Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Yemen: Terrorism Rising in a Troubled Land


Political turmoil is making an already poor and deeply divided Yemen prime breeding ground for terrorism. CIA officials warned the country’s al-Qaida affiliate is growing stronger despite claims the terrorist network’s demise is “within reach.”

Al-Qaida’s Yemeni affiliate declared its loyalty to Osama bin Laden’s replacement, Egyptian-born doctor Ayman al-Zawahri, last week, further confirming experts’ long-held opinion that, “Yemen is the new Afghanistan.”

The Yemeni group AQAP -- Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula -- posted a 10-minute audio message on extremist websites vowing to continue fighting against corrupt Western-backed leaders.

The news came more than two weeks after new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared the United States is "within reach" of "strategically defeating" al-Qaida as a terrorist threat. However, senior CIA officials also warned that its Yemen affiliate is growing fast and has become the most dangerous.

The United States estimates there are 300 members of AQAP in Yemen with links to several attempted attacks on U.S. targets. These include two bomb parcels found en route from Yemen to Chicago in 2010 and a plot to bomb a Detroit-bound plane in 2009.

Yemen is the late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden’s ancestral home and the location of one of the group's first attacks in 1998.

Failed states make it easy to hide and train militants

Located on the Arabian Peninsula and bordered by Saudi Arabia and Oman, Yemen is a poor and divided country with three quarters of the population still living in rural areas.

Jennifer Steil, a former American editor of the Yemen Observer, wrote that Yemeni people are living exactly like their ancestors thousands of years ago: herding goats and cows, growing wheat, traveling long distances for water, living in square mud-brick homes.

Yemen is considered one of the least developed countries by the United Nations and the poorest country in the Arab world. Forty-five percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.

The majority of these people live above Yemen’s oil and gas fields. But instead of building roads and schools, the oil and gas money is lost in corruption and kickbacks worth billions of dollars to keep people loyal to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and buy off tribal leaders, according to Steil.

Tribes rule the countryside

One key to al-Qaida’s influence in Yemen is support from several tribal members. Edmund J. Hull, former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, wrote that al-Qaida receives this support because the terrorism group is able to successfully exploit opportunities created by government neglect. For example, in a country where illiteracy is an issue -- only 73 percent of males and 35 percent of females can read -- al-Qaida offers Yemeni people what the government sometimes can’t: schools.

Other factors are strong family ties and the “mujahedeen fraternity” -- Yemenis with fighting experience abroad. But perhaps most important in provoking loyalty to al-Qaida, wrote Hull, are innocent casualties in the war on terror -- family, friends and neighbors killed in counterterrorism operations.

Arab Spring

As democratic uprisings spread across the Middle East, the example of the Tunisian revolution provoked mass demonstrations against President Saleh in January.

Thousands of protestors took to the streets to rally against unemployment, economic conditions and corruption, and to call for President Saleh to resign. Police cracked down on the demonstrations in Yemen’s capital city, Sanaa, and seaport cities such as Aden resulting in several causalities.

Al-Qaida saw the president’s unpopularity as an opening and took control of at least two towns and surrounding territory in the country’s south, forcing more than 100,000 people to flee the area.

Meanwhile, President Saleh, who has been a U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaida, has turned the military’s focus from global counterterrorism to protecting the regime.

--Compiled by Rani Robelus for NewsHour Extra

Somali Official: al-Shabab Gets Weapons from Yemen

August 3rd, 2011
A Somali official says the insurgent group al-Shabab has received weapons from allies in Yemen.
The Somali consul in Yemen, Hussein Haji Ahmed, tells VOA that the Yemeni wing of al-Qaida recently sent 10 ships full of weapons to Somalia.
The consul said two of the ships were intercepted by Yemeni government forces, but that he believes the others reached parts of the Somali coast controlled by al-Shabab.
Ahmed said he received the information from intelligence sources he declined to identify.
Yemeni and international media reports also speak of al-Shabab receiving weapons from Yemen, which is separated from Somalia by the Gulf of Aden.
The insurgent group is trying to overthrow the U.N.-backed Somali transitional government and set up an Islamic state in Somalia. The group has lost ground to government and African Union troops in recent months but is expected to launch a counter-offensive during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Nexen still in talks with Yemen over oil licence

DUBAI | Wed Aug 3, 2011
Aug 3 (Reuters) - Canadian oil company Nexen Inc is still in talks with the Yemeni government over the possible renewal of operating licences in the small oil producing country, a company spokesman said.
Under existing agreements with the Yemeni government, Nexen has the right produce oil from the Masila project until December 2011. It is negotiating a five-year extension because it still sees significant value in the mature field.
"Discussions with the government continue at this time," the spokesman told Reuters in an emailed response to questions about the company's licence renewal.
Nexen produces some 70,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil from its two blocks in Yemen -- Masila (Block 14) and East Al Hajr (Block 51) -- and exports almost all of it from Ash Shahir terminal on the southern coast of the country, mainly to Asia.
Nexen's Yemen operations have been largely unaffected by the violence that has erupted across the poorest Arab country in months of protests demanding an end to the 33-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Production of Yemen's high-quality, light Maarib crude -- which is mainly used to meet domestic fuel demand -- stopped for more than three months after an attack on its feed pipeline.
The pipeline was repaired and crude flow restarted in mid-July. The first shipment of Maarib crude to the Ras Isa export terminal arrived last week, shipping sources said.
A domestic fuel crisis has exacerbated Yemen's political crisis, sparking petrol station shootouts and squeezing shaky public finances by forcing it to nearly double fuel imports.
"In terms of fuel supplies, I can't say there is a shortage right now," one shipping source said, adding that the fourth shipment of Saudi-donated crude from kingdom's Yanbu port is expected to arrive this week.
"There's also a lot of gasoline, diesel imports coming in," the source said. "But the problems in distribution continue; fights in queues, violence. It is still chaos."
The army has launched an offensive against militants they suspect of ties to al Qaeda and who have seized several areas in Abyan in recent months -- including the provincial capital Zinjibar, which lies east of Bab el Mandab, a strategic shipping lane where some 3 million barrels of oil pass daily.

South Yemen tribes to rejoin army offensive against militants

By Mohammed Mukhashaf

ADEN | Wed Aug 3, 2011

(Reuters) - Yemeni tribesmen who had withdrawn from a joint army offensive against Islamist militants in the south said Wednesday they had rejoined the fight, despite losing at least 15 people in friendly fire by warplanes last week.

The leader of local tribesmen allied to the army, Mohammed al-Gaadani, warned the military another botched strike could scare off the tribes, who were seen as a critical element to the success of its campaign.

"We caution the government's forces to be careful of another strike on our fighters. Repeating that mistake will lessen the tribes' desire to help clear out the militants," he said.

Three weeks ago, Yemen's army launched a massive offensive on militants suspected of ties to al Qaeda, who have seized several towns in southern Abyan province in recent months.

Army units, backed by tribal fighters who had grown frustrated by the state's inability to drive out militants, have been struggling to retake the provincial coastal capital Zinjibar, which lies east of a major shipping lane where some 3 million barrels of oil pass daily.

Reports from tribesmen said that somewhere between 15 and 40 of their fighters were killed in an air strike, just hours after the tribal fighters had wrested a strategic point outside the city from the hands of militants.

"The tribal fighters then withdrew from the battle area for two days but they've returned now after we discussed the importance of fighting these extremist elements and clearing Zinjibar of their presence," Gaadani told Reuters by telephone.

A local official confirmed that the army's tribal allies had returned to their locations around Zinjibar as the army continued to push to retake the strategic city.


As the Arab world's poorest state is rocked by over six months of protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Abyan province has been steeped in daily violence from rising unrest, which has forced some 90,000 residents to flee.

The United States and neighboring oil giant Saudi Arabia, both targets of foiled attacks by al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing, are wary of rising turmoil in the fractious Arabian Peninsula state, and fear it could give the group more room to operate.

The main army unity in Abyan fighting militants outside of Zinjibar, the 25th brigade, has complained of a lack of reinforcements and resources as it struggles to gain ground.

The brigade is linked to a top general, Ali Mohsen, who defected to protesters several months ago. The 25th brigade, which has refused to announce its political loyalties since the general switched sides, has been cooperating with other units that support the president in its fight with militants.

The troops have yet to recapture any major cities such as Zinjibar or Jaar, although with the help of tribes they were able to retake a makeshift military base seized two months ago.

Saleh's opponents accuse him of letting his forces ease their grip around militant strongholds in order to provoke a resurgence in fighting to stoke concerns that al Qaeda could be kept in check only if he remained at the helm.

Riyadh and Washington have sought to push for a Gulf-brokered transition plan to ease their former, if inconstant, ally against al Qaeda out of power in the hope of maintaining stability.

But Saleh, despite being badly hurt by a bomb blast in his compound in June, is clinging to power. The 69-year old leader is convalescing in Riyadh but has vowed to return to Yemen.