Wednesday, August 1, 2012

US warns Al-Qaeda branches on rise, as Iran stirs terror

August 1, 2012
Al-Qaeda affiliates pose a rising threat exploiting poverty and upheavals in the world's most vulnerable regions even as the core network is on the decline, the US State Department warned Tuesday.
In its Country Reports on Terrorism 2011, the department also branded Iran "the world's leading sponsor of terrorist activity" providing funds and support "for terrorist and militant groups throughout the Middle East."
Both Iran and Al-Qaeda are helping to foment unrest by spreading "violent extremist ideology and rhetoric" in some of the world's most restive regions, the report to Congress maintained.
Hailing the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a US commando raid on his Pakistani compound in May 2011, the report noted he had "remained deeply involved in directing (the group's) operations and setting its strategy."
"The loss of bin Laden and these other key operatives puts the network on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse," it said.
But, while the core group of Al-Qaeda may have been weakened over the past year, "we have seen the rise of affiliated groups around the world."
"There's no question there's cause for concern," ambassador at large from the department's bureau of counterterrorism, Daniel Benjamin, told journalists.
He stressed though that the core Al-Qaeda group had been the most "capable part of the organization" with the ability to carry out "catastrophic attacks on a scale that none of the affiliates have been able to show."
He pointed to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as "the most dangerous of the affiliates," although he praised the efforts of new President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi to crack down on the militants.
AQAP had gained territory in southern Yemen, and "was exploiting unrest in that country to advance plots against regional and Western interests," the report charged.
Meanwhile Al-Qaeda's north African branch, known as AQIM, "historically the weakest of the affiliates, saw its coffers filled in 2011 with kidnapping ransoms," it added.
Al-Qaeda affiliates were also at work in Iraq, capitalizing on the withdrawal of US forces from there, despite suffering recent leadership losses.
The Iraqi branch was "resilient" and "believed to be extending its reach into Syria and seeking to exploit the popular uprising against the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad."
According to the report there were more 10,000 terror attacks around the globe in 2011 in 70 countries and leading to over 12,500 deaths. However the figures represent a five-year low, having dropped by almost 12 percent from 2010 and by 29 percent from 2007.
Benjamin called 2011 "an extremely significant year in counterterrorism" not just because of the death of bin Laden, but also because of the Arab Spring, with millions demanding change in the Middle East without reference to "Al-Qaeda's incendiary worldview."
He warned of "attendant perils" though in which "terrorists could still cause significant disruptions for states undergoing" significant transformations.
The other main terror threat to the United States remained Iran, which was designated by the US as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984.
"Iran remained an active state sponsor of terrorism in 2011 and increased its terrorist-related activity," the report said.
The Islamic Republic's aim was "likely in an effort to exploit the uncertain political conditions resulting from the Arab Spring, as well as in response to perceived increasing external pressure on Tehran."
A plot uncovered in September to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the US "underscored anew Iran's interest in using international terrorism -- including in the United States -- to further its foreign policy goals."
Tehran was also continuing to provide arms and training to militant groups such as Hamas and other Palestinian extremist groups, as well as Hezbollah.
And Iran's Revolutionary Guards had provided training to Taliban militants in Afghanistan.
The report also charged that Iran was allowing Al-Qaeda members to use its territory as a pipeline to funnel funds and operatives into South Asia.
The report also highlighted concerns about Boko Haram militants in Nigeria, said to have Al-Qaeda ties, and highlighted the situation in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula where "a number of loosely knit militant groups have formed... with some claiming ties and allegiance to Al-Qaeda."
Source: Bangkok Post

Yemen snubs Iranian envoy after uncovering spy ring

SANAA | Tue Jul 31, 2012
 (Reuters) - Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has snubbed a visiting Iranian envoy to signal his "displeasure" with Tehran, a Foreign Ministry official said on Tuesday, only weeks after Yemen said it had uncovered an Iranian-led spy ring in the capital Sanaa.
The Iranian envoy was visiting Yemen to invite Hadi to the Non-Aligned Movement's summit in Tehran in August.
"Hadi's refusal to receive the Iranian envoy was an expression of Sanaa's displeasure with Tehran's policy towards Yemen," a Yemeni Foreign Ministry official told Reuters.
The state news agency Saba said on July 18 that Yemen had uncovered a spy ring led by a former commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. The spy ring, which kept an operations centre in Sanaa, had also been operating in the Horn of Africa, the agency said.
Hadi ordered Iran after news of the spy ring emerged to stay out of Yemeni affairs.
Iranian media quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying that Tehran respected Yemen's sovereignty.
Earlier this year, U.S. ambassador to Sanaa Gerald Feierstein said Iran was working with Shi'ite Muslim rebels in northern Yemen and secessionists in the south to gain influence at the expense of Yemen's Sunni-ruled Gulf neighbors.
The most powerful of those is Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the leader of the Sunni world and is Iran's rival for regional supremacy. It crafted the power transfer deal that saw Hadi's predecessor, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, leave office after 33 years.

17 killed in clashes at Yemen's interior ministry

SANAA, July 31 (Xinhua) -- At least 17 people were killed and dozens of others wounded in clashes between the security forces and gunmen belonging to a group of army defectors at the Yemeni interior ministry on Tuesday morning, officials and medics said.
"A total of 11 soldiers' bodies have been brought to the police hospital and dozens of others were receiving treatment," doctors at the hospital told Xinhua.
"The security forces arrested 28 soldiers of the defected army who were dressed in security force uniforms and found six bodies of the defected soldiers inside the interior ministry building," the interior ministry said.
"The central security forces have taken control of the ministry building after dozens of defected soldiers fled the scene," it said.
Police officials said the clashes erupted after troops of the defected First Armored Division and gunmen loyal to opposition tribal leader Sadiq al-Ahmar entered the headquarters of the interior ministry late on Monday.
"A large number of troops from the defected army and militants loyal to al-Ahmar attacked the security soldiers guarding the building of the ministry, and then set up several barricades around the scene," a police official at the ministry told Xinhua by phone.
"The government forces in the nearby security camp tried to protect the ministry and drove those militants away... but the defected troops opened fire on the security soldiers. Severe clashes have continued for more than 10 hours," he said on condition of anonymity.
"The defected soldiers claimed that they received orders from the defected general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar to enter the ministry in order to protect it," he added.
All roads leading to the clash area were blocked by the rescue police forces and armed tribesmen led by Sadiq al-Ahmar. According to witnesses, militants loyal to al-Ahmar have been deployed around the interior ministry.
Several ambulances carrying injured soldiers were seen coming out from the clash zone and a nearby security camp, which is responsible for guarding the ministry.
Meanwhile, about eight armored vehicles from the central security forces were seen heading to the interior ministry, while the sound of heavy machine-guns was still rocking the area.
According to witnesses, both sides of the clashes sent reinforcement to the area after conflict intensified and spread Tuesday afternoon to neighborhoods close to the U.S. embassy in eastern part of the capital.
In the past three days, sporadic gunfire between security forces and armed tribesmen was seen around the interior ministry. In Yemen, tribes always play an important role in the political process as hundreds of thousands of militants only pledge loyalty to their tribal leaders.
Yemen's interior ministry said on Tuesday that an Italian diplomat were kidnapped by tribesmen two days ago and has been transferred to a remote area in the northeastern province of Marib.
The abductors led by fugitive Ali Nasser Hiraygdan from Marib " are demanding compensation for disputed lands as well as the removal of their names from a blacklist of murderers and bandits," the ministry said in a statement posted on its website.
Tuesday's fighting is the worst clash since Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office in February. Sanaa has witnessed a month-long street battles between the defected army backed by militants of Sadiq al-Ahmar and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh before he handed over power to Hadi.
Hadi has vowed to reunify the army, restore security and launch a national dialogue to settle disputes among all political factions so as to unite forces to combat the Yemen-based al-Qaida network.
He formed a preparation committee earlier this month in an attempt to break the deadlock and push forward the reconciliation dialogue. However, both the ruling coalition and opposition accused that the committee lacks proper representativeness and voiced dissatisfaction about its work, which further deteriorated the fragile security situation.