Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Yemeni President Saleh in 'Good Health,' Saudi Minister Says

Yemen: 40 militants killed in airstrikes, clashes

July 5, 2011
Militants linked to al-Qaida, tried to storm a military camp in south of Yemen

At least 40 militants linked to al-Qaida have been killed in two days of airstrikes and clashes with government forces, Yemen's state news agency said Tuesday.

The report by the SABA news agency said the government attacks began after militants tried to storm a military camp in the southern province of Abyan, where Islamist fighters have seized control of several towns.

The militant takeovers are part of widening chaos in Yemen since protests broke out in February calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is being treated in Saudi Arabia for wounds sustained in an attack on his palace last month.

The SABA report added that two government soldiers were killed and 20 others injured in the Abyan fighting.

Al-Qaida's followers in Yemen, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, is considered one of the terrorist network's most active branches and has been linked to several attempts on U.S. targets, including the plot to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner in December 2009 and parcel bombs intercepted in Dubai and Europe last year.

The militant group leading the attacks in the Abyan area, Ansar al-Sharia, posted last month the names of 12 military officers it vowed to kill for taking part in crackdowns against its fighters.

In Saudi Arabia, the country's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said the health of Yemen president's is "generally good." He gave no further details on Saleh's condition or plans.

Al-Faisal was speaking in Riyadh at a joint news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

The military campaign continued Tuesday as Yemeni warplanes bombed southern cities held by militants, while a top general called in a television interview for foreign intervention to help avert a regional security crisis.

Militants still hold tight grip
Despite stepping up military operations in the south, it has yet to loosen the militants' grip on several sites in Abyan. Militants took a makeshift military base last week and have surrounded another base.

Yemen ramped up air raids in Abyan on Tuesday, killing four gunmen in the militant-held city of Jaar, but local officials complain the raids often hit the wrong target.

A raid on the house of a top parliamentarian on the outskirts of Zinjibar killed four of his cousins and wounded six civilians in what appeared to be a botched operation.

The flight of thousands of people from violence in the south has also raised the specter of a humanitarian crisis in a country already on the verge of collapse.

An official told a U.N. delegation visiting Yemen on Monday that some 54,000 people had fled Abyan to neighboring Aden, near the mouth of a key shipping lane through which about 3 million barrels of oil pass daily.

Yemeni opposition given stern warning

SANAA, Yemen, July 5 (UPI) -- Civil war would erupt in Yemen if opposition leaders agree to form a council aimed at vetting a transitional government, a presidential aide said.

Abdu Ganadi said members of the opposition should join a unified government. Other senior officials close to embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said developing a transitional council would push the country closer to civil war, the Yemen Post reports.

Sultan Atwani, secretary-general of the opposition Nasserite Unionist People's Organization, said a transitional council could develop with a week, however.

Saleh has been recovering in a hospital in Saudi Arabia from wounds suffered during a June 2 attack on his presidential compound. He has refused to sign a deal, brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council, to step down along with an offer of immunity.

Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, the foreign affairs minister in the caretaker government, was quoted by Bloomberg News as saying Saleh was starting talks on political transition with the opposition Joint Meeting Parties, southern separatists and members of the Houthi rebellion.

A spokesman for JMP told Bloomberg that Saleh should hand power over to his vice president before any other political moves are made.

Somali pirates use Yemen island as fuel base

Tue Jul 5, 2011

By Jonathan Saul

LONDON (Reuters) - Somali pirates have been using Yemen's remote Horn of Africa island of Socotra as a refueling hub enabling their attack craft to stay restocked for longer periods at sea and pose a greater hazard to shipping, maritime sources say.

Despite an international naval presence in the region, seaborne gangs have been exploiting political turmoil in Yemen to pick up fuel, and possibly other supplies including food, sources told Reuters.

"Socotra has been used for months if not longer," said Michael Frodl, with C-LEVEL maritime risk consultancy and an adviser to Lloyd's of London underwriters, citing intelligence reports he was privy to.

"It is perhaps the most important refueling hub for hijacked merchant vessels used as motherships, especially those operating between the Gulf of Aden and India's western waters, mainly off Oman and increasingly closer to the Strait of Hormuz."

"A hijacked merchant vessel, unlike a hijacked dhow, has a voracious thirst for fuel and needs a very well stocked refueling station," Frodl said.

A Yemen government official said authorities around a month ago had captured 20 people believed to be pirates on the island and handed them over to authorities in Yemen's nearby southern port city of al-Mukalla on the mainland.

A source said separately the 20 people had been on a regular commercial ship, but added that 16 Somali pirates were taken into custody in recent days and were being detained on Socotra.

"There was a lot of piracy north of Socotra during the north east monsoon and it is likely they have been using the island," the source said. "Pirates use the beaches on the mainland not too far from Mukalla to collect fuel, and presumably other equipment."

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) watchdog said the pirate support systems had to be promptly stopped.

"Socotra is strategically located because it is right up there against the Gulf of Aden and also along the eastern seaboard of Yemen," said IMB director Pottengal Mukundan.

"If it is true that the pirates are using Socotra, then it is an extremely disturbing development and it requires immediate investigation."

Somali gangs, who are making millions of dollars in ransoms, are becoming increasingly violent, and are able to stay out at sea for long periods and in all weather conditions using captured merchant vessels as mother ships. The crisis is costing world trade billions of dollars a year.

The group of four islands in the isolated archipelago, the largest of which is Socotra, are located due east of the Horn of Africa in the Arabian Sea, and have been administered from Yemen for much of the last two centuries.

"Socotra has been a favourite stomping ground for pirates for centuries as both Marco Polo and the great 14th century Islamic scholar and traveler Ibn Battuta attest," said J. Peter Pham, with U.S. think tank the Atlantic Council.

"A credible amount of evidence has emerged in recent years that Somali pirates have certainly taken advantage of jurisdictional issues to operate in and out of the Socotra archipelago with at least the tacit connivance of at least some Yemeni authorities."

A maritime security source said there were transactions taking place between dhows in the Socotra archipelago as well.

"In addition to fuel, these exchanges involve arms, most of which are then shipped to Puntland for distribution either to pirates or to various armed factions," the source said.

Pirates conducted several attacks in May in the Arabian Sea and some strikes in June. Maritime officials say the islands will become more difficult to reach in smaller ships until October because of wind, sea and swell conditions.

Yemen's military is believed to have a base on Socotra, maritime sources said. "If the military wanted to supply mother ships with fuel from Socotra they could. Corruption in Yemen is rife," another maritime source said.


NATO said it had ships in the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden since March 2009 and the presence of NATO warships and other nations' navies had resulted in a significant reduction in pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden over the past two years.

"We are not complacent and understand there is still much work to be done," a NATO spokeswoman said.

"As Yemen forms the northern coast of the Gulf of Aden and is only 200 miles from Somalia, it is feasible that the pirates could use Yemeni ports for supplies. However, we have no evidence to suggest that this is happening. Similarly with Socotra, there is no evidence to suggest it is used as a pirate hub."

Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, has been paralysed by six months of mass protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh's three-decade rule.

After surviving an assassination attempt last month, Saleh went to Saudi Arabia for treatment. The Arabian Peninsula country has descended into violence with militants suspected of ties to al Qaeda seizing two cities.

"In the 1990s, before there was much by way of Somali piracy, the real threat in the region was from Yemeni pirates," the Atlantic Council's Pham said.

"While they were largely put out of business by more aggressive Somali pirates as well as governmental action, in the absence of the latter, the threat could re-emerge as well."

Alan Fraser, Middle East analyst with security firm AKE, said it was unlikely that Somali pirates would have any real interest in carrying out major activities on Yemen's mainland even if the situation deteriorated.

"Tribal codes and religious values are more conservative in Yemen than in Somalia so piracy is not likely to take off in the same way," he said.

Yemen air raids kill 10 including four civilians

ADEN — Four civilians and six gunmen were killed in a series of air raids Tuesday that targeted extremists who have taken control of most of Yemen's southern city of Zinjibar, sources told AFP.

Three of the civilians were killed when an air strike hit the home of a top Yemeni official on the outskirts of Zinjibar, an official in Jaar Mohsen Saeed told AFP.

"The home of the deputy head of the parliament, Mohammed Ali al-Shadadi, was hit by an air strike that killed three family members and injured seven," Mohsen Saleh Said told AFP.

"I don't know why Shadadi's home was targeted," he said, adding that Shadadi who is in Cairo.

Shadadi had pledged support for protesters who have for six months been calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, hospitalised in Riyadh for wounds sustained in a bomb blast at his palace compound last month.

Yemen's military aircraft carried out several strikes Tuesday against positions held by Islamists linked to Al-Qaeda in Zinjibar and its outskirts, an official in Jaar said.

A medical official said one civilian was killed and three others were wounded in the raids on Zinjibar.

Meanwhile, four fighters were killed in an air raid that targeted them in the nearby town of Jaar, a source on the ground in the town said.

The official in Jaar said another raid on the road linking Jaar to Zinjibar killed two other militants.

Yemeni forces have been engaged in fierce fighting with militants of the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic Law) movement who seized much of Zinjibar in late May.

The Sanaa government says the militants are allied with Al-Qaeda but the opposition accuses it of playing up a jihadist threat in a desperate attempt to keep embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh in power.

Yemen briefly arrests head of Shiite party

SANAA — The head of a Shiite opposition party in Yemen, Hassan Zaid, said that authorities briefly arrested him at Sanaa airport on Tuesday.

"Today they were going to kill me at the airport," Zaid told AFP after his release. "Security forces returned me and my companion from the airport with machine guns pointed at our backs."

"They called us traitors, collaborators and agents of Iran," said Zaid, accusing them of "threatening to kill us."

"They said I had been summoned to come before the prosecution but did not," he said, adding however that he had been unaware of such a request.

A security official said that an arrest warrant was issued against the leader of Al-Haq, insisting the decision to arrest Zaid had nothing to do with any military or security officials.

Mohammed Hassan Zaid told AFP earlier Tuesday that his father was detained at Sanaa airport as he was heading to the Saudi city of Jeddah.

"He was travelling to Jeddah when he was detained and not allowed to leave," said Mohammed, adding that "everybody knows the reason is political."

He pointed the finger at "the national security and those behind it," apparently referring to relatives of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was flown to hospital in Riyadh last month with wounds sustained in a bomb blast.

Saleh has not appeared in public since the attack on his Sanaa palace compound, raising uncertainty over his return to power following anti-regime protests which have gripped Yemen since late January.

However, members of his family retain a firm grip on the impoverished state's security services.

Al-Haq is part of an alliance of parliamentary opposition groups and represents Yemen's Zaidi Shiites, based in the north of the mainly Sunni Muslim country.

Armed Zaidi rebels have been engaged in sporadic fighting with government forces in northern Yemen since 2004. A ceasefire between the rebels and government forces went into effect on February 12, 2010.

Fighting intensifies in Yemen, still no quick solution

July 5

SANAA, July 4 (Xinhua) -- The Yemeni government has denounced an opposition proposal to form a transitional ruling council, while tens of thousand of Yemenis fled the south as clashes intensified there -- no quick solution has yet to be figured out for the crisis in the impoverished Arab country.


A local army officer told Xinhua that fresh clashes broke out Monday evening between al-Qaida militants and the besieged 25th Mechanized Brigade in Yemen's southern province of Abyan, killing at least 12 al-Qaida militants and seven soldiers, and injuring dozens of others from both sides.

He said clashes were still going on across the northeastern outskirts of the al-Qaida-seized Zinjibar.

The army forces have engaged in fierce battles for more than a month with local al-Qaida militants after the latter took control of the Zinjibar city, the provincial capital of Abyan.

Military reinforcements will arrive in Abyan province in the next two days in order to strengthen and support the army forces in the fight against al-Qaida militants, according to local army officers.

Also on Monday, the Yemeni government issued a warrant for 59 members of the opposition coalition for allegedly killing several soldiers of the Republican Guards in Arhab district in Sanaa province.

Arhab, about 60 km north of the capital Sanaa, witnessed weeks-long clashes between a brigade of the Republican Guards stationed in the district and opposition-backed armed tribesmen since late May, killing dozens of people from both sides.


Protesters rallied in Sanaa and other major cities Monday, demanding the quick ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his sons and aides.

They hailed the opposition's appeal for establishing a transitional council based on a draft unilaterally released by the opposition coalition Monday.

"Due to obstructions by Saleh's aides and the lack of seriousness of the Gulf mediators to press Saleh's followers to implement the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative and accelerate the power transition to Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in accordance with the Yemeni constitution, it has been imperative for the opposition to form a transitional ruling council as soon as possible," the opposition said in a statement.

Protesters called for accelerating the process of announcing the council.

However, in a quick reaction to the opposition's move, the ruling party's spokesman Tarik al-Shami told Xinhua Monday that "what has been prepared by the opposition for unilaterally declaring a transitional ruling council is considered to be a coup against the Yemeni constitutional legitimacy and against the GCC-brokered peaceful power-transition initiative."

Al-Shami also warned the opposition leaders that "such a council will not be recognized by the Yemeni government, nor by the international community, because President Saleh is still the legitimate leader of the country until 2013, and he will return within the next few days to Sanaa to resume his duties as the president of Yemen."


Some 54,000 Yemenis have fled Abyan since militants took over its capital last month, a government official said Sunday.

A government official in charge of refugee affairs told a UN delegation visiting Yemen that tens of thousands had fled from Abyan to neighboring Aden, a port near a strategic sea lane through which ships carry some 3 million barrels of oil daily, Reuters reported.

Hundreds of families have also fled Arhab, where fierce battles took place.

The refugees, as well as severe food and water shortages, have worsened the country's humanitarian crisis

Yemeni opposition general rejects plan to keep Saleh in power

(CNN) -- The top general in the Yemeni opposition says he rejects a new proposal that would allow the country's embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh to remain in power until a new leader is found.

"The general public in Yemen is seeking a transfer of power to the vice president," Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmer said in an exclusive interview with CNN. "This is a principle that we must follow because there are agreements that sides have signed and it is compulsory that all sides agree on its specifics; not change its points."

Ahmer, a leading Yemeni military leader who defected to the opposition in March, told CNN that the Yemeni people want full implementation of an agreement written by the Gulf Cooperation Council that would push out Saleh and hold elections for a new government.

Ahmer also called for the United States, the European Union and the GCC to pressure Saleh to step down.

"Our friends the Americans and the Europeans and the British and the GCC and Saudi Arabia are guarantors for its implementation," Ahmer said of the power transfer plan.

Yemen has been consumed by unrest for months as protesters have demanded an end to Saleh's rule. And Ahmer's stance is likely to harden its political stalemate.

Vice President Abdu Rabu Mansoor Hadi is the acting leader of Yemen in the absence of Saleh, who was wounded in a June 3 assassination attempt and is getting treatment in Saudi Arabia.

Saleh has said he intends to return.

Under the Gulf Cooperation Council plan, Saleh would have given up power to a transitional government after 30 days. But in May, after four members of his ruling party signed the deal, he refused -- saying he would not leave the country to sign the deal because he feared a coup, according to a senior official of his ruling General People's Congress party.

According to Ahmer, Hadi can make significant changes in Yemen even though he holds the title of acting president.

Ahmer spoke highly of Hadi, referring to him as "our brother the vice president" and calling him wise. He said "all sides agree on him and all respect him" to head the interim leadership that would oversee elections for a new government.

"In truth, he does not act with full authority as president of the Republic of Yemen, but in the future, he will practice his full authority," Ahmer said.

However, officials loyal to Saleh insist that he has to oversee any transition for it to be legitimate.

In recent weeks, government troops have battled both anti-government tribal forces and Islamic militants, including al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Asked what steps are being taken to avoid further escalation of the conflict, Ahmer said the opposition wants the United States to play a role "because they are guarantors in this initiative."

"The people must help with these peaceful demands -- whether friends or neighbors -- to help Yemen pass to safe waters," Ahmer said.