Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Yemen's fractured state ideal laboratory for bomb plot

By Mohammed Ghobari and Tom Finn
SANAA | Wed May 9, 2012
(Reuters) - Yemen's fractured state and dysfunctional security apparatus provide al Qaeda's franchise there with a perfect breeding ground for bomb plots like the one the United States says it thwarted.
Nearly three years after Yemen's then-leader Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to a U.S. carte blanche against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Islamists who fly its flag run parts of Yemen, and Washington's partner in "counter-terrorism" is a new leadership that faces criticism over Saleh's pact.
It has inherited the task of stitching together a military that split into warring factions during a 14-month uprising that saw Saleh surrender power in February, and a simultaneous U.S. demand to turn the armed forces against Islamists militants.
Meanwhile, tribal leaders in parts of Yemen where drone attacks aimed at AQAP have killed civilians say the strikes are turning more and more people against the government and Washington.
The drone war, said one commander of fighters targeting Ansar al-Sharia, now risks enhancing the group's status.
"The tribe... is stronger than the state, and if the American raids continue and expand it will lead to sympathy in society with al Qaeda, particularly if there are civilian victims," said Salem al-A'wash, a tribal leader in Shabwa province.
Al-A'wash, whose fighters are from a region that Anwar al-Awlaki - a U.S. citizen assassinated by a CIA drone last year over his alleged role in a previous AQAP bomb plot - also hails from - warned air attacks also alienated the group's enemies.
"The tribes do not encourage extremism, but they also don't accept the American army carrying out operations on their land."
A senior official of Yemen's government - which said it had no role in a sting operation U.S. officials say delivered a sophisticated bomb, reportedly into the hands of an agent of Saudi intelligence - pointed to the military splits as a factor empowering AQAP. [ID:nL5E8G98ZH]
"We face grave security challenges because of the split in the military which grew out of the political crisis, and that has enabled al Qaeda to spread, seize territory and train its members in safe zones," the official said.
The safe zones referred to parts of two provinces where Islamists pledging allegiance to al Qaeda seized territory last year, as mass protests against Saleh gained momentum.
The ease with which gunmen dubbing themselves Ansar al-Sharia moved on southern territory sparked charges of collusion with Saleh, who was quoted in leaked U.S. diplomatic correspondence from 2009 offering an "open door on terrorism".
The precise relationship between Ansar al-Sharia and AQAP remains unclear, but the group released captive solders on the orders of Nassser al-Wahayshi, AQAP's leader and one-time aide to Osama bin Laden.
It also raises the al Qaeda standard over the towns it controls, and in February executed three men its religious tribunal in Abyan province condemned for spying on behalf of Saudi intelligence and facilitating U.S. drone strikes.
A video the group distributed subsequently showed gunmen leading a shackled, blindfolded captive and forcing him to kneel before a crowd. The men were ultimately beheaded, residents of the area said.
The group's literature, silent on the transnational aspirations of al Qaeda, emphasizes its role in providing services and security to a region where the central government's presence is negligible.
Its newsletters identify the relatives of civilians killed in air strikes against alleged al Qaeda members, and document its mounting victories against Yemen's armed forces.
These include a suicide attack on a "counter-terrorism" unit hours after President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was sworn in, the killing of some 100 government troops and the seizure of heavy weapons in March, and an ambush this week in which the group claims it took 28 soldiers hostage.
Its advances - and a stepped-up campaign of U.S. drone attacks since Hadi took office - have inspired some local militia to move against the group, in part because of the risk its presence may draw U.S. attacks and civilian casualties.
They point to the potential fallout from a campaign the Yemeni government's U.S. backers are urging it to prosecute.
"We are fighting these people because they are using our towns and villages as a strategy to fight the government. When the army attacks, they bombard the towns with air strikes and many civilians are killed," said Saeed al-Dhailie, head of one such militia in Abyan.
"Drone strikes by America kill our civilians and make it harder for us to fight Ansar Al-Sharia. They are gaining more support from locals because they tell them that we are fighting the Americans not the government," he said.

GPC will remove tents of pro-regime sit-iners next week

By Fatik al-Rodaini
SANA'A, May 9, 2012 -Yemen Deputy Information Minister and spokesperson for the General People’s Congress, Abdu al-Ganadi, announced on Wednesday at a press conference that the readiness of GPC party to remove the tents of the supporters from the public squares.
Al-Ganadi said that the GPC leaders reached an agreement with Yemen's new president Abdu Raboo Mansour Hadi to remove the sit-ins of their supporters next week.
''We agreed with president Hadi to remove the sit-ins of our supporters next week,'' al-Ganadi stated.
The spokesperson of the GPC called at the same time the Yemeni opposition coalition, Joint Meeting Parties, JMP, to remove the sit-ins in Sana'a and other provinces as well, warning of not doing so by the opposition parties.
''We called the JMP to remove the sit-ins in the capital Sana'a and in the other provinces, or our supports will return back to the streets,'' he said.
Meanwhile, before anti-Saleh protests had taken to the streets in the last year, pro-Saleh supporters took to streets too, to cut the way from them and to stop protesting against the previous regime.
As a matter of fact the protests against ex-president Saleh started in February 2011 demanding the ouster of president Saleh, who inked in last November on GCC proposal to step down as an international solution to ease him out of the rule, after almost 33 years in the office.
The following is a brief outline of the GCC agreement and its “Implementation Mechanism,” or roadmap, which will dictate Yemen’s political transition from November 23, 2011, until presidential and parliamentary elections sometime in 2013.
• President Saleh remains president until February 2012, when he will formally step down. He and his family have been granted immunity from prosecution and he is to retain his role as head of the General People’s Congress (GPC), the former ruling party.
In theory, Saleh’s executive powers are to be transferred to Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour al Hadi and a new prime minister from the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP). After the deal was signed, Saleh granted a general amnesty to many of his cohorts who had been accused of perpetrating human rights violations (in Saleh’s words, “made mistakes”) during the revolution.
 Many observers questioned whether or not he was legally permitted to do so.
• The GCC agreement stipulates the immediate formation of a new national unity government. Shortly after it was signed, JMP member Mohamed Salem Basindwah was selected as the new prime minister. He then formed a national unity government on December 7 composed of 35 cabinet ministers split between the GPC and the JMP. The interim government is mandated to form a “military committee” that will take control of the armed forces and oversee their withdrawal from urban areas.
• Within 90 days of the agreement (on February 21, 2011), Yemen will hold an “election” for a new president. As per the terms of the agreement, both the GPC and the JMP have agreed that Vice President will be the only candidate. Hadi will serve for two years.
• During this two-year interim period, a new constitution will be written.
• In 2013, elections for parliament and the presidency will be held under the new constitution.

3 soldiers killed in al-Qaeda attack in Yemen

By Fatik al-Rodaini
SANA'A, May 9, 2012- According to military and security officials at least 3 soldiers were killed on Wednesday and 5 others were wounded in the Yemen's southern province of Abyan.
The officials said that heavy artillery shelling by Ansar al-Sharia, a group linked to al-Qaeda militants, targeted military unites in Lawder district of Abyan, which has been the scene of fierce clashes for more than a month.
''Ansar al-Sharia targeted also the houses of residents within Lawder city, destroying several houses there'' a tribal figure reported.
Meanwhile, a security official said that Yemeni army repulsed an attack by Ansar al-Sheria, killing at least one militant and wounded score of them in the eastern city of Zinjibar.
"Score of al-Qaeda militants killed and wounded during an attempt by the group to attack the headquarters of Central Security and military positions in Zinjibar city,'' the security official stated.
Battles against al-Qaeda militants by the Yemeni government troops backed by tribesmen in the Yemeni province of Abyan where swaths of towns are controlled by the militant group, Ansar al-Sharia, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, have been continued for more than a month.
Hundreds of soldiers and Ansar al-Sharea have been killed since last month in Lawder and Modiya towns in Abyan during ongoing battles between the Yemeni army and al-Qaeda militants.
More than 250 people have been killed since government forces intensified a crackdown on the militants who the authorities accused of attacking a military camp near Lawdar last month.
Taking advantage of the one-year-long political conflicts in Yemen, al-Qaeda militants in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), locally known as Ansar al-Sharea, has taken control of several cities and swathes of land across the restive southern provinces.
Al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen is considered one of the terror group's most dangerous. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) was formed in January 2009 by a merger between two regional offshoots of the international Islamist militant network in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
The militants mainly entrenching itself in Yemen's southern provinces of Abyan and Shabwa, is on the terrorist list of the United States, which considers it as an increasing threat to its national security.
President Abdu Raboo Mansour Hadi, who took office promising to fight al-Qaeda, is also facing challenges from Shi'ite Muslim rebels in the north and secessionists in the south.

Al Qaeda bomber was CIA informant

May 9, 2012
US and Yemeni officials say the supposed would-be bomber at the heart of an al Qaeda airliner plot was actually an informant working for the CIA.
The revelation, first reported by The Los Angeles Times, shows how the CIA was able to get its hands on a sophisticated underwear bomb well before an attack was set in motion.
Officials say the informant was working for the CIA and Saudi Arabian intelligence when he was given the bomb. He then turned the device over to authorities. Officials say the informant is safely out of Yemen.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive intelligence matter.
The FBI is still analysing the sophisticated explosive. But, based on preliminary findings, security procedures at US airports remained unchanged a day after the plot became public.
That was a reflection of both the US confidence in its security systems and a recognition that the government can't realistically expect travellers to endure much more. Increased costs and delays to airlines and shipping companies could have a global economic impact, too.
"I would not expect any real changes for the travelling public," said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich. "There is a concern that overseas security doesn't match ours. That's an ongoing challenge."
The Transportation Security Administration sent advice to some international air carriers and airports about security measures that might stave off an attack from a hidden explosive. It's the same advice the US has issued before, but there was a thought that it might get new attention in light of the foiled plot.
The US has worked for years to try to improve security for US-bound flights originating at international airports. And many countries agree that security needs to be better. But while plots such as the Christmas attack have spurred changes, some security gaps that have been closed in the US remain open overseas.
Officials believe that body scanners, for instance, probably would have detected this latest attempt by al Qaeda to bring down a jetliner. Such scanners allow screeners to see objects hidden beneath a passenger's clothes.
But while scanners are in place in airports nationwide, their use is scattershot overseas. Even in security-conscious Europe, the European Union has not required full-body imaging machines for all airports, though a number of major airports in Paris, London, Frankfurt and elsewhere use them.
All passengers on US-bound flights are checked against terrorist watch lists and law enforcement databases.
In some countries, US officials are stationed in airports to offer advice on security matters. In some cases, though, the US is limited to hoping that other countries follow the security advice from the Transportation Security Administration.
"Even if our technology is good enough to spot it, the technology is still in human hands and we are inherently fallible," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee. "And overseas, we have varying degrees of security depending on where the flight originates."Al Qaeda has repeatedly tried to take advantage of those overseas gaps.
The Christmas 2009 bombing originated in Amsterdam, where the bomber did not receive a full-body scan.  And in 2010, terrorists smuggled bombs onto cargo jets, which receive less scrutiny than passenger planes.
In both those instances, the bombs were made by al Qaeda's master bomb maker in Yemen, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri. Officials believe this latest bomb was the handiwork of al-Asiri or one of his students.
The CIA was tipped off to the plot last month by an informant close to al Qaeda, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case. The agency recovered the bomb in recent weeks, but it's not clear what happened to the would-be suicide bomber.
The bomber "is in no position to harm us," Rogers said.
"Neither the bomb nor any other part of the plot represents an ongoing threat to the US," Schiff said.
In the meantime, Americans traveled Tuesday with little apparent concern.
"We were nervous - for a minute," said Nan Gartner, a retiree on her way to Italy from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. "But then we thought, we aren't going anywhere near Yemen, so we're OK.