Wednesday, September 14, 2011

12 al-Qaida linked militants killed southern Yemen

AHMED AL HAJ, Associated Press

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Fierce clashes between Yemeni government forces and al-Qaida linked militants in southern Yemen overnight killed 14, including 12 militants, officials said Wednesday.

A military official said Wednesday negotiations with the fighters to end the bloodshed were deadlocked.

Islamic militants linked with al-Qaida have taken advantage of the turmoil gripping Yemen over anti-government protests, seizing control of a number of towns and the provincial capital of the southern province of Abyan.

The militants have controlled the towns for months, terrorizing the locals. In recent weeks, the military has gone on the offensive, but fierce fighting has not shaken the militants hold on the area and has left thousands of civilians displaced.

The fighting and the internal turmoil are closely related.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's leader of nearly 33 years, has held onto power in the face of massive protests demanding his ouster since February. He insists that if he leaves, al-Qaida will take over the country.

The West views al-Qaida branch in Yemen as the most active and dangerous, and has been linked to several nearly successful attacks on U.S. targets, including the plot to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner in December 2009. The group also put sophisticated bombs into U.S.-addressed parcels that made it onto cargo flights last year.

Some opposition figures have suggested Saleh's forces have allowed the militants to make gains to underline his warning of the consequences if Saleh departs.

Saleh, who is still recuperating in Saudi Arabia after a June attack on his compound in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, said the United States and Saudi Arabia have supported his efforts to retake the towns.

In Abyan, two competing military units, one under Saleh's command and the other under the leadership of a defecting general, are fighting the militants in Abyan. This has led to internal conflicts.

The unit led by the defecting leadership has made headway in reclaiming control over the provincial capital Zinjibar this week, seizing parts of it. The government. meanwhile. said the whole capital has been liberated, but a few days later, the military came under attack from the militants, who were clearly still in the area.

In the latest fighting, witnesses said they heard a fierce exchange of gunfire and shelling in Zinjibar and in a town to the west. The fighting lasted into the early hours of Wednesday.

A Yemeni undertaker said that he buried 12 militants and two civilians killed in clashes. The undertaker spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

Later Wednesday, a medical official said an official military videographer was killed and two of his assistants were wounded when a projectile landed inside a military camp east of Zanjibar.

Military and security officials said talks between military officials and members of the Defense Ministry, tribal leaders and militants have failed to persuade the militants to leave the area in exchange for a promise they won't be pursued.

Col. Hussein Beleidi told The Associated Press he attended some of the talks aimed at ending the bloodshed. "They refused and said they preferred fighting and martyrdom to surrendering," he said.

Tribal leaders said the militants demanded that the military first pulls out of the capital and neighboring areas before they too retreat. The military officials and tribal leaders spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of the talks with the media.

In separate fighting, witnesses said 13 people were killed when government forces shelled Arhab mountain villages north of Sanaa, where anti-government tribes are concentrated.

Mediation fails with Qaeda suspects, Yemen officer says

September 14, 2011 (AFP)

ADEN — Mediation efforts have failed to end the battles between the army and Al-Qaeda suspects raging for over three months in Yemen's south as one soldier was killed in the latest fighting, military officials said Wednesday.

"The mediation has failed because of the army's refusal" to withdraw from "the important parts of Zinjibar it controls," an army officer who requested anonymity told AFP.

Another military official General Mohsen al-Balaidi told AFP that "the armed men who have named themselves Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Sharia or Islamic law) have set unacceptable conditions" to end the fighting."

He said the extremists have demanded the army withdraw from Zinjibar to the village of Dofas, further south.

Meanwhile, "one soldier was killed and seven others were wounded in clashes" late Tuesday in Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province, said a military official, and a medical official confirmed.

The army on Tuesday raided positions held by the Islamist extremists across the city of Zinjibar, the site of fierce fighting since Al-Qaeda linked militants took over most of it late in May, the military official said.

The Yemeni government announced on Saturday that troops had liberated Zinjibar from the militants.

But military officials later told AFP that parts of the city remained in militant hands and witnesses said that dozens more militants arrived in Zinjibar from the nearby town of Jaar on Monday.

Since anti-government protests swept Yemen in late January, militants have taken advantage of the weakening of central authority to set up base in several southern provinces as well as Maarib province in the east.

Washington and other Western governments have repeatedly expressed growing concern about the role Al-Qaeda might play in Yemen if the regime of veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh collapses and a power vacuum ensues.

Newly appointed CIA director David Petraeus said Tuesday that, even as Al-Qaeda faces unprecedented pressure elsewhere, its Yemen-based branch "has emerged as the most dangerous regional node in the global jihad," benefiting from turmoil in the impoverished Arab nation.

Since May, Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has pushed back Yemeni government forces in the south and political upheaval has "helped AQAP co-opt local tribes and extend its influence," he told lawmakers.

At least 230 Yemeni soldiers and 50 tribal auxiliaries have been killed in the battle for Zinjibar, the defence ministry said on Sunday.