Monday, July 18, 2011

Yemen’s Wounded President Again Calls For Dialogue

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Yemen's wounded president Ali Abdullah Saleh has marked the 33rd anniversary of his rise to power by calling for “peaceful dialogue” to end the nation's political statement.

Mr. Saleh's comments came in an editorial published Monday in several state newspapers, one day after the anniversary of his taking office in 1978. He is recovering in Saudi Arabia from wounds and burns suffered last month in a bomb attack on his palace compound.

Mr. Saleh has refused to leave office despite international pressures and months of opposition rallies demanding his resignation. In his editorial comments, he again called for political dialogue but was unspecific as he has been in the past.

Opposition groups have rejected the overtures after Mr. Saleh failed to meet the conditions of transitional plans offered by Gulf countries and backed by Western powers.

Mr. Saleh did not mention when or whether he will return to Yemen. The government has been led in his absence by his deputy, Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

His comments come as Yemeni forces backed by hundreds of armed tribesmen continued their offensive to retake the southern town of Zinjibar, after months of fighting with Islamist fighters.

Al Qaeda's Yemen branch has aided Somalia militants, U.S. says

New American intelligence raises concerns about a widening alliance of Islamic terrorist groups plotting to target the U.S.
By Brian Bennett, Los Angeles Times
July 18, 2011
Reporting from Washington—
Al Qaeda's powerful branch in Yemen has provided weapons, fighters and training with explosives over the last year to a militant Islamic group battling for power in Somalia, according to newly developed American intelligence, raising concerns of a widening alliance of terrorist groups.
Leaders of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen also have urged members of the hard-line Shabab militia to attack targets outside Africa for the first time, said U.S. officials who were briefed on the intelligence.
The information, they said, comes in part from a Somali militant who was captured en route from Yemen to Somalia and interrogated aboard a U.S. warship before being arraigned in New York on terrorism charges this month. Further intelligence was gleaned from detailed digital files found at Osama bin Laden's hide-out in Pakistan after he was killed in May.

U.S. counter-terrorism officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in discussing intelligence matters, say text messages found on portable flash drives at the compound where Bin Laden was killed establish that he had sought to strengthen operational ties between Al Qaeda and the Shabab.

The heads of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, or AQAP, acted at times as Bin Laden's go-betweens to the Somali fighters. Among those who tried to forge the alliance was Nasir Wahayshi, an AQAP leader who previously operated as Bin Laden's personal secretary, said a former U.S. intelligence official who was briefed on the matter.

"There was a lot of traffic" about Somalia in the Bin Laden house, the former official said. Some of the thumb drives were smuggled out of Somalia and through Yemen before couriers hand-delivered them to Bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, the ex-official said.

The CIA gained other information when Somali authorities allowed them to interview Shabab militants imprisoned in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, U.S. officials said. The CIA asked about the militants' ability to launch attacks outside Somalia as well as the group's command structure.

Discussing the threat with reporters at the Pentagon recently, Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen are "trying hard to kill us" and "there is a growing cell [in Somalia] and a growing connection to Al Qaeda that we are all concerned about."

In a sign of the expanding front, U.S. drone aircraft fired missiles at suspected militants in Yemen in May, and in Somalia in June. They were the first known U.S. military attacks in Yemen since 2002 and in Somalia since 2009.

Other messages about the Shabab circulated among Bin Laden, his chief deputy and now-successor Ayman Zawahiri, and Atiyah Abdul Rahman, a Libyan who acted as Al Qaeda's chief operating officer, said the former U.S. official. Zawahiri's location is unknown, and Abdul Rahman was reportedly killed in October in Pakistan although American intelligence officials believe he is still alive.

The three militant leaders sought to persuade the Shabab to shift its focus away from Somalia to directly target the United States and its allies, the messages showed. The Al Qaeda leaders also pushed the local group to change its name to Al Qaeda in East Africa.

In January, Bin Laden and his aides agreed to elevate the Shabab to the same status as Al Qaeda franchises based in Yemen, Iraq and North Africa, said the former U.S. official. But the Shabab's leaders did not adopt the Al Qaeda brand name, fearing it would fracture the group and draw more attention from Western intelligence groups.

Contacts between Yemeni and Somali militants have taken place in the past. The Shabab has bought weapons and explosives from Al Qaeda contacts in Yemen using money from piracy and kidnap-for-ransom schemes, said a U.S. counter-terrorism official.

Until recently, Shabab insurgents have focused on trying to overthrow the United Nations-backed transitional government in Mogadishu. However, the group claimed credit for two suicide bombings in Uganda's capital, Kampala, last summer that killed at least 74 people, including one American, its only known attack on foreign soil. Uganda's government has contributed troops to an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.

"We are starting to see a conflation of jihadi conflict zones," said Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University. "Yemen and Somalia are moving together."

There is an "active working relationship" between Al Qaeda's groups in Yemen and Somalia, said Seth Jones, a senior political scientist at Rand Corp., a nonprofit research institution. "The two groups are attempting to coordinate actions between the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa."

The New York court case this month drew public notice to the Shabab's links to AQAP. After an alleged Shabab commander, Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, was indicted on terrorism charges, White House officials disclosed that U.S. forces had captured Warsame in the Gulf of Aden in April and interrogated him for two months aboard a U.S. Navy ship.

Warsame was a "key interlocutor" between Shabab and AQAP and "of course had ties and a relationship" with U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar Awlaki, an alleged terrorist planner and recruiter who is believed to be hiding in Yemen, a U.S. official said.

Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen were behind a failed attempt to mail bombs aboard cargo planes headed to Chicago in October 2010, as well as an unsuccessful effort to detonate a bomb on a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009.

Yemeni journalists protest harassment, censorship

By AHMED AL-HAJ, Associated Press

July 18, 2011

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — About 100 journalists protested Monday in the capital Sanaa against harassment and censorship by authorities. One newspaper editor said he was forced to distribute his daily in banana boxes to avoid government censors.

The protest was held outside the residence of Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is acting head of state while the president is in Saudi Arabia recuperating from wounds he sustained in an attack on his compound.

The editor of al-Nass newspaper, Osama Ghaleb, said he used to distribute his newspaper to other provinces inside banana boxes to ensure the copies would not be confiscated by security.

"But unfortunately this method was exposed lately," said Ghaleb.

The demonstration by journalists is part of wider anti-government protests that have been going on for more than four months, demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Security has been deteriorating sharply across the Arab world's poorest country.

In clashes Monday between government forces and tribesmen seeking to oust Saleh, five people were killed and six injured from the same family when a government artillery shell hit their home. The shelling hit the village of Beit Zuhra in the city of Arhab north of the capital Sanaa, said Sheik Hamid Assem of the Arhab tribe. Tribal leaders in the Arhab and Naham mountains, also north of Sanaa, said another 14 people were injured from shelling Monday.

The artillery fire was the military's response to a dawn raid by anti-government tribesmen on an army checkpoint that wounded five soldiers, according to tribal leaders. The mountainous region has been the site of frequent clashes between the elite Republican Guard forces and anti-Saleh tribes. Since April, shelling by government troops in this area has killed around 30 civilians and left 200 injured, said Sheik Assem.

Journalists working for independent and anti-government newspapers said they have been attacked and singled-out by security forces.

The Center for Rehabilitation and Protection of Freedom of Press in Yemen has documented 465 cases of harassment of journalists in the past six months, which include threats, aggression, and detention.

Calls by journalists to meet with the vice president have gone unheeded, according to the head of Yemen's journalists syndicate, Marwan Damaj.

Editors of seven dailies and weeklies said army and security personnel at checkpoints have recently confiscated and burned copies of independent and anti-government newspapers meant for distribution to cities outside the capital.

Seif al-Haderi, chief of a publication house that issues two independent newspapers, al-Shemou and Akhbar al-Youm, said security men in the southern city of Taiz on Sunday set fire to a bus carrying the two publications.