Tuesday, March 13, 2012

7 Qaeda militants, 3 policemen killed in Yemen onslaught

March 13, 2012 AFP
SANAA - Five al Qaeda militants were killed in an air strike on their car in Yemen’s Bayda province on Tuesday after deadly unrest there, and with the air force blasting jihadist positions in nearby Abyan, security officials said.
“A fighter jet raided a car carrying five al Qaeda militants,” said the official. “All five were killed.”
A tribal chief confirmed the raid, which came hours after another security official said three policemen were killed in a suicide attack in Bayda early on Tuesday. “Three policemen were killed and six others were wounded in a suicide attack on a checkpoint in Suwadeya,” the official said, referring to a village in Bayda, in Yemen’s south.
After the attack, carried out with a bomb-laden vehicle, clashes broke out between extremists and security forces in which the province’s Al Qaeda chief, Naser al-Dhafri, and another militant were killed, the source said.
He accused Dhafri of being the “mastermind” behind Tuesday’s attack.
The official, requesting anonymity, said the Qaeda militants killed in the raid were on their way to support those locked in clashes with the police, adding that extremists managed to capture two policemen during the fighting.
A military official said the Yemeni air force also carried out strikes on Tuesday targeting Al Qaeda positions, including a suspected training camp, in neighbouring Abyan province, where an attack on an army camp last week killed 185 soldiers.
“Yemeni air forces launched six raids on Tuesday against Al Qaeda posts in Jaar,” an Al Qaeda stronghold in Abyan, said the official, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Three raids targeted an Al Qaeda weapons hideout and a training camp west of Jaar,” and three targeted other Al Qaeda positions southwest of the town, he added. No casualties were immediately reported. Residents there, contacted by AFP, confirmed the raids but could not say if they were carried out by US drones or Yemeni air forces.
On Sunday, three extremists were killed when US drones fired missiles targeting their weapons hideouts in a hill overlooking Jaar, with another six killed in artillery fire by the Yemeni army on one of their positions southeast of Jaar.
Tuesday’s violence follows a string of bloody attacks by the jihadist network against security forces that have rocked Yemen since former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled the country for 33 years, stepped down last month. And it comes just hours after the interior ministry issued a statement warning of “a terrorist plot by Al Qaeda to target vital installations and government facilities in several provinces.”
“The Al Qaeda network is planning to carry out terrorist operations using bomb-laden vehicles,” it said.
The ministry is committed to “dealing with this threat... (and) will continue its war on terror.” In an address to the nation after being sworn in to succeed Saleh on February 25, President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi vowed to fight against Al Qaeda and restore security across the impoverished nation, ancestral homeland of slain jihadist leader Osama bin Laden

US: “no boots on the ground in Yemen”

Chiara Onasssis | 13 March 2012
SANA’A: The Yemeni government admitted today that the US was indeed behind recent air strikes in the country which allegedly were allowed as to rid the country of the growing al-Qaeda threat.
Ever since the presidential elections last month, Ansar al-Sharia, an offshoot of al-Qaeda in the region declared war on the central government, vowing to turn Yemen into an Islamic caliphate. The group’s threats were soon put in practice as their armed militants launched a series of bloody attacks against the armed forces, spreading fear and death everywhere they went.
Non content to assault the military, the group also targeted government buildings in highly populated cities across several provinces of the South, creating a sentiment of insecurity amongst civilians.
The Americans which so far have been using drones, unmanned planes to strike alleged al-Qaeda bases and leaders are now believed to be preparing for a more “visible” presence on the ground as sources close to the presidential palace are claiming troops have arrived near the southern city of Aden to land a hand to Yemen’s armed forces.
The US government, for the past few years, has emphatically said that ‘boots on the ground’ were not an inevitability in Yemen.
Although President Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi vowed to destroy the terror threat and to assist the Pentagon in every possible way in its fight against terrorism, many Yemenis who already are less than kindly looking upon an invasion of their air space, might not keenly welcome the arrival of American soldiers.
 “Al-Qaeda is a Yemeni problem, if the Americans want to assist fine, let them send money and supplies. A military base or even the coming of a few soldiers is not tolerable!” said a former General.

In Yemen, an emboldened al Qaeda

March 13, 2012
By Paul Cruickshank, Pam Benson and Tim Lister
On the maps of Yemen it's called Jaar - a dusty, dilapidated sort of place with a population of some 40,000. But the group that has controlled Jaar for the past year, al Qaeda affiliate Ansar al Shariah, has changed the town's name to the Emirate of Qar.
Now Jaar is in the cross hairs of both U.S. and Saudi counter-terrorism agencies, following Ansar al Shariah's attack on a military base near Zinjibar on the coast about 20 miles (28 kilometers) away. The group seized large amounts of weaponry and took more than 70 Yemeni soldiers hostage.  It is threatening to kill its captives unless about 300 al Qaeda members in Yemeni jails are freed.
A video released Monday and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group showed a local leader of Ansar al Shariah addressing some of the bedraggled soldiers.
"Who is managing the security file in Yemen today?" he asks. "It is the Americans. Even the guarding of [President] Abd Rabuh Mansur Hadi, who is responsible for it? It is the Americans," he tells the prisoners.
In recent days, according to local sources, multiple drone strikes have targeted Ansar al Shariah in Jaar (where the group's emir lives) and in neighboring Al Bayda province. Among the dozens killed, they say, were foreign fighters attracted to an area where al Qaeda has freedom to breathe - and plan. One provincial official quoted in Yemeni media said Pakistanis and Egyptians were among those killed.
That fits the assessment of U.S. officials.
"AQAP's (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's) outreach to Westerners was significantly damaged by the loss of key propagandists in 2011 - especially (Anwar al) Awlaki," said one official. "It isn't giving up on recruiting Westerners, but the focus may shift somewhat to local Yemeni and Middle Eastern audiences."
American-born Al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike last year in Yemen.
After the Yemeni army's humiliating defeat in Zinjibar last week, Yemen's new president has vowed to stamp out Ansar al Shariah, and Yemen's air force has also been in action in recent days. But dislodging a group that drew strength from the chaos of the last year in Yemen is proving a tall order.  Not least because local tribes - for their own reasons - are providing Ansar al Shariah with shelter and space in which to operate.
Some western counter-terrorism officials fear the development of a Pakistani-style situation in southern Yemen,in which al Qaeda and other extremist groups build a stronghold in remote, tribal areas. Like Ansar al Shariah, the Pakistani Taliban has periodically seized territory, attacked and intimidated local security forces, launched suicide bombings, and taken soldiers hostage.
Unlike the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban, which was drawn from local tribes, most of AQAP's recruits are from urban areas of Yemen such as the capital Sanaa, according to a study published by West Point's Combating Terrorism Center in September. The study found that the group had struggled to win over Yemen's powerful southern tribes.
But al Qaeda appears to be learning. In April 2011, AQAP religious leader Abu Zubayr Adel al Abab announced in an online forum: "The name Ansar al Shariah is what we use to introduce ourselves in areas where we work to tell people about our work and goals."
"Ansar al Shariah is the new face of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," according to Mustafa Alani, director of security studies at the Gulf Research Center. "It was a way for them to appeal to the religious sense of the tribal leaders and make if more difficult for people to fight against them.  It's one thing fighting against al Qaeda and quite another against those trying to bring in Shariah," said Alani, who has extensive contacts inside Saudi counter-terrorism agencies.
The 2011 West Point field study found that "unlike comparisons with al Qaeda in Iraq or Pakistan, AQAP has not attempted to violently coerce support from tribal communities."
"I even say to you that regions far from Abyan wish to be ruled by the Shariah," senior AQAP operative Fahd al Quso told the Yemeni journalist Abdul Razzaq al Jamal in an interview published in February and translated by the SITE Intelligence group.
U.S. intelligence officials have come to the conclusion that the two groups are indistinguishable. For example, videos of Ansar al Shariah's operations have been released by Al Malahem media, AQAP's video production arm.
Noman Benotman, a former Libyan jihadist who is now a senior analyst at the Quilliam Foundation, told CNN last year that he believed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had persuaded AQAP leader Abu Basir Wuhayshi to rebrand the group to build bridges with the masses in Yemen. Wuhayshi appeared to signal such coordination when he pledged allegiance to Zawahiri in July 2011.
But Alani says Saudi counter-terrorism officials believe AQAP ultimately wants to eclipse al Qaeda's senior leadership in Pakistan as the most powerful node of the international terrorist network.
He says AQAP may have also learned from the mistakes of al Qaeda in Iraq, which tried to hold territory and made itself an easier target. After the attack on the military base in Zinjibar, the Ansar al Shariah fighters quickly made off with weapons and captives rather than try to hold ground.
"(People) are afraid of the (American bombing) that may follow due to our presence. Therefore our presence varies according to the fears of the people," Abu Zubayr said last year.
According to Alani, Saudi counter-terrorism officials believe AQAP's strategy is to create as much ungoverned space as possible in Yemen so that it can better plan attacks in Saudi Arabia, and against the United States. While Yemenis do most of the local fighting, AQAP's cadre of ideologically committed terrorists are building the group's cell structure and a network of safe houses.
Alani says southern tribal leaders are allowing AQAP breathing space in the area as a bargaining chip with the new regime in Sanaa. "The tribes used to have an understanding with the old regime, but with the new one they are not so sure," he said.
In some cases, they have gone as far as supplying the group with fighters.
"The tribes are basically playing a game. They won't allow al Qaeda to operate freely for long. It's basically a way to get their demands: money, projects and power," Alani told CNN.
Earlier this year, Ansar al Shariah fighters agreed to leave the town of Radda - about 100 miles southeast of the capital - after an agreement brokered by local tribal leaders.
But working with al Qaeda is a risky enterprise. Ansar al Shariah's call for jihad to restore Islamic law may resonate in a deeply conservative and economically impoverished region long suspicious of politicians in the capital. And Ansar al Shariah appears to be trying to bring security and services to places like Jaar and Zinjibar.
Casey Coombs, a freelance journalist based in Yemen, is one of the very few westerners to have visited Jaar recently, and has contributed a fascinating photo essay to Foreign Policy magazine.
One photograph shows a framed picture of former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at Jaar's gas station. Metal gas cans sit unattended nearby. This was proof of Jaar's safety, according to one Ansar al Sharia member in the town. "We don't even need to guard the gasoline. It's safe from thieves," he told Coombs.
U.S. officials are watching the situation carefully. "In order to set up a safe haven and get recruits, AQAP needs the cooperation of the southern tribes," one said. "AQAP tries to obtain support through alliances, intimidation, and coercion. Whether this is a recipe for success, or a backlash, time will tell."
"AQAP has two main goals: to attack the West and solidify a safe-haven and extremist state in Yemen," said the official. "There is no doubt AQAP will try to use any space it can carve out to plan external attacks."
On that, at least, there may be agreement between the U.S. intelligence community and AQAP.
One of the group's senior operatives, Fahd al Quso, was asked last month why the group stopped exporting operations to the outside. Was it because all efforts were devoted to an internal project?
"The war didn't end between us and our enemies. Wait for what is coming," Quso replied.

Yemen's Salafis declares party

March 13, 2012 -
Salafis of Yemen held on Tuesday a conference in which they declared about creation of a party that includes all Yemenis.
This is the first step the Salafi movement in Yemen to engage in the political process after they refused the political participation for years.
Head of the preparation committee Mohammad Al-Ameri said that new political party will respect the political settlement reached by parties, stressing that they are going to take part in the national dialogue conference to be held lately of March.
Secretary general of the conference Aqeel Al-Maqtari saod women will participate in the party.

Suicide bomber kills four Yemeni soldiers

Mar 13, 2012
 By Mohammed Ghobari
SANAA (Reuters) - At least four Yemeni soldiers were killed on Tuesday when a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle laden with explosives near a checkpoint in the south of the country, a police source said, in an attack claimed by an al Qaeda-linked group.
The bombing is the latest in a spate of attacks by Islamist militants, who have escalated their operations in Yemen's south since President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office last month vowing to fight al Qaeda's regional wing.
At least four soldiers were wounded in the attack outside the southern city of al-Bayda, the police source told Reuters. The governor of al-Bayda province said clashes between the army and "terrorists" erupted in the wake of the explosion.
"The attacker who drove the car made it explode when it stopped at a checkpoint," the source said. "It scattered into tiny pieces, killing four soldiers instantly. Four others were taken to the hospital with critical wounds."
Militant group Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law)said it was responsible for the bombing and put the number of soldiers killed at 27, in a text message purporting to come from them. It said three of its own fighters had also been killed.
The group said the attack was in revenge for recent air strikes on al-Bayda and Abyan provinces, which it blamed on U.S. drones. Washington has repeatedly used drones to target militants in Yemen.
More than 60 militants have been killed over the past week in air strikes attributed to the United States and Yemen, tribal sources and local officials say.
The group also said it had taken one soldier captive, in addition to the 73 it has already said it is holding. In a statement posted on Islamist forums on Monday, the militants said they would give free passage to the 73 in exchange for the release of their imprisoned fellow Islamists.
Anti-government protests that paralyzed the impoverished nation for most of 2011 have severely weakened central government control over the country, particularly in the south, where militants have seized several towns.
In their deadliest attack, militants earlier this month killed at least 110 soldiers in attacks on government forces outside Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province.
Wary of al Qaeda's presence in Yemen, Washington backed Hadi's election last month under an Arab Gulf-brokered deal to ease his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh from power after a year of political upheaval.
The United States equipped and trained Yemeni military units - notably ones led by Saleh's son and nephew - for "counter-terrorism", though both sides say military cooperation fell off during turmoil surrounding mass anti-Saleh protests.