A-Wa delivers Yemenite music with a hip-hop beat
A-Wa, a band of three musically talented sisters from Israel, has been steadily gaining a following in the Middle East and Europe. The group brings its dance music to the Skirball Cultural Center on Sept. 25.
Tair, Liron and Tagel Haim (33, 31 and 27, respectively) combine ancient Yemenite melodies from their grandparents’ generation with funky electronic and hip-hop beats. Their band name, the Egyptian Arabic word for “yes,” matches the optimistic and buoyant tone of their fast-paced, catchy pop songs. (And no, they’re not related to the well-known musical sister trio Haim, who hail from the San Fernando Valley.)
Their father’s parents arrived in Israel in 1949 as part of Operation Magic Carpet, which brought 49,000 Jews from Yemen to the new State of Israel. Their mother is of Ukrainian and Moroccan Jewish heritage.
The girls grew up in the small desert town of Shaharut in the far south of Israel. It’s a communal settlement of about 30 families, surrounded by kibbutzim. Their family raised goats, ducks and chickens.
“It was kind of like ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ you know? We used to go barefoot and sing to the wind. We had such a lovely childhood,” Liron said.
The girls discovered music through their parents’ record collection, which ranged from Bob Marley to the Jackson 5. They recall learning about Motown and jazz from an American vocal teacher.
Years later, the sisters all decided to take up music more seriously. They’d been singing traditional Yemenite melodies since childhood, but wanted to give the ancient songs a modern twist, so they sought out a producer. They reached out to Tomer Yosef of the popular Israeli electronic group Balkan Beat Box, who also comes from a Yemenite background.
“We sent him some videos of us — original songs and Yemenite folk songs — and then we started meeting with him and talking about our sound, trying to shape it and talked about the process of recording an album,” Tagel recalled. “We began recording demos in our apartment and sent them to Tomer, and he would leave us notes.”
“Tomer, one day, decided to take our demos and to give it to the Yemenite old women,” Tair, added.
“Like, his ‘tribe,’ he calls it,” Liron said.
“They loved it, and they thought we were from Yemen. Like we were old women from Yemen,” Tair said, with obvious delight.
Yosef reworked the songs to give them a contemporary feel, pulling in like-minded musicians such as Tamir Muskat, Itamar Ziegler, Tom Darom and others. These musicians play contemporary and traditional instruments on tour and on the album, while the sisters sing.
In 2015, A-Wa’s first single, “Habib Galbi,” propelled the sisters into the international spotlight.
“Habib Galbi” means “Love of My Heart,” originally a folk song that they turned into a dance tune. It’s written from the perspective of a woman whose lover has abandoned her. “The women in Yemen couldn’t write or read, and they weren’t allowed to pray with the men. So the only way they could express their feelings and emotions was through those songs. It’s all about their anxieties and difficulties,” Liron said.
The group’s eye-catching video for the song is part of what’s gotten the attention. Shot in their hometown, it shows the girls doing chores while gazing wistfully in the distance. In other scenes, they are wearing flowing pink robes and jetting across sand dunes in a white Jeep, then they dance-battle three young men wearing matching blue Adidas tracksuits. The video has been viewed more than 4 million times on YouTube and became the first song in Arabic to hit No. 1 on the Israeli pop charts.
The sisters’ peaceful and pastoral upbringing may seem surprising given how Israel is usually portrayed in the news these days. It’s also surprising because Mizrahi Jews, who come from Arab or Muslim countries, are often among the poorest and most disenfranchised residents of Israel, and Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East.
While Mizrahim fought for political equality with Ashkenazi Jews for decades, Yemenite music has long had a place in Israel, from Eurovision Contest winner Dana International to the late pop star Ofra Haza. But if you’re not a famous singer, it’s not so easy to be public about your Arab heritage.
But the A-Wa sisters belong to a new generation of Yemini Jews finding inspiration in their Middle Eastern heritage. Other such artists include Shai Tsabari, who sings mostly in Hebrew but with a Yemenite accent; Ravid Kahalani and his band Yemen Blues; and Liron Amram & the Panthers, founded by the son of Aharon Amram (a pioneer of Yemenite music in Israel).
“We get lots of comments from Yemen and Morocco and it’s amazing, that people know that we’re from Israel, and still, they like the music, and they feel connected and they enjoy it,” Tagel said.
Liron, who has a bachelor’s degree in ethnomusicology, discovered a recording of “Habib Galbi” from the 1960s, recorded by the singer Shlomo Moga’av. It was the group’s first time hearing the song, and they were surprised to hear a man singing it; the discovery led them to re-record and reinterpret the song.
“It was like finding a treasure, because these songs that we perform in this album are songs that were created by women in Yemen, and it was like an oral tradition … these songs were only recorded in Israel in the ’50s and ’60s,” Liron said.
A-Wa’s Skirball appearance comes at the end of an eight-stop U.S. tour. They performed at the Echo in Los Angeles in March and followed that show the next day with a set at South by Southwest in Austin.
The Widows’ Plight in Yemen
The civil war in Yemen has been taking its murderous toll for over a year. It has affected virtually every household in some way or another; husbands have been killed, wives have become widows and children have become orphans. According to the United Nations, the death toll has reached more than 8000, half of them civilians. Human rights groups say the true toll is even higher.
Some of the people most badly affected are the widows. When married women with children become widows, they have two choices – to keep their children or to remarry. If they choose to keep their children, they are unlikely to have enough money to support them; if they chose to remarry they lose their children who will be brought up by the in-laws.
What happens in most cases is that widows choose to raise their children, live in poverty and automatically forfeit their right to remarry. While the official mourning period of a widow is 130 days, in effect she is condemned to suffer for the rest of her life.
Here are the stories of some of these women:
Hanan: 'You have no children, I don’t need to give you anything'
A 22-year-old graduate of from Sana’a University with a major in radio and television, Hanan Al-Ajmi suffered grievously when her husband was killed in 2014. Not only did she lose her unborn child, but she has been sorely mistreated by her husband’s family. Her father remains her sole companion and provider.
The Media Line visited her father’s modest home north of the Yemeni capital Sana’a to hear her story. “Where should I start?” she asks. “With the loss of my husband? The loss of my child? My husband’s family’s treatment of me? My current loneliness?”
Hanan continues, “I live in my father’s house, without my husband Mohammed, and without my son who died the same day as his father. I was four months pregnant when I received news of his death, I collapsed, lost consciousness and miscarried.”
What happened next is typical of how Yemeni women are treated when their husbands die.
“Two days after Mohammed’s death, his father comes to the home we shared, takes the keys to his car, his ID and credit cards, and accuses me of stealing the cash my husband had in his bank account.” Her father-in-law refused to help her, claiming that, “since you have no children, I don’t need to give you anything.”
Hanan desperately sought help to allow her to get by until she found a job. She even went to her husband’s place of work.
“I went to Yemen Today TV station, where my husband worked, but they refused to give me his salary, saying that since we had no children, his father and mother would get the salary ($325 per month).
When The Media Line contacted an official at Yemen Today, he contended that Hanan had come to them with no proof that she was the correspondent’s wife.
Hanan says she advised her husband not to work for Yemen Today, which was owned by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and was thus a target of anti-Houthi coalition forces. “But he would not listen to me. He risked his life for his work and now I am alone.”
A widow in Yemen is not deemed desirable marriage material, especially if she has offspring. Even though Hanan has no children, it is unlikely she will find a man of her age. Most widows, no matter what their age, marry older men who take them as second and sometimes even as third wives.
She says that her husband was a man who took pride in what he did and “he always told me that he wanted to become minister of information, but he also said his life was in danger because he worked for a TV station targeted by the Saudi-led coalition.”
Mohammed Shamsan, a broadcaster at Yemen FM radio station and a correspondent for Yemen Today TV, both owned by former President Saleh, was killed by the fall-out from a bombing strike that hit his micro-bus in front of Yemen Today.
According to a report by the International Federation of Journalists, 12 media professionals, including photographers, broadcasters and correspondents, have been killed in Yemen since early 2015.
Ghania: 'My life is over'
Just 25-years-old, Ghania al-Mejalli, whose name means “radiant beauty,” has been shrouded in black since the day her husband Al-Meqdad was killed. Her dark clothes only serve to highlight the pallor of her skin and make her look older than her years. When her husband was alive, she lived in his parents’ home, but since his death she has been living with her father in Sana’a, in the house in which she grew up.
Ghania is still in the official Islamic mourning period for a widow who is required to remain at home and live as simply and modestly as possible.
Tears fall onto the photo she is holding of her husband as she relates her story. “My life is over. Without Meqdad I have nothing, I am nothing” she says, biting her lower lip and brushing away her tears. “Meqdad was my aunt’s son. I married him two years ago, in a traditional ceremony. I did not love him at the beginning, but after we married, I loved him more than any woman has ever loved a husband.”
Meqdad, a free-lance journalist, translator and an avid photographer, who worked for several media outlets including VOA and IRIN, was killed on January 17 in an air strike which targeted a resort-village south of Sana’a.
Ghania relates, “Meqdad used to work for humanitarian organizations and the Houthis threatened to murder him if he continued working in journalism and translating for foreigners. I believe he was targeted by the Saudi-led coalition for reasons unknown to me. He was the only person killed in the air strike.”
Meqdad’s father, mother and three brothers, as well as his wife, relate that he told them he was a target and they should expect his death.
Crying again, Ghania says, “My relationship with Meqdad’s family is very good. I am not going to demand any inheritance from them. I had no children with him so I have no right to demand anything.”
Takiya, Samira and Belquees: Looking after each other
Abdulrahman Al-Ghaimani from Sanhan district in Sana’a Province was killed five months ago in Marib province while fighting for the Houthis against the Saudi-led coalition. He left behind three widows and seven orphans who all live in difficult circumstances after their sole provider died in the brutal war.
The three women try to survive by selling items they produce and farming their land. They refused to remarry because they would lose custody of their children, so they decided to face life together as a team.
The first wife, named Takiya, meaning “pious” in Arabic, grew up in Sana’a Province without a formal education. She married Ghaimani, her cousin, 10 years ago. When he died she was in her forties and was considered too old to remarry. She became the head of her extended family and their main provider. She sells bread and firewood in Sana’a city to help make ends meet.
Because Takiya was unable to bear children, Ghaimani married a second wife from Ibb Province named Samira, now in her thirties, who studied till the sixth grade. She has two daughters who make janbiya belts for the daggers which Yemeni men must wear on special occasions.
The youngest and third wife Belqees is from Old City of Sana’a city. She bore Ghaimani three boys and two daughters, her eldest son is six. She tries to help support her family by making clothes. She was successful at this until the electricity supply failed several months ago and fuel became too expensive to be able to run a generator.
Ghaimani was a rich sheikh who made a comfortable living from several farms he owned. He also had additional income from resolving tribal conflicts. All the women still live in one house and there is a strong bond between them, which is very rare for women in their position.
However, because of the desperate situation in the country the family is in such dire straits that they make do with the simplest and cheapest foods, such as porridge with chili.
Their cousins, sons of their late husband’s brother, are trying to take everything from them – not a surprising occurrence in Yemen. There a numerous cases of distant relatives attempting to usurp the property of the deceased, especially when the person who stands to inherit is a female.
Though this family owns several properties which could easily be turned into income they haven't managed to accomplish this because they lack the knowledge and skills to do so. Their life experience consists of being housewives. This is the case with many rural women.
Ironically, traditional-minded men, who believe in jihad against the Saudis or combating the shame of being invaded by other countries, end up as casualties of the civil war. Meaning there is no shortage of widows who are left to face life on their own without ever being trained to do so.
Can a united community still work miracles? Ask the Yemenite Jews
Passover is a time for family, for tradition, and for festive celebration. It’s also a time to fix a paradox.
As we read the Haggadah, we reflect on our past travails and miraculous redemption as a Jewish people. But if we look only at the past we risk overlooking the incredible ways in which the cycle of Jewish history continues today. Only at our peril can we ignore the continuing Jewish story of persecution, redemption, and extraordinary achievement, or fail to recognize the role each and every one of us plays — individually and collectively — in the ongoing saga.
A poignant reminder of this was the clandestine final rescue and immigration to Israel, or aliyah, of 19 Yemenite Jews completed on March 20. Among them was the rabbi of the Jewish community of Raydah, who brought a Torah scroll believed to be more than 500 years old, and the son of Aharon Zindani, who was murdered in an anti-Semitic attack in 2012 .
This wasn’t the first nor the last time, given the dangerous era we live in, when unified, collective action through a strong and effective federation system meant the difference between life and death for Jews in peril. In this case it was the Jewish Agency for Israel — an organization funded and governed by almost 300 Jewish community federations worldwide in partnership with the government of Israel — that took the lead, with help from Israeli intelligence and the U.S. State Department.
Our liturgy says of the Exodus, which we celebrate at Passover, that God rescued the Jewish people “with a strong hand and an outstretched arm …” When it comes to rescuing Jews from jihadist terror and Muslim sectarian war in Yemen, from discrimination in Ethiopia or from a gathering storm of anti-Jewish violence in Europe, we know it is our duty to lend our own strong hands and outstretched arms.
Thank God we have the strength, unity and Jewish independence needed to take our fate into our own hands to the extent that we can. The rescue of the Yemenite Jews is one case in point.
Which brings me to another Passover paradox: What is the meaning of the “wicked son” — the person who stands aloof from the story, separating himself from the collective — in this time of fraying Jewish unity?
To me, today’s wicked sons are the men and women who, knowingly or not, dismantle the very unity that enables the noble work of Jewish rescue and redemption, and the building up of the land, to continue.
Disagreements among Jews, while nothing new, are becoming more frequent, visible and potentially more costly than ever. Jews not only are mirroring the increasingly partisan and contentious discourse of our broader American body politic, but also are finding additional reasons to squabble and snipe — accusing one another of not caring about what is best for Israel, having the wrong Jewish values or having no Jewish values whatsoever.
These reactions, which both reflect and fuel the divisions among us, can’t be healthy for a minority that represents just 2.2 percent of the U.S. population. This divisiveness is making Jewish communal life more stressful and threatens to paralyze our ability to act collectively, our most potent mode of action.
If there is one lesson we need to learn from the recent Yemeni rescue, it’s the need to preserve that most at-risk Jewish value and asset: communal unity.
No single community, no single donor, not even the State of Israel, on its own could have rescued the Jews of Yemen. It took a global Jewish community to do it. A global community that, despite all our differences, still feels inexorably connected to one another and acts upon that unity in life-saving ways.
This Passover, as we sit down to seder with family and friends, let’s remember that the work of redemption is not complete, and that the work requires not only divine grace but also our own strong hands and outstretched arms. Let us strive to be wise, not wicked, in our attitudes and dealings with one another. Let us be mindful, as the rescue of our Yemenite brothers and sisters shows, that our actions have consequences.
Dr. Steven B. Nasatir is president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and an associate member of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors.
Women and armed conflict: A need for a united resolution not a UN resolution
This article originally appeared on The Media Line.
The turmoil engulfing the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) today is at one of its most vicious and aggressive phases. It would seem that everywhere you look around there is a state falling apart, a nation being divided, an economy collapsing and most of all chaos and terrorism. What’s worse is the fragmentation of the social texture, which unlike infrastructure and governments, will take decades to heal.
Despite its significance, not many politicians or decision makers are prioritizing or even acknowledging the effects of conflict on culture and societies. There are the immediate concerns of deaths, injuries, displacement, food insecurity and other humanitarian emergencies, and there is the long term issue of rebuilding state institutions and putting sound political systems in place. What about the people? Aren’t they the ones who are supposed to do all that, from rebuilding the economy to enforcing and respecting the law?
According to a survey by the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research (HIIK); compared to seven violent crises in the region in 2005, the number has risen to 32 in 2014. And according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, conflict forcefully placed nearly 60 million persons by end of 2014, either Internally Displaced or as refugees. With the numbers of civilian causalities increasing exponentially it becomes obvious that whatever MENA politicians are trying to do to stabilize the region is not working, that is, if they are indeed trying to do something about it rather than being the reason behind it.
Hence, comes to play the role of women as peace builders. A 2015 research highlighted in the Global Study commissioned by UN Women under the title “Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing the Peace” emphasized the role of women in improving humanitarian assistance, peace keeping efforts and economic recovery. This study comes 15 years after the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) issued its 1325 resolution on women and armed conflict (issued in October 2000) which was created after the issuing of four similar resolutions on children and armed conflict (Resolution 1261 issued in August 1999 and Resolution 1314 issued in August 2000) and civilians and armed conflict (Resolution 1265 issued in September 1999 and Resolution 1296 issued in April 2000).
The United Nations Peace Keeping agency states that this resolution “stresses the importance of women’s equal and full participation as active agents in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace-building and peacekeeping. It calls on member states to ensure women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, and urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspective in all areas of peace building.”
Since the Beijing Declaration and its Platform of action in 1995 it took women’s movements and gender activists five years to lobby for a resolution at the international level, one that would respect and facilitate the positive involvement of women in the peace process, hence the 1325 resolution in 2000. Eight years later, the UNSC issued another resolution on women and armed conflict (Resolution 1820 issued in June 2008) which “reinforces Resolution 1325 and highlights that sexual violence in conflict constitutes a war crime and demands parties to armed conflict to immediately take appropriate measures to protect civilians from sexual violence.” This was in turn followed by a two resolutions in 2009 (Resolutions 1888 and Resolution 1989 issued in September and October 2009 respectively) which aimed at “further strengthening of women's participation in peace processes and the development of indicators to measure progress on Resolution 1325..” These was again followed by another resolution (Resolution 1960) in December 2010 and two more three years later (Resolution 2106 and 2122 issued on June and October 2013 respectively) re-endorsing all the previous resolutions and inviting the Secretary-General to review resolution 1325’s implementation.
At the international level, the UN Security Council has adopted seven resolutions on Women Peace and Security. Source UN Peace Keeping:
Year of adaptation
Although the UNSC and its member states unanimously endorsed the various resolutions on women and armed conflict while acknowledging the fact that women were deliberately shunned away from the warfare paradigm, in reality not much has been done to follow up on these promises. In his article in the 2010 NATO Review on women and conflict, Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury who was led the initiative on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in his role as President of the Security Council expressed his disappointment at not living up to the promise. His article under the title “10 years on, the promises to women need to be kept” he says that the main point is not to make wars safe for women, but rather not to have wars in the first place by structuring the peace process in a way that prevents future conflicts. He says, “That is why women need to be at the peace tables, involved in the decision-making and in peace-keeping teams. They need to be there particularly as civilians, to make a real difference in transitioning from the cult of war to the culture of peace.”
It is not the lack of UN resolutions or international treaties that undermine the important role of women in armed conflict whether representing their best interest as victims or seriously acknowledging their contributions to peace building and conflict resolution. It is rather the lack of political will and adequate practices in peace building processes which are almost always are exclusively managed by men; that is the problem. Although in theory, there is slight improvement in the referencing of women in peace agreements. The same global study by UN Women marking 15 years since the resolution indicated that only eleven percent of signed peace agreements referenced women, a percentage that has increased to 27 percent since 2000. Naturally it is gravely inadequate to reduce women’s involvement in the peace process to a percentage of agreements where women were referenced.
There are many stories that illustrate how involvement of women in conflict resolution and peace keeping could prove significantly useful to sustaining the peace and catering to the minorities especially from a cultural perspective. Women have an innate skill in attending to the social fabrics of the society being the nurturers and the consensus builders. There are examples of heroic peace building efforts by women in conflict zones in the MENA region itself such as in Palestinian-Israel conflict, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and beyond. These stories remain of no interest to most media and decision makers who fail to see the real value of women in such turbulent times. Consider this alternative scenario of the MENA region: If at least one third if not half of the participants in the peace processes were women, would the results be any different? Would there be more peace in the region? My answer is definitely yes. Why not give women a chance to contribute to stability, after all, men have been doing it for a long time and a new way of thinking is long due.
Nadia Al-Sakkaf is a researcher and independent journalist. She was Yemen’s first Information Minister in the 2014 cabinet and the Editor of Yemen Times for nine years before that.
End of the Houthis?
This artice first appeared on The Media Line.
Thirteen months ago the Iranian-backed Houthi stormed into Sana’a taking control over large swathes of Yemen in the process. Attempts between the group and the incumbent President Abd Rabu Mansur Hadi to cooperate eventually collapsed leading to the premier’s escape into exile in February of this year. An air campaign led by Saudi Arabia followed, reversing much of the territorial gains made by the Shi’ite militia.
As a result the Houthi have recently announced that its fighters will withdraw from the remaining territory they hold, signaling what could be the beginning of the end of the country’s civil war. The Media Line spoke to Yemenis and representatives of the group to ask them what they believed had been achieved in the year-long Houthi rule.
The group’s first achievement was in preventing Saudi Arabia from breaking Yemen into numerous small regions, Abu Mohammed Al-Marwani, a Houthi leading figure, told The Media Line. “We are fighting a war to define the fate of Yemen: either we escape (Saudi) control or remain slaves to them. We are determined to defeat them in order to have the right to decide our destiny,” Al-Marwani said.
The Houthi commander also claimed that his organization had contributed to the fight against al-Qa’ida by pushing the group into the province of Hadramout.
“The US and other parties were able to kill the leader of al-Qa’ida in Yemen, Nasser Al-Wuhaishi. If we had not cornered them in Hadramout, America would not have been able to kill him,” Al-Marwani argued. The local franchise of the jihadist organization, known as al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was for some time considered the most dangerous branch of the Sunni extremist network, having attempted a number of sophisticated bomb attacks against US interests.
Al-Marwani added that his organization had done much to reduce banditry in Yemen which previously plagued rural roads and had tackled corruption within government ministries.
“The Houthi made a huge mistake when they entered Sana’a at gunpoint and turned against the government,” Hussam Murshed Badi, an expert who follows armed organizations, told The Media Line. Badi accused the Houthi of orchestrating an energy crisis and of allowing a black market to flourish in order to provide back channel funds to its fighters. As part of this process all gas stations were closed down so that demand on the illegal market, and thus prices would soar, Badi alleged.
“We used to accuse the former regime of corruption,’ he said. “But those (the Houthis), the least we can call them is thieves. They have made millions of people homeless and hundreds of thousands unemployed.’
While Badi conceded that the Houthi did help suppress AQAP in some parts of the country, he suggested that elsewhere the group had expanded. Its enemies distracted and fighting each other, al-Qa’ida rearmed and expanded in the Hadramout area, Badi said.
“It’s true that the Houthis have caused destruction, but if they were given a chance, they would have achieved things,” Mohammed Al-Anesi, a citizen in Sana’a, told The Media Line.
Mohammed Al-Qadri, another resident of Sana’a, agreed with Al-Anesi describing an incident where his taxi, his primary source of income, was stolen at gun point by ten armed men. Local police refused to help Al-Qadri retrieve his automobile. But when the Houthi arrived in the city they quickly enacted justice, Al-Qadri said, explaining, “I got my car back and the bandits were detained.”
Other Yemenis support the Houthi not for their appreciation of the group or its ideology but because of a desire to hit back at Saudi Arabia, who they see as an aggressor towards their country.
“The Houthis are the cause of all the blights of Yemen… but I am fighting for them right now, (because) we have a common enemy – Saudi Arabia,” Mujahid Al-Anesi, a resident of Dhamar, told The Media Line. Women, children and elderly people being killed by Saudi bombs had motivated Al-Anesi to fight against the Saudis, but later it would be the turn of the Houthi, the fighter said.
“There is an old Yemeni proverb that says my cousin and I are enemies until the stranger comes, and then we fight him together,” Al-Anesi explained.
Several citizens said they were not originally sympathetic to Houthi rule but had come around to supporting the group due to their anger at Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Some individuals have even joined the fighters of the Houthi as a result.
The Houthi declared that they will withdraw from Sana’a and relinquish territory previously taken in order to end the suffering of the people of Yemen, Mohammed Al-Bukhaiti, a member of the organization’s political office, told The Media Line. The Houthi will comply with the United Nations’ Security Council (UNSC) directive 2216 providing it is overseen by the UN itself, Al-Bukhaiti said.
“We made concessions to end the suffering of Yemenis caused by the Saudi bombardment that spared nothing and no one,” the Houthi political officer declared.
However an exclusive source within Prime Minister Khaled Mahafoudh Bahah’s cabinet divulged to The Media Line that the government had no faith in the Houthi’s word.
“The legitimate government does not believe the Houthi, therefore (President) Hadi’s government and the coalition will condition that their forces replace the Houthi’s to ensure that the latter’s forces will actually withdraw,” the source said.
At U.N., Yemen accuses Iran of pursuing its destruction
Yemen's president accused Iran on Tuesday of pursuing the destruction of his country, where government forces and a Saudi Arabia-led coalition are fighting Tehran-backed rebels.
Speaking at the United Nations, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi thanked Saudi King Salman for acting with “utter determination” by leading an air campaign by Gulf states against Houthi rebels, who seized the capital, Sanaa, a year ago.
The Houthis took over much of the country, forcing Hadi's government to flee to Riyadh, the Saudi capital. The Gulf-backed forces recaptured Aden in July before pushing north, allowing Hadi to return to his country last week.
Those forces are now preparing for a thrust against Sanaa.
“We find ourselves mixed in this battle, this fight for the country and the legitimacy of the state to ensure that the country not fall into the hands of Iran, which would like to see the destruction of the country,” Hadi told the annual U.N. General Assembly gathering of world leaders.
The Houthis, part of a Shi'ite Muslim minority in Yemen, are backed by Shi'ite-dominated Iran, Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia's regional power rivla.
The United Nations has designated Yemen as one of its highest-level humanitarian crises, placing it alongside emergencies in South Sudan, Syria and Iraq. It says more than 21 million people in Yemen need help, or about 80 percent of the population.
Yemen relies on imports, but a near-total blockade led by Saudi Arabia has slowed shipments to the Arabian Peninsula country to a trickle. The Arab coalition is inspecting shipments in a bid to thwart any arms deliveries to the Houthis.
Hadi blamed the Houthis for the humanitarian crisis.
“You are aware of the human tragedy of our people, and this is due to the blockade imposed by the militias,” he said.
The Iran mission to the United Nations was not immediately available to comment on Hadi's remarks.
Rouhani says Iran ready to help bring democracy to Syria, Yemen
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday that Tehran was ready to help bring democracy to war-torn Syria and Yemen, and blamed the spread of terrorism in the Middle East on the United States.
In a speech to the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York, Rouhani said Iran was prepared to assist in “the eradication of terrorism and in paving the way for democracy”.
“As we aided the establishment of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are prepared to help bring about democracy in Syria and also Yemen,” said Rouhani.
Tehran has provided military and financial support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the four-year war against rebels, and supports Houthi rebels fighting for power in Yemen.
Rouhani, who has said previously that Iran would back the Syrian nation and Assad “until the end of the road,” did not mention the Syrian president's name in his speech.
Anti-Assad rebels enjoy the support of Saudi Arabia, Shi'ite-led Iran's regional rival.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday offered different views on how to resolve the Syrian crisis. But Obama said he was willing to work with Russia and Iran to end it.
Rouhani blamed the crisis in the Middle East on what he characterized as the United States' occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq as well as what he said was Washington's support for Israel against Palestine.
“If we did not have the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the U.S.'s unwarranted support for the inhumane actions of the Zionist regime against the oppressed nation of Palestine, today the terrorists would not have an excuse for the justification of their crimes,” he said.
Rouhani praised the nuclear deal reached in July between Iran and major world powers, which will lift economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran curbing its nuclear program.
“The deal is a brilliant example of victory over war that has managed to disperse the clouds of hostility and perhaps even the specter of another war and extensive tensions from the Middle East,” Rouhani said.
He criticized the “incompetence and mismanagement of those in charge” of the haj tragedy in Saudi Arabia, in which more than 700 Muslim pilgrims were killed, including many Iranians.
Rouhani is cutting his U.N. trip short, returning to Teheran later on Monday to take part in ceremonies for the return of the bodies of Iranian pilgrims killed in the tragedy.
Fighting for good grades
This article originally appeared on The Media Line.
A recently leaked document written by the Houthi Supreme Revolutionary Council highlighted this phenomenon. According to the text, sent to The Media Line from a source within the Ministry of Education, exam boards have been ordered to give any student who misses exams while fighting for Houthi, a final grade of between 75% and 90%.
“I preferred to fight for the Houthi than to take my exams. This way I’m sure to pass,” Abdulsalam Al-Mawri, a student from the government controlled province of Dhamar, told The Media Line. The teenager expected to fail his exams after his studies suffered during the conflict and so decided that fighting was a better option. “Although I am not a Houthi… the orders to the education ministry convinced me to join them,” Al-Mawri said.
But not everyone agreed. “Taking the exams is better than dying in a fight that I have no stake in,” Hussam Ali Shabeg, a twelfth-grader, told The Media Line. “It is true that school was bad because of the fighting but for me taking the exams is the best choice even if I get a low grade,” Shabeg said.
Ismail Zaidan, the information officer at the Ministry of Education, told The Media Line that the document was false. However a second, more senior, official within the ministry confirmed that the document had been published and it is titled “Classified: To Be Implemented.”
“The document is real, it has been approved, and the names were documented (in the ministry). It’s a Houthi announcement aiming to drag the rest of the students into the battlefields,” the official, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Media Line.
He estimated that up to 500 students, some age 15 and other age 18, had taken advantage of the deal and gone to fight for the Houthis, which took over the country after elected President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi fled the country in March, 2015.
It was not clear how the exact grade would be determined, as the document calls for a range. Seventy-five is the lowest score needed to get into a public university, which costs thousands of dollars less than a public university. Students need an 85 to get accepted to medicine, the most selective course of study.
Houthi representatives were quick to deny the information.
“The enemies of Ansar Allah (another name for the Houthis) are fabricating such propaganda,” Najib Al-Weshali, a leading figure within the group, told The Media Line. Al-Weshali would not comment on why there had been a recent surge in the number of students wishing to join the Houthi.
For the majority of students who do not become fighters, taking exams during wartime is stressful.
“We are terrified – some of us pass out, others are fatigued,” Abir Mahdi Senan, a student told The Media Line. “Sometimes we cannot write the answer, we just cry throughout the entire exam, fearing we will be bombed.”
The examination hall where 18-year-old Senan is taking her final end of school tests is in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, and currently the focus of the country’s civil war. The neighborhood of Hadda, where Senan studies, has been under continuous airstrikes since the beginning of operations by the Saudi Arabian led coalition – in part because a number of Houthi fighters live there.
“Our exams were supposed to be postponed, or a truce should have been called until the assessments are over,” Senan told The Media Line. “We have seen enough horror for a life time – we do not even know how to answer the questions because of the noises of raids and explosions (outside),” the pupil said. Many students are under extreme psychological pressure as a result of the conflict and do not receive enough sleep to make studying viable, Senan added.
Preparations for an attack on Sana’a by anti-Houthi forces have increased in recent weeks, including large numbers of airstrikes by the coalition of Sunni-Gulf states. As a result the Ministry of Education relocated over 30 examination halls away from areas near to Houthi positions targeted by coalition aircraft.
“Examinations are taking place under very difficult circumstances, numerous students have suffered from fits or extreme fatigue due to bombardments. This is especially true in Sana’a, which witnessed violent bombardment since the beginning of the month,” Ismail Zaidan, information officer at the Ministry of Education, told The Media Line.
In some areas examination halls have been relocated on a daily basis according to the intensity of airstrikes in each neighborhood, Zaidan said. Of the 23 provinces in Yemen 16 are holding exams – the remainder have had tests postponed until November or cancelled altogether in districts hardest hit.
Generally exams are held in schools, but some schools are being used to store weapons or food for fighters. This has led to a number of schools being destroyed during the conflict. In the coming days more than half a million students are expected to take their final papers. A further 300,000 are expected to miss their assessments due to the effects of the war.
As previously reported by The Media Line an unknown number of children, possibly in the thousands, are taking part in the conflict in Yemen. Many are used as fighters by the Houthi, others as guards at checkpoints. The UN estimated that nearly one in three fighters in the war are under aged.
Preparing to invade Sana’a, Hadi’s forces amass hundreds of armored vehicles
This article first appeared on The Media Line.
Dozens of families are fleeing Sana’a in response to a military buildup in preparation for the expected invasion of Yemen’s capital, a battle which could prove pivotal in the country’s ongoing civil war. Forces loyal to exiled President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi have amassed hundreds of armored vehicles and thousands of fighters in an effort to recapture the Yemeni capital, seized by the Houthi twelve months ago, according to fighters who support Hadi.
Civilians began to evacuate the city in early August with most seeking refuge in neighboring governorates or in rural areas. At present it is unclear whether the battle will go ahead or if Hadi will push for a political settlement, which would likely see the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Houthi withdrawing from Sana’a.
“My home is in… the middle of Sana’a, an area that has a mostly Houthi population. If battles are to start it will last in (my) neighborhood for a while, the Houthis are already barricading themselves in,” Ali Muhammed Al-Mulaiki, 55, a local man who fled the city and was travelling westwards, told The Media Line. “I have a family of five, I sent them to my parents in Mahweet. As for me, I will go back to protect my home from looters and from any fighters who might decide to barricade themselves inside it,” Al-Mulaiki explained.
“I have lived in my house for 25 years, I never thought that a day would come in which I would have to leave it – it took me 10 years to build,” Al-Mulaiki said, adding that he took no side in the conflict and merely hopes that his family’s property will survive the fighting unscathed.
The Houthi captured Sana’a a year ago following limited fighting which lasted for three days and left dozens dead. This time, if the Houthi choose to try to hold the city against Hadi’s forces, it is likely the battle for the city will last far longer with pitched street by street fighting. This would lead to greater levels of destruction to the city of two million people than had been seen previously.
The loss of the city would be a crucial blow to the Houthi and could mark a turning point in the war.
A conglomeration of tribal militias, fighters from the south and military personnel loyal to Hadi have begun training in preparation for the attack, fighters say. The Saudi-led coalition has supplied the troops with hundreds of armored personnel carriers and tanks, along with trainers, advisors and other non-combat troops.
Leaders from within the alliance confirmed to The Media Line that Hadi’s forces are preparing first for a political solution and that only if this fails will the invasion of Sanaa’ go ahead.
The military option is ready, Abdul Majid Al-Ghawi, a leading figure in Marib province’s anti-Houthi fighters, and the head of Yemen’s largest tribe, the Hashed, told The Media Line. He said an entire brigade is being trained in Hadramout, a unit which will be tasked with liberating the provinces of Sana’a, Dhamar, Amran, Sa’da and Mahweet.
“The coalition with their vehicles and planes, the Hadi-loyal Yemeni army and the tribal fighters … will participate in the battle to free Azal Region,” the tribal leader said. The amount of hardware amassed would make victory likely, Al-Ghawi said.
“We have received 400 tanks, armored vehicles, personnel carriers, minesweepers, rocket launching vehicles, in addition to dozens of Apache (helicopters).”
In addition a military airfield is being constructed to allow warplanes to participate in the operation. These reinforcements will be used to capture Sana’a but will subsequently go on to move into adjacent provinces, Al-Ghawi said.
“There is a plan to enter Sana’a but I cannot fully disclose it (for operational security reasons), but the key component is that the attack will begin from three different directions,” a second leader from the anti-Houthi fighters, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Media Line. The invasion will be staged from the north, west and south, with troops attacking from the west supported by naval vessels, the source said.
“We are ready to break into Sana’a and liberate it anytime… we are over 15,000 fighters including the army and the popular resistance forces,” Abdulrahman Al-Haisi, a soldier from a brigade loyal to President Hadi, told The Media Line.
The Houthi, along with their ally former President Ali Saleh and elements of the national army loyal to him, are preparing for a long-term battle in Sana’a. Thousands of fighters have been spread throughout the mountains surrounding Sana’a and tunnels and trenches have been dug near the entrances to the city, according to information received by The Media Line. Defenses have also been constructed within the perimeter of the city’s international airport.
A number of Houthi fighters removed their families from the city, seen as further indication of preparation for the upcoming battle.
“If the coalition tries to enter Sana’a there will be thousands of deaths, they want a sea of blood if they are coming into Sana’a,” Safwan Al-Marwani, a leading figure within the Houthi, told The Media Line. Al-Marwani refused to comment further.
There are indications that negotiations have taken place in Oman between representatives of President Hadi and the Houthi, with the aim of avoiding further fighting. The talks, which commenced in June, are aimed at persuading the Houthi to surrender and withdraw from the capital.
“It appears that we will avoid war in Sana’a because the tribes surrounding the city decided to join Hadi’s side – therefore there is more hope that Sana’a will be regained peacefully,” Nadia Al-Sakkaf, the Minister of Information in Hadi’s cabinet, told The Media Line.
The tribes who live in the areas around Sana’a are seen as a key broker in any future battle for the city as they control the roads in an out of the city.
Brigadier Ahmed Asiri, spokesperson for the Saudi led coalition refused to comment on the issues discussed in this story, expressing the need to maintain operational security.
Growing number of civilians being killed at Houthi security checkpoints
This article originally appeared on The Media Line.
A string of killings linked to Houthi fighters have been blamed on the group’s use of underage fighters to man security checkpoints. More than 100 deaths in Sana’a have been attributed as accidental killings – people killed by stray fire or shot due to a misunderstanding.
The fact that shortages of manpower are causing the Houthi to use child fighters at checkpoints throughout their territory appears to be contributing to the number of people killed accidentally.
After following up rumors of accidental killings linked to security roadblocks The Media Line has learned that the phenomenon is a common problem according to both the fighters operating the roadblocks and some of the families of victims of indiscriminate fire.
Accidental deaths have become so common at checkpoints in Sana’a that the traditional practice of giving rifles to an aggrieved family as compensation for an unintended slaying has become the main recourse for dealing with a death in such circumstances. According to the rules of tribal arbitration, if the family of the victim is not satisfied with the compensation then they can ask for “an eye for an eye” or financial redress.
In one such incident Bashir Al-Waqedi, a building contractor, was killed simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. “The Houthis came and fired randomly at people at a gas station,” said Mohammed
Al-Waqedi, who explained that the fighters fired indiscriminately outside a gas station because they believed an Al-Qa’ida suspect had mingled among the crowd gathered there. Mohammed’s brother was killed and two other men injured.
Mohammed confirmed that his family met with fighters from the checkpoint and that the whole incident had been brushed aside. “We had no choice,” he said.
“They recruit children who know nothing but to fire randomly [at people] at the checkpoints”, said Abdulaziz Al-Nuzaili, whose cousin was killed by a Houthi soldier’s gun at a checkpoint in Sana’a. Omar Al-Nuzaili was 27 and just four months away from being married. Abdulaziz explained how his cousin had worked as a qat dealer and so was rushing to get to market early in the morning. This cost him his life as a 16-year-old boy manning the checkpoint opened fire and struck Omar twice in the chest, killing him instantly.
When Abdulaziz Al-Nuzaili and his family went to the checkpoint to recover the body of their relative they were told that the death had been accidental and were offered two rifles as recompense. The Houthi fighters told Abdulaziz that they would not release the body or admit fault unless the family agreed to forgive the killing and take the offered price.
“We accepted the two rifles and told them that we forgave them,” Abdulaziz said, explaining that his family then went to one of the Houthi’s offices nearby and complained. In response the fighters from the checkpoint were moved to duties outside of Sana’a.
A day after Omar Al-Nuzaili was killed, Aisha Al-Haimi, a human rights activist and English language teacher was shot at another of Sana’a’s checkpoint.
“Aisha and I were on our way to break our fasting at a relative’s house, our car was being inspected,” said Nabil Al-Khader, Aisha’s husband. Fighters from the checkpoint tried to stop a passing motorbike by firing towards it – “One bullet hit my wife’s back, entering her lungs.”
Children from the checkpoint had rushed over to the dying woman and her husband and had apologized explaining that they had been aiming towards the suspected individual on the motorbike. This did not help Aisha, who was rushed to hospital and underwent surgery but succumbed to her wounds two days later.
Underage fighters recruited by the Houthi undergo some training before being distributed to a checkpoint or, if they show fighting ability, being sent to one of the front lines in Yemen or on the Saudi border.
“I am 17-years-old, I have been with the Houthis in this checkpoint for the past two months, I joined them about four months ago,” Asil Al-Zaiydi, a teen fighter stationed at a checkpoint in the south of Sana’a, said. During the fighters’ two months of training, the young men learned religious teachings, manners for interacting with people and how to use a weapon, and following this they are sent to man checkpoints, Al-Zaiydi said.
“But because our training period is so short, some of us just don’t understand fast enough, and all they learn is how to shoot,” Al-Zaiydi explained.
“We are humans, we make mistakes, but rarely,” one teen, nicknamed Abu Gaza, told The Media Line. Gaza, stationed in the east of the city, described the difficulty in controlling and searching all the people who pass through the checkpoint. “Sometimes a person who was not inspected or committed a violation escapes into the moving traffic – it’s difficult to locate him, forcing us to shoot at him.” If a fighter accidentally kills a civilian they are sent to another checkpoint or to fight on the war fronts, Gaza said.
When there is a case of accidental killing the shooter is always investigated, whether or not they are a member of the Houthi, Najib Al-Weshali, one of the group’s leading figures, told The Media Line. Actions are taken against shooters and victim’s families are compensated, Al-Weshali said.
Widespread use of child fighters is common throughout Houthi controlled territory, not just in Sana’a, explained journalist Muad Al-Jalidi. Minors are trained in the use of weapons and the techniques for stopping and inspecting vehicles and travelers, Al-Jalidi said. Further accidental deaths were highly likely due to the unsuitability of children for such military tasks, the journalist predicted.
“The responsibility for involving children in the conflict lies with the Houthi and other armed groups in Yemen,” Jamal Al-Shami, head of a charitable Democratic School in Sana’a, told The Media Line. These groups tempt children into bearing arms with stories of patriotism and national duty, Al-Shami said, and due to the levels of poverty in the country and the closure of schools since the outbreak of violence this rhetoric works.
More citizens are going to die as a result of underage fighters, Al-Shami believes, adding that his charitable organization had contacted the Houthi to ask them to cease recruiting children. The shi’ite group did not respond, Al-Shami said.
In 2007, Yemen signed a UN agreement guaranteeing the removal of all teenagers from its armed forces.
Fear and uncertainty in Yemen’s Mosques
This article originally appeared on The Media Line.
SANA'A – One hour after each prayer session must be dedicated to condemning Saudi Arabia’s air campaign. Imams in all mosques will preach sermons advocating key principles, and will not deviate from the prescribed message.
These are several of the new measures being enforced by the Houthi, the armed Shi’ite faction that has taken control of much of Yemen. Previously The Media Line has reported how the group has used restrictions on the press and wanted-lists to intimidate the population into conforming to its ideals: now it appears that mosques are the next tool.
Since the Houthi took control of Sana’a in September of last year it has imposed its religious and sectarian doctrine over the city, bringing Yemen’s capital into line with the cities the group already controlled in the north of the country. Any individuals resisting the group’s religious tenets are reportedly condemned as either infidels or affiliates of the Islamic State (ISIS).
The most recent diktat from the Shi’ite faction is that following each evening’s prayers in the mosque radio broadcasts, beseeching God to damn the Saudi led air campaign, are played from the city’s minarets.
“Controlling the mosques was a priority for the Houthis upon entering Sana’a,” Qaid Mohammed Qaid, director of the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Guidance, told The Media Line. “The ministry, like all other ministries, is under the Houthis control, which is a normal thing in this period,” he said, rather nervously.
Qaid admitted that the acting minister for the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Guidance had been put in place by the Houthi and that a number of imams had been selected by the group to preach in key mosques.
Houthi fighters came to the mosque and forcibly installed a speaker, Hassan Mahdi, imam of Al-Nour Mosque, told The Media Line. The speaker plays during the evening between the Maghreb and Ashaa (the fourth and fifth call to prayers) and airs Sam FM broadcasts, Mahdi said. Sam FM is a radio station affiliated with the Houthi.
“In the beginning we rejected this and tried to stop it, but they forced it on us – their gunmen entered the mosque,” Mahdi explained, adding that once the broadcast started and he realized it was prayer recital he was less concerned, “that made it less invasive to us”.
Imams throughout Sana’a have received instructions from the Houthi dictating to them a list of subjects which must be preached during Friday prayers. Sermons on Friday are the most important in the Muslim week and will be attended by the largest number of worshipers. No preacher would violate the Houthi's orders, Mahdi explained, adding that on more than one occasion an imam has been pulled down from the pulpit and replaced by a Houthi speaker.
Some residents have been angered at the increased noise. “Previously around this time of day we used to hear nothing from the mosques,” Adullah Al-Wejrah, a resident whose local mosque now sports the new Houthi speakers, told The Media Line. “Even if there was a sermon, the sound would be limited to the inside of the mosque and not outside it. Right now we hear the noise from every mosque annoying the neighbors and the passersby,” he complained.
Other Yemenites were angered at the use of mosques as a show of control over the capital. “By imposing this, the Houthi wants to send a message: that it controls all mosques in Sana’a and that people should pray for it (in its fight) against the Arab-coalition,” Radhwan Al-Matari, a resident of the capital, told The Media Line. “It uses the House’s of God, for its own political interests and personal gains – using religion and mosques, this is unacceptable.”
Al-Matari was most chagrined by the inclusion of prayers wishing for the damnation of the Saudis in Sam FM’s broadcasts. Under Islamic custom, a Muslim should not pray for a person’s – even an enemy’s – damnation, as this would deny him God’s mercy if it were granted.
But not all residents of Sana’a objected to the changes in the city’s mosques. “We have reached a point that we feel helpless, and the only thing we can do is pray and call on God to help us,” Majid Al-Nehim, a local resident, told The Media Line. “It is a beautiful thing that all mosques in Sana’a be united in broadcasting Sam FM’s prayers,” Al-Nehim said, asking why anybody would deny a group the right to pray to God as a community.
Any recent amendments to the way prayers were conducted in Sana’a’s mosques were completely voluntary, Mohammed Al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Houthi's political office, told The Media Line. “There is no obligation to participate in the hour of prayers against the Saudi aggression – it’s a personal initiative from groups of young men who suggested to their imams that they cooperate with us by broadcasting Sam FM’s radio channel.” No punishment will be directed at imams or mosques that choose not to take part, Al-Bukhaiti added.
Significantly, an expected ban on the Tarawih prayer to coincide with the start of Ramadan has not taken place. The Tarawih is not conducted by Shi’ite Muslims, as it was not introduced by the Prophet Mohammed himself, and so there was widespread concern among Yemen’s Sunni that the Houthi would ban it for the start of Ramadan. If a ban had been imposed it might have had significant implications for sectarian relations in the country.
Although the Houthi does not consider the Tarawih to have any basis in Islam it did not ban the prayer, Al-Bukhaiti said, because its fighters believed in religious freedoms.
Al-Qaeda deputy leader killed in U.S. bombing in Yemen
The deputy leader of al-Qaeda, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, has been killed in a U.S. bombing in Yemen, the group and the White House said on Tuesday, removing the director of a string of attacks against the West and a man once seen as a successor to leader Ayman al-Zawahri.
A close associate of Osama bin Laden in the years leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, Wuhayshi, a Yemeni in his late 30s, was named by Zawahri as al-Qaeda's effective number two in 2013.
With a $10 million price on his head offered by U.S. authorities, Wuhayshi was also leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and his death potentially weakens the group, widely seen as the militant network's strongest branch.
He led the group as it plotted foiled bomb attacks against international airliners and claimed responsibility for the deadly shooting at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, calling it punishment for insulting the Prophet Mohammed.
Senior AQAP member Khaled Batarfi said in a video statement posted online that Wuhayshi “passed away in an American strike which targeted him along with two of his mujahideen brothers, may God rest their souls.”
The group had met and appointed its former military chief, Qassim al-Raymi, also a Yemeni, as his replacement, he said.
In Washington, the White House said U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Wuhayshi was killed in Yemen.
“Wuhayshi’s death strikes a major blow to AQAP, al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate, and to al-Qaeda more broadly,” said National Security Council spokesman Ned Price.
“It's a significant blow. He could have moved up to the top spot (in al-Qaeda),” said Martin Reardon, senior vice president at the Soufan Group security consultancy.
“AQAP is widely considered the most capable terrorist group in the world,” said Reardon, a veteran of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, referring to the group's focus on attacks on the West.
It has also orchestrated spectacular attacks inside Yemen in recent years, targeting government ministries, military camps and soldiers, in which hundreds of people were killed.
Al-Qaeda did not specify how or when Wuhayshi was killed. Some residents of the southeastern Yemeni city of Mukalla reported a suspected drone strike on Friday.
But eyewitnesses said that last Tuesday, townspeople were gathering on the city's seaside corniche after evening prayers when an explosion killed three men, spreading their limbs across a street as panicked residents fled.
In an unusual move, al-Qaeda gunmen cordoned off the area and gathered the bodies, residents said, leading them to believe a militant leader was among the dead.
Wuhayshi was the sixth major AQAP leader killed in suspected U.S. bombings this year, despite political turmoil in Yemen that led to the closing of the U.S. embassy and the evacuation of its military and intelligence personnel.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. military was not involved in any strike, raising the likelihood that it was conducted by the CIA.
The Pentagon issued a warning to Wuhayshi's successor.
“While I'm sure he had to be looking over his shoulder already, he will now have to live in even more fear. Because we will find him and we will kill him. Or capture him,” said spokesman Colonel Steve Warren.
Wuhayshi, according to Gregory Johnson, author of a book on Yemen, was born in southern Yemen and traveled to Afghanistan for the first time in 1998 to join al-Qaeda. He met bin Laden there and acted as his aide-de-camp until 2001, when the group was scattered after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. He became head of AQAP in 2009.
In 2013, U.S. sources said an intercepted communication between Wuhayshi and Zawahiri – believed based in Pakistan – was part of a broader pool of intelligence that led to an alert closing several U.S. embassies in the Middle East and Africa.
After an Arab military campaign against Iran-allied rebels that control much of the country's east, AQAP has made common cause with tribal and religious groups, and residents in Mukalla say its members carry weapons and recruit there openly.
Houthis detain US citizens in Yemen
This article originally appeared on The Media Line.
At least two Americans are being held by the Houthis, the Iranian-backed Shi’ite jihadist group that today controls most of Yemen. A source close to the Houthi group, which is known as “Ansar Allah”, told The Media Line that two American citizens are being held by the National Security Organization, controlled by the Houthis.
This contradicts a report in The Washington Post quoting unnamed US officials that “several” US citizens were being held.
The source also confirmed that one detainee is named Sharif Mobley, an African-American male, who was detained in Yemen after a request from an American intelligence agency in 2010 on suspicion of membership in a jihadist group. He was then handed over to the Yemeni intelligence agency where he is currently being held.
“The other man’s name is Casey Gomez. He was in Yemen on a legal visa, which expired over 7 months ago,” the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity said. “The former regime knew that this man was still in Yemen, then, about a month ago, he appeared more than once in Sana'a's International Airport trying to leave the country and NSO forces arrested and interrogated him.”
The Houthis displaced a government that had been an ally of the US on drone strikes against an affiliate of al-Qa’ida. Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, have launched a campaign of air strikes against the Houthis that have killed at least 1600 Yemenis over the past few months.
The same source claimed that local and American media are exaggerating the number of the detainees in order to exert pressure on the Houthis.
According to information published in March on the website Raqeb, Mobley was born in New Jersey.
“Mobley and his four older siblings were raised by parents who were members of the Nation of Islam,” the website says. “The family lived in the small town of Buena, about an hour east of Philadelphia. As his devotion to his Muslim faith grew, Mobley met (his wife) Islam in 2005 and married her three months later. Their first child, a daughter, was born soon after. The couple moved to Delaware in 2007 and began contemplating a move to the Middle East to strengthen their faith and learn Arabic. After striking up a friendship with a family from Yemen at a mosque they attended, Mobley and his wife decided to move with their newborn daughter to the country in 2008. “
Ahmad Al-Rahabi, a lawyer who claimed to have insider information into Mobley’s case, told The Media Line that US officials accused Mobley of having a connection with Anwar Al-Awlaki who was an Al-Qaeda member who used to recruited other members to join the organization.
According to an interview in the Washington Post with Mobley’s wife, Mobley did contact known American-Yemeni jihadist Anwar Al-Awlaqi who was killed in a US drone strike in 2011, but only to ask for advice regarding the fact the his wife was pregnant again and needed surgery.
Mobley’s wife was able to return to New Jersey alone, while Mobley was shot in the leg and detained by a group of men at midnight in January of 2010, according to Raqeb.
Al-Rahabi said that he received information that after Mobley was arrested he was taken to a hospital for treatment for the gunshot wound he sustained in his leg While in the hospital he was interrogated by US officials regarding his stay in Yemen and his relationship with Al-Awlaki. The officials also threatened Mobley that he might never see his wife and daughter again.
Al-Rahabi added that the Yemeni authorities accused Mobley of shooting a guard in the hospital and trying to escape. He is being accused of murder.
Since the US embassy has closed in Sana’a it has been difficult to get information on this case.
“We have no authorization to comment on this case,” Mutleq Al-Marrani, a Houthi member of the National Security Organization told The Media Line.
Both detainees were reportedly about to leave Yemen, but they were arrested at the last minute. The Media Line has not been able to confirm whether there are any more American detainees in the Yemeni government’s or the Houthi prisons.
‘Wanted’ list spreads fear in Yemen among critics of the Houthis
This article originally appeared on The Media Line.
A “list of shame” has been published, on street corners and on public transportation throughout cities in Yemen. The roll call includes 54 names, all individuals who have criticized Yemen’s de facto rules, the Houthis or publicly advocated recent Saudi airstrikes. The seriousness of the list, and the implied threat to those on it, continues to be debated.
“We have received many complaints about the fact that people are included on this list,” Mohammad Al-Bukhaiti, of the Houthi’s political office, told The Media Line. Officially the Houthis have not confirmed their involvement with the list, nor have they explicitly reassured the 54 individuals that no threat towards them is intended.
“People on that list should be relieved to know that they are not being pursued by the (Houthis), even though most of them deserve to be pursued and punished,” Al-Bukhaiti said, adding, “but that will not happen now, but after the war.”
The list does “not include the Supreme Revolutionary Committee’s seal” and is therefore not official, so these people are not being pursued, Al-Bukhaiti said. Names could be taken off the list and others added to it following the war, Al-Bukhaiti explained, saying, “The list is not final nor official, it’s merely stickers in public streets and on public transportation – there are no upcoming actions related to it.”
Mohammad Al-Bukhaiti hinted that those who had published the list were members of his organization who “opposed the (Saudi) bombardment befalling the country” but had failed to consider that the Houthi is at war and that “this is not the right time to be making such lists.”
“We are upset with those who made (the list),” Al-Bukhaiti said, admitting that the publication had been widely condemned by Yemenis and that a number of those named on it had complained to his offices.
First published on May 5, the roster was originally seen in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital. Subsequently, it has appeared in streets in other cities too. The individuals on the list have been dubbed “The Card Deck List” as their photos were framed as a deck of cards, possibly inspired by the US military’s “personality identification playing cards,” handed out to troops during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Those named include media personalities, clerics, politicians and army commanders.
The poster, in which the photos were placed, read: “Wanted to face justice – the betrayers and the shamed, the supporters of the Saudi aggression against Yemen. These individuals are wanted so that justice can be brought to the people. These characters have fought a war against their own country by supporting the aggressors with political, diplomatic, media and military support.”
Some are skeptical about the Houthi political office’s disassociation from the list. “The list was officially made by the Ansar Allah,” journalist Mused Al-Salimi, told The Media Line, using an alternative name for the group. “However, because of the group’s involvement in a war against Saudi Arabia, the internal security forces, and the international community, the group has started to take its decision back. (This is) simply because it is not the right time to pursue leading figures and create animosity with them,” Al-Salimi explained.
Those who were included in the list and were accused of “supporting the Saudi aggression against Yemen” include a number of politicians, among them Abd Rabu Mansur Hadi, the internationally recognized president of Yemen, and Ali Salem Al-Bidh, the president of South Yemen before unification in 1990.
A majority of the named are no longer resident in Yemen and could not be reached by The Media Line for comment. Most have refrained from publically commenting on the inclusion of their names on the posters.
Other figures listed continue to live in Yemen but were unable to be reached due to their ongoing involvement in security operations against the Houthis. Three women, a minister, a youth activist and a former human rights minister, were also named.
But some individuals have chosen to comment on the list. “The Houthis and the deposed president’s militia are hanging my photo in the streets as a wanted person,” Tawakul Karman, a youth activist and undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry, posted on Facebook, “this is a badge of honor.”
“The Houthis use intimidation tactics against those who oppose them – it's one of the oldest tricks in the book,” Nadia Al-Sakkaf, Yemen’s Minister of Information and the head of the government’s High Committee for Relief, told The Media Line. “The fact that my name is on (this list) does not concern me at all because I don't recognize their authority and history will put matters in real context and show who betrayed their country and who defended it,” Al-Sakkaf said.
The extent to which the Houthi is involved in the declaration has been questioned by some. Hussein Al-Bukhaiti, a pro-Houthi media activist, argued that, “Ansar Allah are too smart to get involved in making such a list officially.” He suggested the posters had been placed by young activists who were angered at the Saudi airstrikes and wanted to see those who supported them tried. Hussein added that, “The group may have aided the young men in making that list, and allowed them to compile those names. It could even have an unofficial relation to it in order for it not to be dragged into new animosities.”
Many of the figures on the list, politicians, military officials and a leading cleric, publicly supported Saudi air operations over Yemen. Sheikh Abdulmajid Al-Zandani, head of Yemen’s Clerics Authority, issued a statement several weeks ago saying “Operation Decisive storm was undertaken for legitimate reasons in order to save vulnerable Muslims and to defend those (in Yemen) who called for help.”
Tawakul Karman, who publically mocked the list via Facebook, had also previously expressed support for Saudi airstrikes on Twitter. In a post she thanked coalition forces, saying she was grateful to them for supporting her country in its opposition to Iran and its agents, who posed an existential threat to Yemen.
The Houthi group is mostly made up of members of the Zaidi sect, an off shoot of Shi’ite Islam. They have been accused of being supported by Iran and have been involved in violent battles in the south and north of Yemen since September last year.
Saudi Arabia began air operations against the Houthis this year in an effort to drive back the Shi’a group’s gains. So far, the Saudi Royal Air Force appears to have struggled to have the impact upon the Houthis it has aimed for.
Al-queda in the Arabian Peninsula, considered one of the most credible branches of the Islamist franchise, are present in the east of Yemen and have taken advantage of the ongoing chaos.
Houthis aunch assault on critical media in Yemen
This article originally appeared on The Media Line.
Sana’a, Yemen — An atmosphere of intimidation is silencing Yemen’s journalists. At least 100 media outlets have closed out of fear that they will be targeted by Houthi fighters who are waging a campaign to mute criticism of the Shi’ite Islamist group that has laid siege to the nation.
Since the Houthis’ capture of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, in September, radio and television studios have been stormed by its gunmen on a number of occasions. Other journalists have received death threats and are being forced to self-censor or face reprisals. Economic issues and a shortage of automobile fuel have added to the problems faced by Yemeni reporters.
“Some newspapers and news websites have been shut down by the Houthis because they opposed (the group’s narrative)”, Marwan Dammaj, secretary-general of the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate, said in a telephone interview.
The Yemen Times closed its print edition because of the security situation in general and because of fears that it might be broken into like other media outlets. A message on its website reads, “Dear Readers, Yemen Times will temporarily suspend issuing the printed version of the newspaper until further notice given the exceptional circumstances in Yemen, but will continue issuing the online version.”
Other news websites and newspapers have had to close down because of a variety of reasons – mainly financial ones – which are due to the current crisis in Yemen. Publications such as Al-Thawra, Al-Jumhuriya and the newspaper “October 14” have had money intended for the payment of public sector journalists interdicted because they were seen as being critical of the Houthis.
“The violations committed by the Houthis were against hundreds of journalists,” Mansure Al-Jaradi, a reporter whose salary was suspended, told The Media Line. Al-Jaradi, who works in the state-run Saba news agency (now under Houthi control), said that there was a “planned campaign of targeting and silencing opposing media voices.”
“I write for the Houthis just to make a living; they would stop my salary if I didn’t write for them,” Raouf Al-Nashiri, a pro-Houthi writer, told The Media Line. Al-Nashiri declined to name the media outlets he worked for and added, “All my writings, which are basically dictated to me, are published after a Houthi delegate edits them.”
In addition to those media outlets already forced out of business, threats and violence against individuals has silenced others. In February, reporter Sam Al-Ghubari was kidnapped by gunmen from his house in Dhamar and held for two months. Al-Ghubari’s captors had accused him of fabricating stories against the Houthi cause.
The premises of the Al-Shumoa Foundation, the largest private media outlet in Yemen and home to the daily Akhbar Al-Yomu and the weekly Al-Shumoa, was raided by Houthi fighters, the offices’ contents looted. The building remains occupied. Actions such as this have reinforced local journalists’ fear writing anything remotely critical of the Shi’ite group.
“I do not write for any local publication anymore; what I do is write for foreign websites under aliases,” journalist Salah Salem told The Media Line. “I was kidnapped for three days in Sana’a in early February. I was beaten violently and afterward vowed to the Houthis that I would not write critically about them,” Salem said.
A number of female journalists have faced similar threats of violence. “I write for an anti-Houthi newspaper, but I would rather not name it [because] I have received many death threats,” Amna Al-Wesabi, a freelance writer, told The Media Line. “Currently, I am writing for news agencies and websites anonymously like many female writers who do the same thing,” she said.
Of the four state-run television channels, three have been shut down: only the Yemen TV channel is still on air – said Abdulrahman Al-Bukari, secretary of the state-owned Audio and Visual Media Syndicate. Of the 19 public radio channels that were previously broadcasting, 16 have been silenced, Al-Bukari told The Media Line. The General Corporation for Radio and Television took over the running of the company on September 21 and forced many to quit. Others have not been paid since the Houthi take-over.
One broadcaster for the Yemen TV channel said that he had been suspended and then pursued by gunmen since September due to his opposition to the Houthis. “I am not receiving my salary, and I am being threatened with murder, therefore I am in hiding,” Khalid Al-Aliyan, told The Media Line.
Private radio and television channels have fared no better. The majority of the country’s 15 broadcast channels have closed due to a combination of Houthi threats and the dire financial situation the turbulence in the country has created. A number of radio stations were closed after their offices were raided and occupied. Fearing that they were next, a number of other stations closed their offices rather than face attacks.
“We have taken strict measures against any media outlet that instigates against Ansar Allah (the Supporters of God) or backs the Saudi airstrikes,” Abdulmalik Al-Ujari, of the Houthi Political Office, told The Media Line, when asked to comment on the issues raised in this article. “It is normal that we shut down some newspapers and websites because they have exceeded their media freedom,” Al-Ujari said, adding that he felt certain sections of the media were instigating against the Houthis.
Al-Ujari also confirmed that his organization was pursuing certain individuals but chose not to speak about specific examples, except for that of Sam Al-Ghubari. The journalist had been detained, Al-Ujari admitted, but was alleged to have been held at the request of Yemeni citizens due to criminal and fraudulent behavior. “We believe in freedom of the press, but the press has to be neutral, and those who cross the line will be pursued and stopped from writing by any means,” Al-Ujari said.
The Houthis are primarily made up of fighters from the Zaidi community, an offshoot of Shi’a Islam. Saudi Arabia has alleged that the Houthi rebellion against the government of Yemen is backed by weapons from Iran. Houthi rebels have declared that they wish to secede the north of the country, returning Yemen to the state it was in prior to unification in 1990.
How much does it cost to watch a suspected militant? Lots.
In 2011, U.S. intelligence informed French authorities that a French citizen had slipped into Yemen, probably for terrorist training. In November, the French security services placed the man, Said Kouachi, under surveillance. They wiretapped his mobile phone, as well as that of his younger brother, Cherif. By the end of 2013, French intelligence had dropped its surveillance of Cherif, and Said's was terminated in mid-2014. After three years, the brothers, born to Algerian immigrants, were judged to be no longer dangerous.
On Jan. 7, however, the brothers, heavily armed and dressed in black, stormed the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper, and massacred 12 people. It happened at least partly because the French security services are unable to monitor all of France's suspected jihadists, even those considered high risk because they returned after fighting in Syria or Iraq.
The French experience demonstrates that tapping cellphones of terrorist suspects is not enough. Physical surveillance by humans is crucial. Because terrorists have learned to avoid phones. “The phone tapping yielded nothing,” Marc Trevidic, the chief terrorism investigator for the French judicial system, told The New York Times. “If we had continued, I'm convinced it wouldn't have changed anything. No one talks on the phone anymore.”
But physically monitoring suspects is an expensive and complicated proposition – in both money and manpower. A former French anti-terrorism official stated, “The system is overwhelmed.”
U.S. intelligence experts are well aware of the problems of mounting a 24/7 round-the-clock surveillance on suspects. “It's a manpower eater,” said Phillip A. Parker, a veteran former FBI counterintelligence agent, “and it takes away from other cases.”
To keep a target under continuous surveillance, according to one experienced FBI source who asked to remain anonymous, could require three eight-hour shifts or perhaps two 12-hour shifts, with four special agents each shift. Several cars would be needed, sometimes even airplanes. If only one car was used, the person might quickly realize he was being followed.
“If you are just sitting around in the street, somebody's going to notice you,” Parker explained. “If it's a real sensitive case, you just cannot be made. You would run five or six cars, maybe seven or eight. If you don't want any chance of the target making you, the average is three shifts, four guys to a shift, two cars – that's a minimum. Three shifts, so 12 agents. If it's a really important case, you could easily double that.” That minimum translates into 24 agents in three shifts of eight agents to keep watch on a single target.
Parker, who spent much of his career tracking Soviet and Russian spies, noted, “Most surveillance subjects are not moving more than a few hours a day. So you may also have to set up an OP [observation post],” often a house or apartment overlooking the target.
Just as the French services wiretapped the cellphones of the Paris terrorists, the FBI does not limit itself to physical surveillance of a subject. “You would also have technical means,” one surveillance specialist, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “If you run 24-hour surveillance, you have telephones, both cell and land lines, MISUR [microphone surveillance] and stationery lookouts.”
Agents might also lock onto the GPS of the suspect's car, to see where he or she is going. In one high-profile espionage case, the FBI placed radio receivers at fixed points around the Washington area and was also able to plant an electronic device in the suspect's car. When the target car passed by one of the receivers, the time and location were recorded. This setup was similar to the E-ZPass system, which is used by commuters to breeze through toll plazas without stopping.
With so much manpower required to monitor just one suspect, FBI supervisors often resist mounting a 24/7 surveillance. It takes away agents who might be working other cases. A smaller field office might not have enough agents.
Even FBI headquarters might need to scramble to find agents for a surveillance. One senior FBI official involved in the surveillance and eventual arrest of Aldrich Ames, the CIA officer who spied for Moscow, told me, “I was constantly asking for more resources.” Spies, he observed, “often use SDRs,” or surveillance detection routes. “They might drive around for four or five hours 'dry-cleaning' themselves” to try to lose their FBI pursuers.
Because of the FBI's reluctance to assign large numbers of agents to surveillance operations, the bureau also uses a Special Surveillance Group, known as “the G's.” These are not special agents, but members of a unit whose sole job is to track suspects. They are trained to look like anything except FBI agents. The G's may be dressed as joggers, cyclists, pizza-delivery men, mothers pushing strollers or street-repair workers wielding jackhammers. That scruffy guy on a skateboard, that hard-hat repairman up on a telephone pole, the street vendor selling hot dogs – all may be G's. They look, in other words, like ordinary citizens going about their business.
How much does a round-the-clock surveillance cost? Because FBI agents and G's are already on the FBI payroll, measuring the actual cost of a particular operation can be complicated. Though there is clearly a cost in manpower assigned to surveillance duties and so unavailable to other investigations.
Still, it is possible to estimate 24/7 surveillance costs by looking at the salaries of FBI agents and the number of hours involved. FBI salaries range widely, depending on grades and years of service. But a typical mid-range special agent earns roughly $64,000 a year, which translates into $1,230 a week. On a round-the-clock surveillance with 24 agents, that adds up to $29,500 a week in agent time – or almost $128,000 a month. Add in three rental cars, used in rotation to avoid notice, and it comes to roughly $30,700 a week. A major surveillance like this might last weeks or even months.
More experienced agents can earn around $120,000 a year, so the totals could be a lot higher. As a result, it is not surprising that round-the-clock surveillances are not routine. Statistics show why. The FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, for example, maintains a “watch list” of alleged terrorist suspects. In 2011, the database had 420,000 names, according to a New York Times story, including some 8,000 Americans. About 16,000 people, including 500 Americans, were prohibited from flying. That list has been widely criticized for errors. But obviously – given the numbers – the FBI could not watch all the people on the database. And, thankfully, it doesn't.
Surveillance is a double-edged tool. Catching terrorists is vital to protect the country. But we also want to live in a society where liberty and security are balanced, and the government does not follow people around without good reason. From that perspective, the high cost and difficulty of maintaining a continuous surveillance on a suspect may not be entirely bad in a democracy.
David Wise writes frequently about intelligence and espionage. His most recent book is “Tiger Trap: America's Secret Spy War with China.”
Yemen’s last Jews eye exodus after Islamist militia takeover
A few worried families are all that remain of Yemen's ancient Jewish community, and they too may soon flee after a Shi'ite Muslim militia seized power in the strife-torn country this month.
Harassment by the Houthi movement – whose motto is “Death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews, victory to Islam” – caused Jews in recent years to largely quit the northern highlands they shared with Yemen's Shi'ites for millennia.
But political feuds in which the Jews played no part escalated last September into an armed Houthi plunge into the capital Sanaa, the community's main refuge from which some now contemplate a final exodus.
Around six Yemeni Jews from the same family arrived in Israel on Friday, members of the community told Reuters.
“Since last September, our movements have become very limited for fear of the security situation, and there are some members of the community who preferred to leave Yemen,” sighed chief rabbi Yahya Youssef, sitting in his apartment within a walled compound next to ministry of defense.
Dressed in the traditional Yemeni flowing robe, blazer and headwrap, Rabbi Yahya's lined face is framed by two long curls on each side. Along with Hebrew he and his co-religionists speak Arabic, value local customs and are wary of life beyond home.
“We don't want to leave. If we wanted to, we would have done so a long time ago,” Yahya said as his infirmed old father rested in the sun outside their home.
Jews evacuated from the Houthi stronghold of Saada province in 2009 to the government-guarded compound have dwindled from 76 to 45. A group of 26 others live in a city north of the capital.
Their total number is down from around 200-300 just a few years ago and now makes up a tiny fraction of Yemen's 19 million-strong population.
Yemen's Jewish community numbered over 40,000 until 1949, when Israel organized their mass transfer to the newly-established state. Those who stayed say they had lived in peace with their neighbors in the Muslim Arab country.
“OUR PROBLEM IS WITH ISRAEL”
Boredom and isolation reign at the Jews' lodgings in their unlikely ghetto in a luxury enclave called “Tourist City” near the now-evacuated United States embassy.
Cut off from the carpentry and metalworking shops that were their renowned trade for centuries, residents now subsist on small government allowances that they say barely meet their living costs.
Young men who venture into the souk often tuck their distinctive curls up into their headwraps for fear of bullying. Boys are no longer eager to grow them in the first place.
The local Houthi official now responsible for the surrounding neighborhood visited Rabbi Yahya on Thursday to offer reassurances, according to a Reuters correspondent who was present.
“Jews are safe and no harm will come to them,” said Abu al-Fadl, who like other leaders in the movement goes by a nom de guerre and not his given name.
“The problem of the Houthis is not with the Jews of Yemen but with Israel, which occupies Palestine,” he added.
But memories of death threats and Houthi fighters burning down Jewish homes during the militia's decade of on-off war with the now nonexistent Sanaa government will not be soon forgotten.
Israel-linked organizations have in the past repeatedly helped whisk Jews out of Yemen, but Israeli government spokespeople declined comment on the matter, citing reluctance to endanger Yemen's Jews by association with Israel.
“There are certainly discussions going on over options available regarding the Yemenite Jews,” said an Israeli official briefed on immigration matters.
But these are individuals who will have to make their own individual decisions about what to do,” the official added.
Safety may not be the only concern for the deeply conservative community though, who fear life in Israel or elsewhere will be an affront to their traditional values.
“In Israel, the girls rebel against their fathers, and we fear for our daughters. I could not accept that my daughter might come to me one day and tell me that she was married to her boyfriend,” Rabbi Yahya said.
“This is not permissible in our religion.”
I miss Yemen
I miss Yemen.
That may come as a surprise since whenever the country makes headlines — as it has over the past few weeks — the overwhelming themes are war, violent radicalism, the impending doom of failed statehood and whatever other ominous sounding crisis (water shortages, national drug addiction) can be thrown into the mix.
I find that most Americans assume that the country is seething with anti-American sentiment. Yet, that is far from the truth, and I miss Yemen, my home from 2009 to early 2012. I’m not alone. Most foreigners who have been fortunate enough to experience the warmth, humor and kindness of Yemeni people miss it too.
I miss waking up in the old city of Sanaa, Yemen’s 3,000 year old capital. I would slowly make my way across uneven stone floors that cooled the soles of my feet and into my mafraj, a square room with blue-patterned low cushions lining its perimeter. I would take a moment to stare out into the narrow alleyway below through a green, blue, and red stained glass window, the kind that decorate nearly every building in Sanaa.
I lived on the top floor of a skinny, four-story, brown brick abode with white gypsum outlining its edges. Many have likened these structures in the old city to gingerbread houses. Out the window, I saw men walking to work, elbows linked, donned in long white robes that hung to their ankles, suit jackets, and a curved dagger secured right at their waistline. There were also the elderly women draped in red and blue intricately patterned blankets overtop their black abayas and carrying puffy loaves of bread in clear plastic bags. They’d chat so quickly in clipped sharp Arabic that I could never understand them—even though I’m comfortable in the language. My ears would then catch the sound of the gas merchant who strolled the neighborhood banging with a wrench on a large cooking gas canister. The harsh dinging warmed me in the same way the sounds of Manhattan must warm someone who’s happy to call that city home.
At about 8 am, I would make my way down the incongruent steps of the house and past the doors of apartments where other foreigners lived, and then I’d pull a small metal lever that opened the heavy wooden slab on the ground floor to the outside world. The sun would be strong and the air bone dry at 7,500 feet. I would walk the 10 steps or so to a hole-in-the-wall canteen, a Yemeni bodega, known here as a bagala, and buy a tub of plain yogurt for about 50 American cents that I would mix with Yemeni honey (some of the best in the world!) for breakfast. This was in lieu of the typical Yemeni breakfast of lamb kabob sandwiches or stewed fava beans. The two young guys at the bagala would light up upon our daily meetings.
“Good morning, Laura!” they’d say.
“Good morning! How’s it going?”
“Praise be to God! Did you watch the president’s speech?” Mohamed, the older, would ask, or otherwise comment on the political happenings du jour, which were many since part of my time living in Sanaa covered the Arab Spring protests of 2011.
“I did. What do you think?” I would ask.
“Everything will be fine, God willing. We want stability for Yemen,” he’d answer. Then another friend whose face I recognized from the neighborhood would rush up, give me a nod, and shove approximately 10 cents at Mohamed so he could bring back piles of pita bread for his family.
I would head back home, comforted to know that if anything ill ever befell me, these friends would have my back, as happened when they cornered a cab driver who was requesting $200 to give me back the phone that I had left in his taxi (I got it back free, thanks to my neighbors). You give Yemenis a smile, and they give you so much more in return, always bending over backwards for guests of their country. It was an unfair transaction that benefited me most of all.
I miss walking through the narrow cobblestone streets of the old city and seeing faces I recognized. We waved hello along the way, and perhaps shared a sentence or two about the day. My mood always brightened when I passed the old men who sipped creamy tea sitting outside one tiny cafe, who wore thick glasses that magnified their eyes, turbans round their heads, and held canes in their hands. They laughed and told jokes to pass their days. They’d seen it all—including war worse than the current one. They knew the ebbs and flows of time.
Despite that one greedy cabbie who tried to keep my phone, one of the things I miss most of all are the discussions with taxi drivers, waiting stalled in traffic due to the post-lunch market rush. Yemenis love to talk—and so do I. They often gave me a handful of soft green qat leaves, the mild narcotic widely consumed in the country. I remember when one driver explained that Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh was like Marie Antoinette. “Let them eat cake!” the driver exclaimed.
A different cab driver once told me he had worked at the Yemeni embassy in Cuba as a driver and missed the rum like you wouldn’t believe. Alcohol is available in Yemen, at Chinese restaurants that double as brothels, or from Ethiopian smugglers who get their bottles on boats from Djibouti. Of course, getting it involves risks—the social shame of being caught with alcohol for an average Yemeni would be damning not only of his reputation, but of his family and his tribe. I took that taxi driver’s number and the next time I left a diplomat’s party in the fancy part of town where sheikhs and foreigners live behind tall walls, I called him to pick me up. I snuck him a beer, which he uncapped with his teeth and drank during our drive back to the old city.
There are things I don’t miss, like the lack of electricity. Or wading through a foot high of muddy, trash-strewn water because the drainage system wasn’t working fast enough for the rainstorm. I certainly don’t miss needing to flee my home in the old city because the war came too close in September 2011, when Yemen’s divided armed forces began to fight one another. I didn’t want to live alone when random artillery fire had fallen nearby. And then there was the gnawing guilt that came with remembering that my suffering was nothing compared to Yemenis who couldn’t afford a generator or the rising prices for basic goods, and who didn’t have another home to which they could flee. But the good always outweighed the bad for me in Yemen, and that’s why I stayed for nearly three years. I left when I realized that reporting during wartime, being so close to explosions, death and violence, had clouded my thoughts so that I was incapable of making safe decisions.
As the country, now leaderless, fractures with little hope of reconciliation, I watch with a breaking heart. Yet, I am confident in this: if the Yemeni government fails to restructure itself into a sustainable organization, and rather continues to mirror a scenario from an apocalyptic future, Yemen will not be a land where every man is for himself. There is a social contract in Yemen more ancient than the one that exists in the United States, and the ties that bind people to one another can step in when the government fails. As an outsider who was fortunate enough to have called Yemen home, I put my hope in that.
Laura Kasinof is an author and freelance journalist. Her book, Don’t Be Afraid of the Bullets: an Accidental War Correspondent in Yemen, is about her time reporting for The New York Times during Yemen’s Arab Spring. This post originally appeared on Zocalo Public Square.
Yemen suffers power vacuum after president, premier quit
Yemen drifted deeper into political limbo on Friday after President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi resigned in exasperation at a Houthi rebel takeover of the country, a move that appeared to catch the Iran-backed group off balance.
Hadi, a former general, blamed the Houthis' control of the capital Sanaa for impeding his attempt to steer Yemen toward stability after years of turmoil and tribal unrest, deepening poverty and U.S. drone strikes on Islamist militants.
His resignation on Thursday startled the Arabian Peninsula country of 25 million, where the Houthis emerged as the dominant faction by seizing Sanaa in September and dictating terms to a humiliated Hadi, whom they had held as a virtual prisoner at his home residence clashes with security guards this week.
The Houthis and pro-democracy activists staged rival rallies on Friday.
Thousands gathered in central Sanaa with placards calling for “Death to America, Death to Israel”, a slogan that has become a trademark of the Shi'ite Muslim Houthi group.
“Hadi should have resigned a long time ago,” Al Sheikh Moghadal Al Wazeer, an elderly Houthi supporter said. “He should have done more and he should have run the country with more strength.”
Earlier in the day, a small group of pro-democracy activists chanted “we are the revolution” as they converged on Change Square, the focus of 2011 protests which forced long-ruling President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down under a Gulf power transfer deal.
“We're here in rejection of the events that are happening. We came out to build a state and our demand is still to have a state,” said activist Farida al-Yareemi. “We went out against Ali Abdullah Saleh and he had all the weapons.”
Washington, which has relied on Hadi's cooperation to stage the drone strikes on the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda, said it was concerned by the departures of the president and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah, who also quit on Thursday.
“The United States is troubled by reports of President Hadi and his cabinet’s resignation,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. “At this time, it is critical that all sides avoid violence.”
The Yemeni parliament is scheduled to meet on Sunday to discuss Hadi's resignation and can accept or reject it. Under the constitution, parliamentary speaker Yahya al-Ra'i, who comes from Saleh's General People's Congress party, takes office for an interim period while new elections are organized.
NO OFFICIAL HOUTHI POSITION
Some Houthi officials have welcomed Hadi's resignation but the group said an official position had yet to be taken. It urged the army to uphold its responsibilities and called on Houthi fighters to be on alert.
Witness said Houthi fighters were seen surrounding the homes of a number of senior officials from Bahah's government, including the defense minister, in Sanaa.
A senior Yemeni official said the Houthis had proposed the creation an interim presidential council to run the majority Sunni Muslim country, but an alliance of parties rejected the idea. Officials said the Houthis were holding contacts with various political factions on what to do next.
Hadi, who led a United Nations-backed attempt to make political reforms and bury the autocracy and graft of the past, stood down shortly after Bahah offered his government's resignation, saying it did not want to be dragged into “an unconstructive political maze”.
This was a reference to a standoff between the Houthi movement and Hadi, who had been held in his residence.
On Friday, Reuters witnesses said five all-terrain vehicles belonging to the special forces were parked outside Hadi's compound. Houthi fighters were not visible inside.
In the southern city of Aden, three soldiers and two armed men were killed in an attack by unidentified gunmen on armored vehicles in the early hours of Friday, local officials told Reuters. Three explosions were heard in the port city during the attack, which was followed by the clashes, said one of the officials, who declined to be identified.
The departure of Hadi, a southerner, has caused anger in Aden, where officials reacted by telling security officers to obey only orders issued in Aden, an implicit snub to institutions in the north, where Sanaa is.
Earlier in the week, Aden closed its docks briefly in protest against Houthi militia attacks on state institutions in Sanaa, calling them an “aggressive coup on the president personally and on the political process as a whole”.
Hadi's decision marked an abrupt turnaround from Wednesday, when he said he was ready to accept Houthi demands for a bigger stake in constitutional and political arrangements.
New Saudi king seeks to reassure on succession and policy
Saudi Arabia's new King Salman pledged continuity in energy and foreign policies on Friday and moved quickly to appoint younger men as his heirs, settling the succession for years to come by naming a deputy crown prince from his dynasty's next generation.
King Abdullah, who died early on Friday after a short illness, was buried in an unmarked grave in keeping with local religious traditions.
By appointing his youngest half-brother Muqrin, 69, as Crown Prince and nephew Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, as Deputy Crown Prince, Salman has swiftly quelled speculation about internal palace rifts at a moment of regional turmoil.
Oil prices jumped in an immediate reaction as news of Abdullah's death added to uncertainty in energy markets. [O/R]
Salman, thought to be 79, takes over as the ultimate authority in a country that faces long-term domestic challenges compounded by the plunging price of oil in recent months and the rise of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria, which vows to toppled the Al Saud ruling family.
Salman must navigate an intense rivalry with Shi'ite Muslim power Iran playing out in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Bahrain, open conflict in two neighboring states, a threat from Islamist militants and bumpy relations with the United States.
In his first speech as king, shown live on Saudi television, Salman pledged to maintain the same approach to ruling the world's top oil exporter and birthplace of Islam as his predecessors and called for unity among Arab states.
“We will continue, God willing, to hold the straight course that this country has followed since its establishment by the late King Abdulaziz,” he said.
Salman becomes the last Saudi ruler to be born before the discovery of commercial quantities of oil in the world's top crude exporter.
And Mohammed bin Nayef becomes the first grandson of the kingdom's founding monarch, King Abdulaziz, known as Ibn Saud, to take an established place in the line of succession.
All Saudi kings since Abdulaziz's death in 1953 have been his sons and the need to move to the next generation had earlier raised the prospect of a palace power struggle. King Salman also appointed his own son, Mohammed bin Salman, Defense Minister and head of the royal court.
The rapidity of the decisions startled Saudis, used to a delay of up to several months before top appointments following the deaths of their monarchs. The choice of Mohammed bin Nayef was seen by some as a reflection of his strong record in counter-terrorism in his role as interior minister.
“Times are dangerous,” said Joseph Kechichian, a scholar of Gulf Arab ruling families. “Mohammed bin Nayef's appointment shows Salman feels it's important to speak quickly with a single determined voice in the face of all these threats.”
U.S. President Barack Obama, moving to cement Washington's long alliance with Saudi Arabia, was expected to speak to Salman in the coming days.
Reputedly pragmatic and adept at managing the delicate balance of clerical, tribal, royal and Western interests that factor into Saudi policy making, Salman appears unlikely to change the kingdom's approach to foreign affairs or energy sales.
Despite rumors about Salman's health and strength, diplomats who have attended meetings between the new king and foreign leaders over the past year have said he has been fully engaged in talks lasting several hours at a time.
His nominated successor, Crown Prince Muqrin, is a former fighter pilot and a relative progressive who grasps the need for long-term reform, but who also has traditionally hawkish views on Iran.
In a country with a young population, many Saudis will be unable to recall a time before King Abdullah's rule, both as monarch from 2005 and as de facto regent for a decade before that.
His legacy was an effort to overhaul the kingdom's economic and social systems to address a looming demographic crisis by creating private sector jobs and making young Saudis better prepared to take them.
“I think (Salman) will continue with Abdullah's reforms. He realizes the importance of this. He's not conservative in person, but he values the opinion of the conservative constituency of the country,” said Jamal Khashoggi, head of a news channel owned by a Saudi prince.
However, Abdullah's reforms did not stretch to politics, and after the Arab Spring his security forces clamped down on all forms of dissent, imprisoning outspoken critics of the ruling family alongside women drivers and Islamist militants.
As the Saudi population grows and oil prices fall globally, the royal family will increasingly struggle to maintain its generous spending on social benefits for ordinary people, potentially undermining its future legitimacy in a country where there are no elections, analysts say.
King Salman has previously spoken against the idea of introducing democracy in Saudi Arabia in comments to American diplomats recorded in embassy cables later released by WikiLeaks.
He is expected to focus on creating jobs and big infrastructure projects to prevent falling oil prices from causing social tensions or undermining business confidence.
In keeping with Muslim traditions, Abdullah's body, clothed in white and shrouded in a plain cloth, was carried on a stretcher by relatives to rest in a mosque before being taken to a cemetery and buried in an unmarked grave.
Prayers in the mosque were led by King Salman and attended by Muslim heads of state and other senior figures.
Among those who went to Riyadh were Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb and Qatar's emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Iranian media said Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would also attend.
Non-Muslim dignitaries will visit to pay respects to the new monarch and crown prince, and other members of the Al Saud dynasty, in the coming days.
Later, following the evening prayer an hour after sunset, King Salman and Crown Prince Muqrin will receive pledges of allegiance from other ruling family members, Wahhabi clerics, tribal chiefs, leading businessmen and other Saudi subjects.
In the kingdom's strict Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam, ostentatious displays of grief are frowned upon, although there was an immediate surge of sorrowful messages from Saudis on social media.
Pressure from powerful Houthis proves too much for Yemen’s Hadi, president resigns
Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, held virtual prisoner at his home by political adversaries this week, resigned on Thursday, his two-year-old attempt to steer the fragile country to stability exhausted by opposition from Houthi rebels.
His term as head of state of the poor Arabian peninsula state may also have fallen foul of less visible opposition from his predecessor, veteran former strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Although parliament promptly rejected his offer to step down, Hadi said he had reached “a dead end” after repeated confrontations with the Houthi movement, which seized the city in September, becoming the country's de facto top power.
The former army general's departure deals a blow to a crumbling Yemeni state, which at times has acted as a bulwark against total warfare among a kaleidoscope of feuding politicians and sectarian militants – all heavily armed.
The Houthis have not been Hadi's only headache.
Diplomats say the movement's entry into Sanaa was made possible by a tactical alliance with his predecessor, Saleh, who retains wide influence, especially in the army, despite having stepped down in 2012 after months of Arab Spring protests.
Saleh's critics widely accuse him of making common cause with the rebels to settle old scores and undermine Hadi, despite himself having fought several wars against the rebels in the mountainous North.
The regular army appeared to make little attempt to assist Hadi's presidential guards this week when they fought battles with Houthi forces in a flare-up of tension, an indication, some Yemenis believe, of Saleh's continued favor to the Shi'ites.
The only name on the ballot for February 2012 elections, Hadi was the meant to guide predominantly Sunni Yemen through a transition to democracy shepherded by Western and regional powers after Arab Spring protests ousted his autocrat predecessor the year before.
Inheriting a nation in chaos, Hadi faced long odds: the economy was collapsing, al-Qaeda repeatedly struck at the army and state while secessionism festered in the North and South.
Despite years of service as Saleh's deputy, Hadi has suggested his former boss made no attempt to help him settle into the top job. In a speech earlier this month, state media reported Hadi as saying that when he took office “all I received was the republican flag.”
A former army general from Yemen's once independent and socialist South, Hadi moved to the North amid political turmoil at home in 1986, rising through the ranks to become Saleh's vice-president for two decades.
Soft-spoken and unassuming, 69-year old Hadi was hardly considered a rival by the former strongman, but he appears not to have won a firm power base during his decades in uniform and a series of political and military setbacks battered his administration.
Hailing from a sect of Shi'ite Islam, the Houthi rebel movement steadily pushed southward toward Sanaa last year, trading its traditional demand for regional autonomy for a chance at becoming national power brokers.
When the capital finally fell with weak resistance from the army on September 21, Hadi sensed Saleh had helped lay him low.
“I realize you're surprised at the handing over of state and military institutions this way – this conspiracy defies the imagination,” he told a group of top political and security chiefs at his headquarters.
“There's a planned conspiracy, and alliances among the former stakeholders itching for revenge.”
After the United Nations Security Council slapped Saleh with sanctions for his alleged role in the upheaval, the ex-leader's party cut Hadi from the former ruling party and increased his isolation.
His policy appeared to drift as the Houthis fanned out across the country's South and West, engaging in pitched battles with Sunni tribes and Yemen's al-Qaeda affiliate – which claimed the deadly attack on a magazine in Paris this month and which is widely considered the deadliest offshoot of the militant group.
“The man's time in office have been marked by his inability to take timely decisions, letting problems pile up and causing his failure to interact with developments,” author and political analyst Abdul-Bari Taher told Reuters.
Al-Qaeda claimed credit for a series of spectacularly gory attacks in the capital against Houthi militiamen and security forces, while the enfeebled president wrangled with the capital's Houthi masters over a new draft constitution.
The political arm-wrestle deteriorated into an open fight when Houthi gunmen abducted Hadi's chief of staff Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak on Saturday, and heavy shelling and gunfire between army factions and the fighters began to convulse Sanaa on Monday.
Houthi fighters entered the presidential palace and positioned themselves outside his private home, where he actually lives, replacing his regular guards.
Hadi issued a statement on Wednesday signaling he was willing to accede to Houthi demands for more power, but also saying the guards outside his house would be removed. By Thursday afternoon, they remained in place, another humiliation.
Hours later he issued his resignation letter to the speaker of parliament.
“We apologize to you personally and to the honorable chamber and to the Yemeni people after we reached a dead end,” a government spokesman quoted Hadi's resignation letter as saying.
Yemen leader expected to accept demands of Houthis who defeat his guards
Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi expressed readiness on Wednesday to concede to demands for constitutional change and power sharing with Houthi rebels, saying the Shi'ite Muslim group had a right to be appointed to posts in all state institutions.
Gulf neighbors denounced what they described as a coup in Yemen, although both the Houthis and some of the president's allies denied that he had been overthrown.
A source close to the president said Hadi had met an official of the Shi'ite Muslim rebel group and would soon issue decrees resolving all differences. The source denied Hadi was under house arrest inside the residence, surrounded since early morning by Houthi fighters.
“Within hours, decisions will be made heeding the Houthi demands,” said the source, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity before the official announcement. “We expect an announcement to resolve all problems within hours.”
The Houthis, friendly to Iran, swept into the capital four months ago and have emerged as the dominant force in the country. For now at least they appear to have decided to stop short of overthrowing Hadi, possibly preferring to exert control over a weakened leader rather than take on the burden of power.
Their defeat of the presidential guards in gunbattles and artillery duels in recent days adds to disarray in a country where the United States is also carrying out drone strikes against one of the most powerful branches of al Qaeda.
The guards' defeat was made possible because the army did not fight, a reflection that Hadi, a former general, secured little lasting power base during his military service while the Houthis have penetrated key institutions since September.
After clashes at the president's office and home on Tuesday, the Houthis' leader threatened in a speech overnight to take further “measures” unless Hadi bowed to his demand for constitutional changes that would increase Houthi power.
By early morning on Wednesday, Houthi fighters, accompanied by an armored vehicle, had replaced the guards at the president's residence. Presidential guard sentry posts were initially empty, however a few guards later appeared and were permitted to take up positions.
“President Hadi is still in his home. There is no problem, he can leave,” Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Houthi politburo, told Reuters.
Prime Minister Khaled Bahah quit his official residence, which had also been surrounded by Houthi fighters, for “a safe place after three days of siege”, one of his aides told Reuters.
One of Hadi's guards told Reuters that while the Houthis were outside his compound, the president's security men were with him inside. He said Hadi had held meetings with several of his political associates during the day.
Yemeni military sources said the Houthis also seized the military aviation college located close to Hadi's home, and the main missile base in Sanaa, without a fight.
In the south of the country, Hadi's home region, local officials denounced what they called a coup against him. They shut the air and sea ports of the south's main city, Aden and closed land entry routes.
Gulf Arab states, which support Hadi and oppose Iranian influence in the region, denounced what they called terrorist acts by the Houthis and their allies. They demanded state bodies be returned to government control and Hadi's chief of staff, detained by the Houthis last week, be released.
Yemen, an impoverished nation of 25 million, has been plagued by Islamist insurgency, separatist conflict, sectarian strife and economic crisis for years. An “Arab Spring” popular uprising in 2011 led to the downfall of long-ruling President Ali Abdullah Saleh, bringing more chaos.
The Houthis, rebels from the north drawn from a large Shi'ite minority that ruled a 1,000-year kingdom in Yemen until 1962, stormed into the capital in September but had mostly held back from directly challenging Hadi until last week.
They accuse the president of seeking to bypass a power-sharing deal signed when they seized Sanaa in September, and say they are also working to protect state institutions from corrupt civil servants and officers trying to plunder state property.
Houthi fighters battled guards at Hadi's home and entered the presidential palace on Tuesday. In his televised speech that followed, the group's leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi warned Hadi that he had to implement the power-sharing deal.
“We … will not hesitate to impose any necessary measures to implement the peace and partnership agreement,” said Abdel-Malek, whose Shi'ite Muslim group is widely seen as an ally of Iran in its regional struggle for influence with Saudi Arabia.
The accord gives the Shi'ite Muslim group, which takes its name from the family of its leader, a role in all military and civil state bodies. The Houthis also demand changes to the divisions of regional power in a draft constitution.
Their decision to stop short of toppling Hadi, an ally of the West and supporter of U.S. drone strikes, may be intended to keep regional Sunni Muslim states and the United States from rallying against them.
A government source told Reuters: “They know that if they bring about the downfall of the president, they won’t be able to rule the country, because Western and neighboring countries will gang on up on them, as well as other provinces that are not under their control.”
Abdel-Malek's speech left little doubt however that his movement was now in effective control of the country. Al Masdar newspaper referred to him as “the president's president”.
The emergence of the Houthis as Yemen's de facto top power in September has scrambled alliances across Yemen's political spectrum, raising fears of deeper instability in a country that shares a border with top oil exporter Saudi Arabia and has one of al Qaeda's most active branches.
The Houthi action this week is likely to deepen a regional struggle for influence between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and may complicate the region's counter-terrorism challenge. Angered by the takeover in September, and suspecting Iranian complicity, Riyadh cut most of its financial aid to Yemen.
For its part, al Qaeda has launched repeated attacks on Houthi targets, including bombings in Sanaa that have killed civilians and raised fears of widespread sectarian violence.
Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, in his early 30s, originally won his reputation as a tough, efficient battlefield commander in a series of six wars fighting Saleh's forces.
But since mass protests in 2011, he has positioned himself as a revolutionary national leader, claiming the mantle of the demonstrators who flocked Sanaa's streets four years ago demanding an end to corruption and dictatorial government.
Al Qaeda claims French attack, derides Paris rally
Al-Qaeda in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, saying it was ordered by the Islamist militant group's leadership for insulting the Prophet Mohammad, according to a video posted on YouTube.
Gunmen killed a total of 17 people in three days of violence that began when they opened fire at Charlie Hebdo last week in revenge for publication of satirical images of the Prophet.
This was the first time that a group officially claimed responsibility for the attack, led by two brothers who had visited the poor Arabian peninsula country in 2011.
“As for the blessed Battle of Paris, we … claim responsibility for this operation as vengeance for the Messenger of God,” said Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi, a leader of the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda (AQAP) in the recording.
Ansi, an AQAP ideologue, said the “one who chose the target, laid the plan and financed the operation is the leadership of the organisation”, without naming an individual.
He added without elaborating that the strike was carried out in “implementation” of the order of overall al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, who has called for strikes by Muslims in the West using any means they can find.
Ansi also gave credit for the operation to slain AQAP propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, a preacher cited by one of the gunmen in remarks to French media as a financer of the attack.
It was not clear how Awlaki, killed by a U.S. drone in 2011, had a direct link to the Paris assault, but he inspired several militants in the United States and Britain to acts of violence.
The group mocked a big solidarity rally in Paris on Sunday for the victims, saying the shock on display showed feebleness.
“Look at how they gathered, rallied and supported each other; strengthening their weakness and dressing their wounds,” it said of Western leaders who attended the event.
It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the recording, which carried the logo of al-Qaeda's media group al-Malahem.
The purported claim of responsibility puts a fresh spotlight on a group often cited by Western officials as al-Qaeda's most dangerous branch. AQAP has recently focused on fighting enemies at home such as government forces and Shi'ite rebels, but says that it still aims to carry out attacks abroad.
Two senior Yemeni sources that both Cherif and Said Kouachi, who carried out the Charlie Hebdo attack, had traveled to Yemen via Oman in 2011, met Awlaki and underwent weapons training in the eastern province of Marib.
A Marib tribal leader denied that the brothers had trained there in 2011 or that Awlaki used to be present in the province.
AQAP's Yemeni leader, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, was once a close associate of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, whose father was born in Yemen, a neighbor of top oil exporter Saudi Arabia.
Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi complained on Wednesday that Yemen was subject to a politicized media campaign over the attackers' 2011 visit, state news agency Saba said.
“The person reported to have traveled to Yemen to learn in three days how to fire a pistol had been detained and under investigation for two years in France,” Saba quoted Hadi as saying. Hadi wondered why such suspicious elements came to Yemen and returned home without being questioned, it said.
Hostage taken north of Paris during manhunt for Charlie Hebdo killings
At least one hostage was seized in a town northeast of Paris on Friday during a huge manhunt for two brothers suspected of killing 12 people at a satirical weekly, according to a police source.
Five helicopters were seen flying over an industrial zone outside the town of Dammartin-en-Goele and the French Interior Minister confirmed an operation was taking place there. A police source said the two suspects had been sighted in the town, where at least one person was taken hostage.
Before night fell on Thursday, officers had been focusing on their search some 25 miles away on the woodland village of Corcy, not far from a service station where police sources said the brothers had been sighted in ski masks a day after the shootings at the newspaper.
The fugitive suspects are French-born sons of Algerian-born parents, both in their early 30s, and already under police surveillance. One was jailed for 18 months for trying to travel to Iraq a decade ago to fight as part of an Islamist cell. Police said they were “armed and dangerous”.
U.S. and European sources close to the investigation said on Thursday that one of the brothers, Said Kouachi, was in Yemen in 2011 for several months training with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the group's most active affiliates.
A Yemeni official familiar with the matter said the Yemen government was aware of the possibility of a connection between Said Kouachi and AQAP, and was looking into any possible links.
U.S. government sources said Said Kouachi and his brother Cherif Kouachi were listed in two U.S. security databases, a highly classified database containing information on 1.2 million possible counter-terrorism suspects, called TIDE, and the much smaller “no fly” list maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center, an interagency unit.
U.S. television network ABC reported that the brothers had been listed in the databases for “years.”
Dave Joly, a spokesman for the Terrorist Screening Center, said he could neither confirm nor deny if the Kouachis were listed in counter-terrorism databases.
While world leaders described Wednesday's attack on the weekly newspaper Cahrlie Hebdo as an assault on democracy, al Qaeda's North Africa branch praised the gunmen as “knight(s) of truth”.
Charlie Hebdo, where journalists were gunned down during an editorial meeting, had been firebombed in the past for printing cartoons that poked fun at militant Islam and some that mocked the Prophet Muhammad.
Two of those killed were police posted to protect the paper.
On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama made an unannounced visit to the French Embassy in Washington to pay his respects.
He wrote in a condolence book: “As allies across the centuries, we stand united with our French brothers to ensure that justice is done and our way of life is defended. We go forward together knowing that terror is no match for freedom and ideals we stand for – ideals that light the world.”
Amid local media reports of isolated incidents of violence directed at Muslims in France, President Francois Hollande and his Socialist government have called on the French not to blame the Islam faith for the Charlie Hebdo killings.
Hollande has held talks with opposition leaders and, in a rare move, was due to invite Marine Le Pen, leader of the resurgent anti-immigrant National Front, to his Elysee Palace for discussions on Friday.
Bewildered and tearful French people held a national day of mourning on Thursday. The bells of Notre Dame pealed for those killed in the attack on the left-leaning slayer of sacred cows whose cartoonists have been national figures since the Parisian counter-cultural heyday of the 1960s and 1970s.
Many European newspapers either re-published Charlie Hebdo cartoons or lampooned the killers with images of their own.
Searches were taking place in Corcy and the nearby village of Longpont, set in thick forest and boggy marshland about 70 km north of Paris, but it was not clear whether the fugitives who had been spotted in the area were holed up or had moved on.
Corcy residents looked bewildered as heavily armed policeman in ski masks and helmets combed the village meticulously from houses to garages and barns.
“We're hearing that the men could be in the forest, but there's no information so we're watching television to see,” said Corcy villager Jacques.
In neighboring Longpont, a resident said police had told villagers to stay indoors because the gunmen may have abandoned their car there. Anti-terrorism officers pulled back as darkness fell. The silence was broken by the sound of a forest owl.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, asked on RTL radio on Thursday whether he feared a further attack, said: “That's obviously our main concern and that is why thousands of police and investigators have been mobilized to catch these individuals.”
Police released photographs of the two suspects, Cherif and Said Kouachi, 32 and 34. The brothers were born in eastern Paris and grew up in an orphanage in the western city of Rennes after their parents died.
The younger brother's jail sentence for trying to fight in Iraq a decade ago, and more recent tangles with the authorities over suspected involvement in militant plots, raised questions over whether police could have done more to watch them.
Cherif Kouachi was arrested on Jan. 25, 2005 preparing to fly to Syria en route to Iraq. He served 18 months of a three-year sentence.
“He was part of a group of young people who were a little lost, confused, not really fanatics in the proper sense of the word,” lawyer Vincent Ollivier, who represented Cherif in the case, told Liberation daily.
In 2010 he was suspected of being part of a group that tried to break from prison Smain Ali Belkacem, a militant jailed for the 1995 bombings of Paris train and metro stations that killed eight people and wounded 120. The case against Cherif Kouachi was dismissed for lack of evidence.
In the wake of the killings, authorities tightened security at transport hubs, religious sites, media offices and stores. Police also increased their presence at entry points to Paris.
The defense ministry said it sent 200 extra soldiers from parachute regiments across the country to help guard Paris.
Le Figaro newspaper reported that the interior ministry had been inundated with dozens of requests for police protection from “personalities feeling in danger”, citing a high-ranking police official.
Al-Qaeda claims responsibility for Sanaa suicide bombings
Al-Qaeda's wing in Yemen on Friday claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on Yemen's powerful Shi'ite Houthi group that killed at least 47 people.
On Thursday, a suicide bomber detonated a belt packed with explosives at a Houthi checkpoint in the center of the capital Sanaa where Houthi supporters were preparing to hold a rally.
Body parts were scattered across Tahrir Square and pools of blood formed on the asphalt after the blast, which also wounded at least 75 people.
The bomb attack was carried out by a man called Abu Mouwaia al-Sanaani, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni branch of the movement, said in a statement on its Twitter account.
Thursday's bombing occurred just hours after a showdown between the Houthis and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour forced Prime Minister-designate Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, whose appointment on Tuesday under a power-sharing deal signed last month had angered Houthi leaders, to turn down the post.
The Houthis have emerged as Yemen's main power brokers since their paramilitary forces seized the capital on Sept. 21, following weeks of anti-government demonstrations.
AQAP, which has targeted state institutions, including the armed forces, sees the Houthis, who are members of the minority Zaydi sect of Shi'ite Islam, as heretics.
A southern secessionist movement and the AQAP onslaught on security forces has already stretched the resources of Yemen, an impoverished country of 25 million, and alarmed neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, and other Gulf Arab states.
Western and Gulf Arab countries are worried that instability in Yemen could strengthen al-Qaeda and have supported a U.N.-backed political transition since 2012 led by Hadi meant to shepherd the country to stability after decades of autocracy.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; writing by Rania El Gamal
17 Yemeni Jews secretly airlifted to Israel
Seventeen Yemeni Jews were airlifted to Israel in a covert operation.
Four of the Jews were flown directly from Yemen to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday, Haaretz reported. The rest were taken clandestinely from Buenos Aires after being smuggled to the Argentinian capital by a group of Satmar hasidim in August 2011, living in the Satmar community there. The Satmars have been involved in smuggling Jews out of Yemen for several years, according to Haaretz.
Several of the Yemenis reunited with family members in Israel.
The operation — a coordinated effort among the Jewish Agency and the Israeli ministries for the interior, foreign affairs and immigration absorption — was prompted by growing concern for the safety of the Jews in Yemen, according to the Jewish Agency. Anti-Semitic violence has been a growing problem since the 2011 ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The airlift brings to 45 the number of Yemeni Jews who have been brought to Israel this year and 151 since 2009.
Fewer than 90 Jews remain in Yemen, with about half of them living in a guarded structure in the capital, Sa’ana, Haaretz reported.
The 17 Yemeni Jews will be housed in Jewish Agency immigration absorption centers in southern Israel.
Some 49,000 Yemeni Jews were brought to the nascent State of Israel in Operation Magic Carpet in 1949-50.
Americans in Yemen fear kidnappings
This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.
Luke, an American photographer and editor for an English-language local newspaper, lives in one of the tall historic buildings in the city. With increased kidnappings of Westerners in Yemen, he also lives in fear.
The number of kidnappings has increased recently, with tribesmen or Al-Qa'ida terrorists using hostages either as bargaining chips for the release of imprisoned members or as a way to get a lucrative ransom.
Several foreigners have been abducted this year by either Al-Qa'ida gunmen or disgruntled tribesmen. Last month a Dutch couple was abducted here. Their location is still unknown. In May, gunmen abducted two South Africans in the southern province of Taiz. Three members of the Red Cross, including a Swiss citizen were also briefly held captive as well that month.
Although they refused to give an exact number of Westerners living in the country, Yemeni foreign ministry officials said that the number of Westerners here has plunged in recent years.
For the Westerners who live here despite the threats, the fear is always there, but they try to live as normal a life as they can, and believe reports of violence in Yemen are exaggerated by the media.
Luke, 31, who arrived in 2011, says the situation has taken a toll on him. “There's no denying that as a foreigner, in particular a 'Westerner,' you stick out in Yemen. But while such news is certainly disturbing, it is clear to me that carrying around such worry or concern is neither helpful nor healthy.”
Luke says he tries not to think about the fear of kidnappings.
“I live my life as normally as I can,” he told The Media Line. “The fact that so many of the people who surround me on a daily basis are kind, helpful and genuinely curious [about me] helps in this regard.”
“I do sense that as long as foreigners aren't secreted away in compounds or constantly surrounded by security details, the unparalleled warmth and generosity of the Yemeni people can serve to assuage most daily fears or concerns about such things,” he told The Media Line.
Luke is hardly alone in facing down the fear of kidnapping in Yemen. Hundreds of Westerners here have to worry about increased violence and a growing lack of security.
“We pray every day for God's protection. And we feel that God is guiding our steps. That said, we also have to be careful and use our common sense regarding where to go,” a 47-year-old American teacher who requested anonymity, told The Media Line.
The language teacher, who has been living here for nine years, said Yemen's security and economy took a turn for the worse after the revolution in 2011 that ousted former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
“When we first came to Yemen, we would go in the car and visit cities and villages…But now we can't go out of the city due to the bad security situation,” she recalled.
The kidnappings and growing lack of security here have taken not only a psychological toll on the Westerners, but has hurt them economically as well.
Susan Coleman, co-owner of the Coffee Trader, a well-known coffee shop in Sana'a and one of a handful of businesses owned by Americans in the country, told The Media Line that kidnappings have hurt her business, which attracts foreign and Yemeni customers alike.
Coleman, 47, said she came here with her husband to study Arabic and teach English. But when they noticed there were no Western-style coffee shops in Yemen, they decided to open one in 2007.
She said that the coffee shop was a hit from the beginning, but business has fallen off lately because of the opening of rival coffee shops and the fear of kidnapping.
“We used to have people from embassies come, but now due to the security situation they don't come here because they fear for their safety.”
Despite putting up a positive front, Coleman refused to be photographed for security reasons and she says Westerners' need to maintain a low profile. She added that if security improved Yemen could become one of the biggest tourist hubs in the region.
Stan, from Washington, D.C., who arrived this summer to study Arabic, also thinks the country gets a bad rap, but exercises caution anyway on a daily basis.
“I arrived in Yemen just this summer, right in the thick of the current spate of kidnappings. I vary my schedule, keep solitary travel to a minimum, and stay in touch with friends and colleagues, particularly when I'm in a new or unfamiliar part of town. This is definitely distinct from my daily life back home.”
Besides his interest in learning Arabic, “I was really excited by the incredible developments Yemen is undergoing right now. Between the transitional government, the national dialogue and impending new constitution and elections, this is an incredible time to be in Yemen and I wanted to take advantage of it.”
He refuses to allow the fear of kidnappings to get in the way of his goals. “The kidnapping of Westerners is something that saddens me but does not ultimately affect my daily life. Hearing about kidnappings is a reminder of a number of things. It's a reminder that there are risks being a foreigner in Sana'a, It's a reminder there are groups in Yemen that are willing to use foreigners to further their political or ideological goals,” he told The Media Line.
Nonetheless, Stan, 24, refuses to let the tension scare him away from his goal of learning about the country and its people. “I came to Yemen to meet Yemeni people, experience Yemeni culture and society, and improve my Arabic. I cannot do those things from the safety of my dorm room, nor do I think that remaining indoors is substantially safer than living prudently in greater Sana'a. The kidnappings don't worry me, because I feel that worrying doesn't accomplish anything. They simply remind me to be safe, while also inspiring a hope that current hostages will be returned safely and soon.”
Reacting to accusations that Yemen is a major terrorist center, Stan said: “The presence of terrorist groups does not a 'terrorist hub' make. The US and its media outlets love the words 'terrorist' and Al Qa'ida and are eager to report on these things with inflammatory news bites and oversimplified headlines. …We're used to relying on the media to tell us everything about other countries, and we do the same for Yemen. So when an attack by Al-Qa'ida is mentioned as having taken place in Yemen, it fits in nicely with the narrative the media has started to build, and which Americans in general have accepted, that Yemen is a desert country with terrorist groups running around everywhere.”
He says the international community should take a closer look at Yemen.
“It's easy to assume the worst about a people or country halfway across the world; I would want to start correcting those assumptions,” Stan told The Media Line.
The American embassy won't provide numbers of Americans residing or visiting the country either. But US Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein said: “Al-Qa'ida has consistently made clear it wishes to harm American citizens and we take such threats very seriously. As a matter of policy, we do not publicly discuss our security posture.”
Despite the kidnappings, Stan hopes Yemen can earn a better reputation among foreigners.
“The most important thing for me would be to inform Americans that Yemenis distinguish between the American government and an average American person. Many Yemenis strongly dislike the former, but I have not met a single Yemeni who disliked me for being the latter. Every Yemeni I've spoken to has been gracious and welcoming. They have gone out of their way to make sure that they do not harbor ill will toward me because of the actions of my government, and that they are glad that I have traveled to Yemen,” Stan concluded.
Is Obama George W. — or even Nixon? The secrecy factor
The Obama administration has in recent weeks suffered a 1-2-3 scandal outbreak:
– The Benghazi tragedy-as-fiasco gained legs when internal emails emerged suggesting a massaged timeline of who knew what, when;
– The IRS owned up to focusing on conservative groups in delaying approval for tax exempt status in the last election;
– The AP furiously revealed that for two months last year the Justice Department had tracked its phone calls, apparently in a bid to track down government leakers in a story about the thwarting of a Yemen-based terrorist plot.
So the emerging narrative is, is President Obama another George W. Bush or (gasp!) Richard Nixon? And will this finally lose him the liberals?
The Reform movement’s Religious Action Center is already on the record with fairly no-holds-barred outrage regarding the IRS story:
Reports that the IRS focused attention on applications for tax exempt status from groups with apparently politically conservative names and ideologies are deeply concerning. The IRS must establish neutral guidelines for its work that do not favor or disadvantage any political ideology. Abiding by these guidelines will ensure the IRS upholds the non-partisan status that is key to maintaining public trust in its work.
No individual or organization should incur extra attention from the IRS solely on the basis of political ideology and no entity should feel implicit or explicit pressure to alter its mission or actions based on fear of politically-motivated action from the IRS – or any other government agency.
We look forward to a full explanation from the IRS as to how this situation developed and how it will be prevented from occurring in the future.
Jon Stewart had fun last night with the 1-2-3 meme:
And naturally, we’re already deep into Nixon comparisons.
The Nixon years are an inverse of the old 1960s encomium: Anyone who misremembers them so badly can’t have lived through them. Nixon made rivals into enemies, tried to make enemies into criminals, and made the Constitution confetti along the way. Obama, so far, is a long way from there.
But the Bush comparisons seem to have legs, and not least because it has been Obama’s defenders who over the last couple of days have raised them. The Bush era IRS in 2004 went after the NAACP, they have noted, and the Bush administration sought New York Times and Washington Post phone records under the same terms that the Obama DOJ did the AP.
Which raises the question: How does this square with a president who campaigned on a vow not to be Bush, particularly as it related to government secrecy?
One caveat: The Bush administration sought to criminalize the gathering of information, not merely its leaking. It tried to set a precedent that ultimately would have criminalized the journalists in these cases, not just the leakers.
JTA covered the story, naturally enough — the “leakees” in this case were two former AIPAC staffers. And notably, one of Attorney General Eric Holder’s first acts was to shut the case down.
Growing anger over American drones in Yemen
“Mrs. Michele Obama: Tell us can your husband sleep after so many innocent people were killed by his drones?” read a banner held by a Yemeni activist at a recent rally to protest increasing American drone strikes in Yemen.
The rally reflected the growing anti-American feeling among Yemenis, who strongly oppose increasing drone strikes that sometimes result in the killing of innocent civilians, including women and children.
So while American forces are succeeding in hitting gunmen in Al-Qa'ida, the drone strikes have also fueled anger against the US, especially in areas regularly vulnerable to the attacks.
“The negative aspects of drones greatly outweigh their gains,” Saeed Obaid, a Yemeni analyst and expert on anti-terrorism and chairman of the Al-Jahmi Center for Studies, told The Media Line.
The 2011 political deadlock eventually resulting in then President Ali Abdullah Saleh's resignation caused Saleh's government to cut back on its anti-terrorism cooperation with the US. Washington therefore began using an increasing number of drones to contain Yemen's local franchise of Al-Qa'ida, which exploited the unrest and took control of large portions of south and southeastern Yemen.
Based in Yemen's mountainous areas, Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is considered by Washington to be the most dangerous cell of the global terror network.
Government officials say they have no figures on the number of US drone attacks, but human rights organizations, the press, and other observers agree drone strikes hit a record high last year.
There is disagreement, however, over the exact number of attacks, with The Associated Press (AP) claiming 40 strikes in 2012 but Yemen's National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms (HOOD) recording 81 last year. AP reported nine so far this year.
“The Long War Journal”, a Web site that reports on the battle against international terror, reported that in 2012 alone it had confirmed 228 deaths from drone attacks, including 35 civilians. However, the Yemen-based civil rights group Maonah Association for Human Rights and Immigration put the dead at over 300 people, mostly civilians.
Those living in areas frequently targeted by the unmanned planes say their lives have been significantly affected by the drones.
“The American strikes have had a huge psychological impact on the citizens as we don't know when and where the next American drone is going to strike,” Khaled Alabd, a Yemeni reporter and activist based in his home town of Lawdar – an Al-Qa'ida stronghold — told The Media Line. “Indeed, the sound of these drones that keep roaming our sky instills fear into our hearts. Many civilians were killed, and we never knew when we might be hit by a missile.
“With every American drone attack resulting in civilian deaths, anti-American sentiments increase against Washington as well as against the government which endorses these attacks,” he said.
The protests against the drones have been stepped-up recently. Last week, dozens of Yemeni human rights activists held a rally in front of the US embassy here to denounce the drone strikes and demand an immediate halt to what they called “extrajudicial killings.”
They also sent a letter to US President Barack Obama expressing their anger over the drone policy and continuous American violation of Yemen's sovereignty.
“We sent this message to Obama as Yemeni citizens whose country has been pounded by American predators ever since he came to power…All Yemenis stand against terrorism but they also stand against the illegal and immoral use of drones in the war against terrorism,” Mohammed Abdu Al-Absi, a well-known journalist and a leading figure at the protest, told The Media Line.
“Extrajudicial killings by the American predators are crimes against humanity,” he said, adding, “We respect American laws, so they have to respect ours and help us do the same, not violate the laws themselves by infringing on our sovereignty and killing people without a trial.
“Killing a civilian or a terrorist by American predators is like gunning down people who participate in peaceful protests, with the only difference in the identity of the predator,” he continued.
Other activists agreed.
“We are against terrorists, but we are also against this illegal American way of killing people. Everyone has the right to a fair trial and the drones take this right away as they kill people without convictions,” Mohammed Alaw, head of the Maonah Association, told The Media Line. “This strategy ignores the well-known principle that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.”
The rally came just days after a Yemeni activist whose village was struck by an American drone a week earlier delivered moving testimony on the ill effects of drones before a meeting of the American Senate Judiciary Committee
Farea Al-Muslimi, 22, of the Yemeni village of Wessab explained how his village had been mostly pro-American, largely because of his descriptions of the wonderful year of high school he spent in the US. A drone strike in Wessab against a man whom Muslimi insisted could easily have simply been arrested changed all that.
“What the violent militants have previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant. There is now an intense anger against America in Wessab. This is not an isolated incident – the drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis,” he said in his testimony.
“I believe in America and I deeply believe that when Americans truly know about how much pain and suffering the US airstrikes have caused and how much they are harming the hearts and minds of the Yemeni people, they will reject this devastating targeted killing program.”
While the drones have also helped the Yemeni government retake areas taken over by Al-Qa'ida-affiliated fighters in 2011, Yemeni analysts agree with Al-Muslimi that they do more harm than good in fighting terrorism.
Obaid of the al-Jahmi Center told The Media Line, “No one can deny the gains of the drones in the war against terrorism, but no one can deny their ill effects, either.”
“Actually the drones have helped America get rid of high-ranking Al-Qa'ida leaders, but simultaneously they helped the terror group garner more supporters and sympathizers,” he said.
“With every civilian casualty, Al-Qaida garners a thousand new supporters ranging from fighters to sympathizers. Such attacks also adversely affect the liberal forces, as people tend to support extremist groups out of sympathy,” journalist Al-Absi said.
Abdusalam Mohammed, Chairman of the Abaad Studies and Research Center, a non-profit Yemeni organization, said he believes that the biggest negative aspect of the American drones is the lack of transparency.
“The American use of drones is surrounded by ambiguity: Their technology and techniques are kept secret and so are their goals and strategies,” he told The Media Line.
“Unfortunately, the United States is only looking out for its short term gains in eliminating such terrorists, when it should also consider the interests of the country on whose soil its drones strike,” he said.
Underscoring his point, Mohammed cited the killing of the American-born Yemeni cleric Anwar Al-Awiaki in 2011 as an example.
The US considered killing Al-Awiaki a victory in the war against terror, but in fact this has had huge adverse effects on the ground, Mohammed said, adding: “That attack cost Yemen millions of dollars to the retaliatory sabotage attacks on oil pipelines in the region and helped Al-Qa'ida gain more popularity and garner wide public support.”
Obaid and Mohammed agreed that civilian casualties significantly decreased after the regime changed, attributing this to President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi's being a more reliable partner in the war against terrorism than his predecessor.
Mohammed concluded, however, “To avoid ever-increasing wide public anger, Sana'a and Washington have to reassess their strategy in their cooperation on the war in a way that helps both countries fight terrorism without infringing on Yemen's sovereignty and which promises no killing of civilians.”
Yemeni security forces on highest alert after Al-Qa’ida targets U.S. ambassador
Yemeni and US embassy officials went on high alert recently after Al-Qa'ida offered a bounty to kill US ambassador to Sana'a Gerald Feierstein or any American soldier in the country.
American officials were said to be determined not to allow a repeat of the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya, last September 11 that left Ambassador J. Christopher Stephens and four others dead.
“We take Al-Qa’ida threats to target the American ambassador and diplomats very seriously and we took all measures to foil any potential terrorist operation aiming to target them….We increased the security presence around embassies across the nation and we are ready to encounter any potential threats,” a high-ranking Yemeni Interior Ministry official told The Media Line, asking to remain anonymous in line with military protocols.
He added that Yemeni security bodies and the American embassy were cooperating to protect American diplomats, but refused to offer further details. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor told The Media Line: “We take such threats very seriously and will continue to monitor the situation closely. We are operating in a highly sensitive and difficult situation.”
The Al-Qa'ida threat came in an audio message posted on the organization's websites last week. The Yemen branch of the organization offered three kilograms of gold (6.6 pounds) worth about $100,000 to kill the US ambassador and five million Yemeni riyals ($23,000) for killing any American soldier in the country. The offer is valid for six months and the bounties aim to “inspire and encourage our Muslim nation for jihad,” the message said.
The United States considers the Yemeni branch of Al-Qa'ida to be the global terrorist organization's most dangerous and active cell. The threats come as the US has stepped up its use of drones searching for terrorist operatives in Yemen's southern and southeastern provinces.
Just this past Friday, dozens of people in the town of Rada, briefly taken over by Al-Qa'ida last year, demanded the drone attacks be halted immediately. Rada is just one of several key towns in the southern and southeastern parts of Yemen taken over by Al-Qa'ida in 2011, but taken back by the Yemeni army with assistance from the United States in May 2012.
While Yemen and the US are taking the terrorist threats very seriously, Abaad Studies and Research Center Chairman Abdusalam Mohammed downplayed them, saying they only expose Al-Qa'ida's weakness. “If the militant group could assassinate the Americans, it would have done so without publicly announcing bounties for killing them,” he said.
“There are two possible scenarios for the threats,” he added. “The first is that they were really made by Al-Qa'ida. In this case the threats are not dangerous at all as they only help expose Al-Qa'ida's weakness in Yemen after its militants were driven out from their proclaimed Islamic emirate in the Abyan governorate and amid the continuing hunt against the [terrorist] elements by the army and American drones. The second is that there are local or international bodies planning to target embassies and diplomats in the country with the aim of causing chaos – this is what Yemen and the US should take into consideration.” He said those bodies might only be hiding behind Al-Qa'ida, and discounted any link between the increase in US drone strikes and these latest Al-Qa'ida threats.
Mohammed says he believes the American administration is taking the threats seriously because it can't allow for a repetition of the Benghazi attack. “Whether the threats are credible or not, the American government is not willing to leave any security loopholes for the militants to capitalize on and repeat Libya's scenario,” he added.