of the planned Defense Department military assistance program for Yemen that year.

The State Department’s senior counterterrorism official, Daniel Benjamin, has noted that U.S. and Yemeni military efforts against AQAP may “deny it the time and space it needs to organize, plan and train for operations.” But a long-term solution, he said, “must involve the development of credible institutions that can deliver real economic and social progress.”

Automatic weapons, helicopters and logistics advisers — even $1.2 billion worth of them — won’t get Yemen there. They can’t.

Stephanie Sanok is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Yemen detains prison officials over al Qaeda escape

Sat Jun 25, 2011

ADEN (Reuters) - Yemeni authorities have detained the director of a prison for questioning over the escape of 63 al Qaeda inmates earlier this week, state television said Saturday.

It said the deputy director of the al-Munawara prison in the southern city of al-Mukalla also was detained for questioning. It gave no further details.

The United States and regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia are worried that Yemen, rocked by months of popular protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year-old rule, could slide into violence that would be exploited by the local al Qaeda wing to launch attacks in the region and beyond.

The prisoners escaped Wednesday after they dug a 35-m (yard) long tunnel. They attacked prison guards, killing one and wounding two, before they escaped, the state news agency Saba said.

It said security forces pursued the prisoners, killing three and recapturing two.

Yemen state television said Saturday that the body of a fourth inmate had been found. It said he had been sentenced to death.

All the prisoners were Yemeni and most had been jailed after returning from Iraq where they fought alongside militant, he said.

The current head of al Qaeda's wing in Yemen, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, was among 23 prisoners who escaped from a Yemeni jail in 2006.

Yemen is battling hundreds of Islamist militants associated with al Qaeda who have seized control of the southern city of Zinjibar and other adjacent towns.

Seattle Terror Suspect Wanted to Go to Yemen

By BRIAN ROSS (@brianross) and AVNI PATEL

June 25, 2011

One of the Muslim converts arrested for allegedly plotting a Fort Hood-style assault on a Seattle military installation appears to be a disciple of radical Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and sought to move to Yemen, where Awlaki is an al Qaeda leader.

Abu Khadir Abdul-Latif, 33, posted multiple comments on-line praising Awlaki, posted an Awlaki sermon on his YouTube video account, and made a YouTube video in which he blasts President Obama for authorizing the killing of Awlaki.

"Many Muslims ran to elect Barack Obama," says Abdul-Latif, dressed in camouflage. "But what has he done? He's done nothing and he made war against Islam. He's even put a hit on Anwar al Awlaki, our brother sheik, may Allah protect him."

In February, Abdul-Latif posted an ad on-line seeking a teaching job in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen: "I am looking for an opportunity to make hijrah to Yemen with the chance of having a job waiting for me to teach English to any and all ages." The word hijrah means migration or a flight to escape danger, and is used in Islam to refer to the Prophet Muhammad's flight from Mecca to Medina.

Abdul-Latif and Walli Mujahidh, 32, have been charged with plotting to attack the Military Entrance Processing Station in Seattle on July 5. According to the FBI, Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh sought to determine "how they could kill the most military personnel and escape or die as martyrs" and discussed using fragmentation grenades in the facility's cafeteria.

There's no indication Awlaki was in direct contact with the Seattle suspects, but his polished rhetoric has proven to be a powerful recruiting tool for al Qaeda and an inspiration to such terrorists as Faisal Shahzad, convicted of attempting to detonate a carbomb in Times Square. Palestinian-American Army Major Nidal Hasan, who had exchanged emails about jihad with Anwar al-Awlaki, is currently awaiting trial on multiple counts of murder and attempted murder for the November 2009 Fort Hood massacre, in which 13 people died.

There have been at least eight attacks or alleged plots against military installations since 2009. Just this week, Marine Reservist Yonathan Melaku was charged with shooting at military sites, including the Pentagon, after he was arrested in Arlington National Cemetery with a backpack full of inert ammonium nitrate.

The FBI says Abdul-Latif hoped the attack on the Seattle processing center would inspire other Muslims to carry out similar assaults on enlistment centers. According to the criminal complaint filed Thursday, Mujahidh told FBI agents that he wanted to die a martyr, and said the purpose of the attack was to kill U.S. military personnel so they could not be deployed to Islamic lands.

Abdul-Latif, a convicted felon once known as Joseph Davis, referred admiringly to the Fort Hood massacre, according to an FBI informant. He allegedly said that "if one person could kill so many people, three attackers could kill many more" and that if he was killed in his own attack, his son would be proud he had fought the "non-believers."

He has also posted a number of videos on-line attacking the U.S. military. In one, he criticizes the U.S. for alleged atrocities in Islamic countries. "There are even United States military soldiers who are over there raping women and killing Muslims and are not being held accountable for it." On a video of an Awlaki sermon, he posted a comment praising Awlaki and seeming to praise accused Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hasan. "May Allah bless Anwar al-Awlaki," he wrote. "And hopefully there will be more soldiers who come out of the woodwork to serve Allah."

bdul-Latif Served in Navy

Officials say Abdul-Latif served briefly in the U.S. Navy in 1995. He has at least two felony convictions: robbery in the first degree in 2002 and assault a year later while serving time in Washington state for the robbery. Walli Mujahidh, who lives in Los Angeles but traveled to Seattle by bus this week, has no known felony convictions.

The FBI investigation revealed Abdul-Latif had converted to Islam while in prison for armed robbery. While allegedly making plans for his attack, he lived in an $800 per month Seattle apartment with his infant son and grateful wife.

"He goes to mosque, he works hard, I don't have to pay rent, he's clothing me, housing me." Binta Moussa-Davis told ABC affiliate KOMO-TV.

Just last month Abdul-Latif filed for bankruptcy, claiming to have only $1.08 in the bank.

Posting videos on YouTube, however, is free. The same month he filed for bankruptcy, he made a video in which he promoted jihad and dared viewers to turn him into the FBI.

"We must establish jihad," says Abdul-Latif as his son cries in the background. "I don't care what anyone says about that. You can turn me into the FBI, whatever."

Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh were arrested Wednesday night after allegedly buying automatic weapons from an informant.

Security Council concerned on deteriorating situation in Yemen

UNITED NATIONS, June 25 (Xinhua) -- The UN Security Council expressed "grave concern" on the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Yemen, the Council's president Nelson Messone said here on Friday.

The Council urged all parties to show "maximum restraint" and to "engage in an inclusive political dialogue," Messone, the permanent representative of Gabon who holds the Council's monthly rotating presidency, said after the Council heard a briefing from the UN's Special Advisor on Yemen Jamal Benomar.

Messone said the Council welcomed the ongoing mediation efforts of the Gulf Cooperation Council to help the parties find an agreement on a way forward.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will go on a mission to Yemen from June 27 to July 6 to assess its human rights situation after hundreds of persons have died this year during clashes between government forces and protesters.

Yemen is one of many countries across North Africa and the Middle East where demonstrators have taken to the streets in large numbers this year to call for greater democracy and freedom.

Two Killed in Arhab Clashes with Republican Guards

Sana'a, June 25, 2011- Two people were killed in governmental raids against tribal militants in Arhab district, 40 km north of Sana'a. Republican guards have been clashing with militants for more than 24 hours, and are getting closer to occupying the military compound in the district.

Eyewitnesses said that the guards random;y raided villages in Arhab destroying tens of homes and forcing residents to join the tribal militants against government forces.

At least 15 residents have been injured in the attacks. Clashes have intensified and are ongoing.

Security officials in Sana'a are claiming that opposition forces are behind the continuous attacks on Republican Guards military compounds in an effort to weaken the ruling family and the Yemeni government.

Source: Yemen Post