Thursday, December 8, 2011

Osama bin Laden's wives told they are free to leave Pakistan

Bin Laden's Saudi-born wives to return home seven months after raid that killed their husband, while his Yemeni spouse may be offered new home in Qatar
Jason Burke in Delhi, Thursday 8 December 2011
Two wives of Osama bin Laden, held in Pakistan after the raid in May that killed their husband, are set to return to their homeland of Saudi Arabia, Pakistani officials have said.
A third wife will not travel back to her native land, Yemen, after authorities refused to accept her but may instead be offered a new home in Qatar, the Gulf emirate, a source in the Pakistani interior ministry told the Guardian.
All three women were detained by Pakistani military personnel after the American special forces raid on a house in the northern Pakistani city of Abbottabad during which Bin Laden was killed. Around a dozen children were also taken into Pakistani custody. According to the officials and Saudi press reports, the two Saudi-born wives, Khairiah Sabar and Siham Sabar, recently had their Saudi citizenship restored, a move which would allow their return, possibly as early as next week.
Khairiah married Bin Laden in 1985 and Siham, in 1987. When the extremist leader was stripped of his citizenship in 1994, the two women, both college graduates, also lost theirs.
With an official Pakistani inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the raid now complete, the women were free to go, the Pakistani officials said.
"We have been working with the Saudi officials since the [Pakistani] Judicial Commission on [the Abbottabad raid] interviewed the Bin Laden widows.
"The Saudi government has agreed to accept his children and two wives, and we are working on logistical arrangements now," one senior source said, requesting anonymity.
Eight children of the late al-Qaida leader would travel with the women, the official added.
Middle Eastern diplomats in Islamabad confirmed that a "resolution" had been reached in discussions over the repatriation of the wives but did not disclose any timetable.
However, there been no official confirmation from Riyadh, and the Saudi ambassador in Pakistan has told local reporters he has no knowledge of any forthcoming transfer.
Western officials in the region urged caution.
"Let's wait and see. It's likely they will go back [to Saudi Arabia] at some stage but it may well not be imminent," said one.
Recent Saudi press reports have claimed that authorities had restored the citizenship of the two women, both born in the southern port city of Jeddah, after members of their families and that of their late husband lobbied senior Saudi royals.
Jeddah is also the home town of the Bin Laden family and is where Osama, who was 54 when he died, was raised.
Officials in Riyadh told the Guardian earlier this year that, at least theoretically, there was no objection to the women's return to Saudi Arabia.
Hamza, the 22-year-old son of Bin Laden, was killed in the May raid.
The bodies of both men were buried at sea. The women and children were handcuffed by the US special forces who then left the scene.
During their detention by Pakistani authorities the women, one of whom was wounded in the Abbottabad raid, were interviewed by American intelligence agencies.
The three wives had spent up to five years living in relatively austere conditions in the house in the northern Pakistani town.
Pictures of their home showed modest furnishings, cheap foam mattresses, no air conditioning and old televisions though there was a large, seemingly well-tended, vegetable garden.
Bin Laden married at least five times. His first wife, a Syrian, left him in Afghanistan weeks before the 9/11 attacks and returned to her homeland. A second wife was divorced in the early 1990s. His fifth wife, Yemeni Amal Ahmed al-Sadah, married him in 2000.
This leaves the third and fourth wives, the two Saudis.
According to local or Arab traditions, it should be the close relatives of a dead father, usually the brothers, who look after the bereaved spouses and children.
It appears that despite the rift between Bin Laden and his family, one of Saudi Arabia's wealthiest business dynasties, some efforts have been made to take care of the widows.
At least two of Bin Laden's sons – Hamza and Saad – apparently followed him into radicalism. Both were groomed as extremist leaders from an early age. Bin Laden had told interviewers that he hoped his daughter Safiya, now believed to be 12, would also take up arms.
She is still in Pakistani custody and has said that she witnessed her father being shot dead, senior Pakistani officials told the Guardian days after the raid.

Yemen: Al-Qaeda-Linked Militants Attack Army, 10 Killed

Dec 8, 2011
SANAA, Yemen -- Militants linked to al-Qaida attacked an army post in an embattled southern province of Yemen but were driven back, leaving nine of their dead behind, officials said Thursday.
The security official said that one soldier was also killed in the Wednesday night firefight east of the town of Zinjibar in Abyan province.
Militants overran Zinjibar in May, shortly after a 10-month-old uprising against authoritarian President Ali Abdullah Saleh caused a breakdown of authority throughout the country.
The military patched up a temporary alliance with mutinous anti-Saleh units and fought their way back into the town in June, but have yet to establish full control and regularly clash with the Islamists.
Saleh late last month signed a U.S.-backed agreement in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, under which he is expected to step down by the end of this year.
Despite its potential to end the violence, many Yemenis reject the power transfer deal because it leaves much of the regime in place and offers the outgoing president immunity from prosecution.
Tens of thousands of Yemenis rallied in the capital Sanaa and several other cities calling for President Saleh to face trial for alleged corruption and killing of protesters.
Incoming Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa announced on Wednesday that he had formed a national unity government composed both of Saleh allies and opponents to take over control of ministries.
But military units throughout the country remain divided in their loyalties. Some back Saleh or his family or other regime figures, and others are allied with his rivals in the powerful al-Ahmar clan or with other opposition forces.
The splits in Yemen's government and military provide a window of opportunity for al-Qaida, which has long had bases in the country, to continue to contest control of Abyan province and other territories.
A medic at a military hospital in the nearby city of Aden confirmed Wednesday's attack, and said that four wounded soldiers were under treatment. Both he and the security official spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media.
Meanwhile, two independent Yemeni websites said that the government had released the leader of a prominent south Yemeni secessionist movement who had been detained since February.
NewsYemen and Change said that Hassan Baoum, 71, of the Supreme Council for the Peaceful Southern Movement, walked free along with his son shortly after Basindwa's government was formed.
South Yemen was once a separate country plagued by deadly conflicts among groups vying for power. It merged with North Yemen under Saleh in 1990 but most of the people feel that they were unfairly treated by the northerners

Analysis: New Yemeni government hostage to military standoff

Thu Dec 8, 2011
By Joseph Logan
DUBAI (Reuters) - A new Yemeni government tasked with charting a political path away from civil war looks doomed from the start by dependence on the warlords it is supposed to tame, and is tainted in the eyes of protesters at the heart of the uprising.
The government, formed on Wednesday under a deal overseen by neighboring oil giant Saudi Arabia, is to lead Yemen to a February presidential election to replace Ali Abdullah Saleh, after 10 months of protests against his three-decade rule.
Its goal is to stop Yemen sliding toward chaos by finding a negotiated end to the fighting that has raged on alongside protests -- between military units loyal to Saleh, units that have turned on him, and tribal militias committed to his demise.
That may create a government in which Saleh's opponents would have to share formal authority with his loyalists -- but without the military clout of the men they would effectively be trying to disarm.
"You have two tracks: a political one that progresses and sets a date for elections and forms a government, and a parallel, military track," said Ibrahim Sharqieh, a conflict resolution expert at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar.
"Those two are going to collide, and I think the moment is if the issue of restructuring military units actually becomes real, when it comes to Ahmed and his cousin staying in power or not," he said. "That's when they will have to face reality."
He was referring to Saleh's son Ahmed Ali Saleh, and nephew Yehia Mohamed Abdullah Saleh, who lead the Republican Guards and Central Security Forces, respectively.
The political process began last month, when Saleh formally renounced his powers in line with the pact sponsored by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a bloc of Yemen's neighbors richer, resource-blessed neighbors.
The agreement -- which Saleh had previously wriggled out of three times at the last moment -- stipulates an early presidential election that the deputy to whom Saleh transferred his powers, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, will enter with the backing of Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) party.
By the time of the vote, a military committee -- with half its members, like the interim government, loyal to Saleh -- is supposed to have defused conflicts that have raged in the last week in the capital Sanaa and Taiz between pro-Saleh forces and those of tribal leader Sadeq al-Ahmar and General Ali Mohsen, both former allies of Saleh who have turned against him.
The role that body and the government grant pro-Saleh forces all but ensure the irrelevance of a political process, argued historian and commentator on Yemeni affairs Fawwaz Traboulsi.
"How is it possible to make the armed forces neutral, keep them from interfering in the transitional period, and unify them to ensure that process is peaceful, while the 'outgoing' president controls the greater part of the armed forces?" he wrote in the Assafir daily after Saleh agreed to the GCC deal.
Deprived of effective authority, the best-case scenario may be that an interim government muddles through to a vote without a major eruption of violence.
"Many of the characters who were appointed are far less competent than the ones who preceded them," said Yemeni political analyst Abdulghani al-Iryani.
"What we've seen is a hodgepodge of compromise and appeasement that produced an ineffective cabinet."
"The most you could hope for from this cabinet is that they create the conditions for peaceful presidential elections in two and half a months. I do not think they are capable of doing anything more substantive."
One faction of Yemenis was unrepresented in the deal-making that concluded in the Saudi capital, but it is acknowledged as a new force that emerged in the uprising against Saleh.
The movement has dismissed a national unity government long before it was born.
Youth protesters who have spent nearly a year in the streets have broadened their demands for political change beyond Saleh, calling for the removal of Yemen's entire political elite.
They regard the military struggle in Yemen as a feud among partners to what they see as the crimes of Saleh's rule, deeming the formal opposition complicit for taking part in a deal that grants him immunity from prosecution over the killing of protesters by security forces.
"You cannot say it (the government) will work independently of Saleh, without completely cleansing the leadership of the military of all of his relatives," said Mani' al-Matari, a 28-year-old protest organizer in the capital. "The military is running things in this country, not a government."
That sentiment, said Sharqieh, illustrates the greatest failing of a government yet to be sworn in.
"They (the political opposition) have never acknowledged and involved the youth who were not involved in the agreement and have in fact denounced it all along," he said. "There is a question of legitimacy, and on this they don't have it."

Yemen's new unity government

SANAA, Dec 08, 2011 (AFP) - Yemen's prime minister designate has unveiled a new unity government as stipulated in the Gulf Cooperation Council deal to transfer power from President Ali Abdullah Saleh to his deputy Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.
The 34-member cabinet is divided equally among Saleh loyalists from the ruling General People's Congress (GPC) and the formal opposition Common Forum.
Saleh's ministers for foreign affairs and defence have retained their posts.
The interior ministry, the human rights portfolio, finance and information ministries have been entrusted to the opposition.
The new government will carry out its duties for three months, after which elections will be held and Vice President Hadi will formally take over the presidency.
Following is a list of the new Yemen cabinet:
-Prime Minister: Mohammed Basindawa (Opposition leader)
-Foreign Minister: Abu Bakr al-Qourbi (GPC)
-Defence Minister: Mohammed Nasser Ahmed (GPC)
-Interior Minister: Abdelqader Qahtan (Opposition)
-Justice Minister: Morshed Ali al-Arshani (Opposition)
-Finance Minister: Sakhr Ahmed Abbas (Opposition)
-Information Minister: Ali Ahmed al-Amrani (Opposition)
-Health Minister: Ahmed Qasem al-Ansi (GPC)
-Minister for Human Rights: Houriya Mashhour Ahmed (Opposition)
-Agriculture and Irrigation Minister: Farid Ahmed al-Moujawar (GPC)
-Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research: Yahya Mohammed al-Shoueibi (GPC)
-Religious Affairs Minister: Hammoud Mohammed al-Abad (GPC)
-Labour and Social Affairs Minister: Amat al-Razzaq Hamad (GPC)
-Public Works Minister: Omar Abdullah al-Korshami (GPC)
-Electricity Minister: Saleh Hasan Sami (Opposition)
-Petroleum and Minerals Minister: Hisham Sharaf Abdullah (GPC- former minister of trade and industry)
-Minister of Planning and International Cooperation: Mohammed Said al-Saadi (Opposition- Islamic Islah party)
-Telecommunications Minister: Ahmed Obeif bin Dagher (GPC)
-Education Minister: Abdelrazzaq Yahya al-Ashwal (Opposition)
-Legal Affairs Minister: Mohammed Ahmed al-Makhlafi (Opposition)
-Tourism Minister: Qasim Salam (Saleh loyalist)
-Water and Environment Minister: Abdo Razaz Saleh Khaled (Opposition)
-Culture Minister: Abdullah Manthouq (Opposition)
-Minister of Transport: Waed Abdullah Batheeb (Opposition)
-Minister of Trade and Industry: Saad Eddine Ali Salem bin Taleb (Opposition)
-Minister for Expatriate Affairs: al-Qahali (GPC)
-Minister of Vocational Training: Abdel Hafeth Thabet Noman (Opposition)
-Minister of Local Government Affairs: Ali Mohammed al-Yazidi (Opposition)
-Youth and Sports Minister: Moammar al-Iryani (GPC)
-Civil Services Minsiter: Nabil Abdo Shamsan (GPC)
-Minister for Fishing Resources: Awad Mohammed Saqtari (GPC- former electricity minister)
-Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs: Rashad Ahmed Rasas (GPC)
-Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs: Jawhara Hammoud Thabet (Opposition)
-Minister of State (without portfolio) Shaef Aziz Sagheer (GPC)
-Minister of State (without portfolio) Hasan Ahmed Sharaf Eddine (Opposition)

UN envoy Bin Omar in Yemen

SANAA, Dec. 08 (Saba)- The United Nations envoy to Yemen Jamal Bin Omar arrived in Sana’a on Thursday to hold talks with all sides in Yemen over political progress.
Upon his arrival, the UN envoy expressed relief over political progress in Yemen and putting the Gulf-brokered initiative into action by forming the new national unity government, which was announced on Wednesday evening.
Bin Omar also said that his visit to Sana’a will focus on meeting all Yemeni blocs and evaluating the political scene in the country. He added that the evaluation report will be submitted to the UN Council's meeting on December 14.
"I wish success to the newly formed national unity government," the UN envoy noted.
He emphasized that the new government should encompass security, stability and economy rehabilitation in the upcoming phase.
"It is important that the new government plays a role in restoring security and stability and rebuilding the economy of Yemen", he said.

Rights group urges Yemen to ban child marriage

By MAAMOUN YOUSSEF, Associated Press
Dec 8, 2011
CAIRO (AP) — A leading international rights group on Thursday urged authorities in Yemen to set 18 as the minimum age for marriage to improve girls' opportunities for education and protect their human rights.
Human Rights Watch said widespread child marriage in the Arab world's poorest country jeopardizes Yemeni girls' health and keeps them second-class citizens.
A report by the New York-based group said Yemeni government and U.N. data showed that in some rural areas of Yemen, girls as young as eight were married off. Some have told HRW they were subjected to marital rape and domestic abuse.
HRW researcher Nadya Khalife said a ban on child marriage should be a priority for reform despite Yemen's ongoing turmoil that has relegated such issues to "the bottom of the political priority list."
The 54-page report was based on field research conducted in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, between August and September 2010, and interviews with more than 30 girls and women who were married off as children, as well as on interviews with members of non-governmental organizations and officials at the ministries of health and education.
According to the report, approximately 14 percent of girls in Yemen are married before the age 15, and 52 percent are married before they are 18 years old.
Yemen has been wrecked by months of political turmoil, a deadly regime crackdown on opposition protests and an upsurge in attacks by al-Qaida militants. The country's popular uprising, inspired by other Arab Spring revolts, has seen almost daily protests against longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Yemeni authorities on Wednesday announced the formation of a national unity government as part of a Gulf-brokered power transfer deal to ease embattled Saleh out of office and end the country's crisis. The new government is to be sworn in on Saturday.
HRW urged Yemen's next government to take legal steps to set the minimum age for marriage at 18 and promote public awareness of the harm of child marriages.
"Now is the time to move on this issue ... to ensure that girls and women who played a major role in Yemen's protest movement will also contribute to shaping Yemen's future," said Khalife, the HRW researcher.
The issue of Yemen's child brides received widespread attention four years ago, when an 8-year-old girl boldly went by herself to a courtroom and demanded a judge dissolve her marriage to a man in his 30s. She eventually won a divorce.
A February 2009 law set Yemen's minimum age for marriage at 17, but it was repealed after some lawmakers called it un-Islamic and sent back to parliament's constitutional committee for a review. The review has since been stalled by a group of lawmakers contending that enforcing a minimum age would be contrary to Islamic law.
Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman, who won this year's Nobel Peace Prize for her work in advancing women's rights, has also highlighted the issue.
In a 2010 opinion piece, Karman wrote that there "is a vast space in our Islamic Law heritage for reaching consensus on adopting the age of 18 as a minimum age for marriage."