Why al-Qa’ida found hotbed in Yemen?

On Saturday, Human Rights Watch released a report indicating that Yemeni government soldiers raided some hospitals in the southern port city of Aden in search of suspected Al-Qa’ida terrorists.

The report further stated that army troops have stormed hospitals and medical facilities in Aden at least five times since the beginning of this year, saying the raids led one hospital in the city to suspend its operations and others to turn patients away in fear of violence.

Human rights activist Mosa Al-Nimrani told The Media Line that, “Arresting wounded people is a crime that violates human rights conventions. The government can arrest the suspected terrorists, but it has first to make sure they avail of medical services.”

The HRW report was released one day after Al-Qa'ida loyalists launched an attack on a military base in the southern town of Shuqra, killing at least 15 soldiers and wounding scores of others. Shuqra, a town in Abyan province, had been taken over by Ansar Al-Sharia, the Yemeni Al-Qa’ida franchise, in 2011, but was retaken by the army earlier this year.

After the Ansar Al-Sharia members were kicked out of strongholds they had seized last year, the terrorist group resorted to carrying out deadly suicide attacks targeting high-ranking army commanders and sometimes launching surprise attacks against army posts.

In May, with American backing, the Yemeni army initiated a comprehensive offensive against the Al-Qa’ida-aligned terrorists at the behest of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, driving them out from their strongholds in the southern part of the country.

The victory was viewed as significant progress in the fight against the group, but its proven capability to continue to launch deadly attacks leaves many to wonder how Al-Qa'ida operatives are able to successfully hide from government and what makes them so dangerous.

Speaking with The Medial Line on condition of anonymity, one high-ranking security official who participated in the offensive against the terrorists in Abyan, theorized that, “Terrorists thrive and gain strength in areas of conflicts.”

“The terrorists found a sanctuary in Yemen because of the constant conflicts in the country,” he elaborated. “When they saw the 2011 unrest — the biggest conflict– they expanded their presence and attempted to establish ‘Islamic Emirates,’” he said.

Abdusalam Mohammed, the chairman of Abaad Studies and Research Center, told The Media Line that, “Al-Qa'ida, as well as any other militant group, exists where the governments are weak and unable to establish their authority.”

“Al-Qa'ida found a hotbed in Yemen because the central government is too weak to establish its authority in cities, let alone in distant and remote areas,” he said. “Yemen has rugged mountainous areas and vast deserts where Al-Qa’ida-linked fighters can hide from the government. It has also a coastline of about 2,200km (1,367 miles) on both the Arab and Red seas, through which terrorists can get supplies of weapons because the government can't protect it.”

Al-Nimrani shared Mohammed's thinking that the main factor behind the existence of Al-Qa'ida in Yemen is the fact that the government is too weak to establish its authority in every part of the country.

Gailan Abdulmalik, a resident of Abyan, where Al-Qa'ida is most active, told The Media Line that, “Al-Qa'ida members live normally. Some of them work in public offices; others work in trade and other businesses.”

Representing another way of looking at Al-Qa'ida in Yemen, Ali Al-Amad, a leader in the Houthi Movement, a Shiite group backed by Tehran, told The Media Line that Al-Qa'ida has been established in Yemen at the desire of some regional and international powers (referring to the U.S and its regional backers).

“Earlier this year, it was announced that Al-Qa'ida has a great number of fighters in some Yemeni cities and towns like Rada. Then they disappeared at once,” he cited as evidence that Al-Qa'ida in Yemen is the creation of regional and international powers and their local agents in the country. “They make it appear and disappear according to their will,” he said.

Al-Amad believes that “What has been attributed to Al-Qa'ida in the context  of the recent terrorist attacks and bombings comes within the framework of political conflicts between the war lords in the country,” an understanding that almost all Houthi followers share.

Al-Amad described President Hadi's inauguration speech, in which he pledged to make fighting terrorism in Yemen his priority, as a way of declaring that he would implement external powers' agendas in the country.

“He [Hadi] came to power via a US-backed, Gulf monarchies-drawn initiative. And this tells you the whole story.” Al-Amad said.

According to Mohammed, Al-Qa'ida in Yemen has been greatly weakened after the recent offensive against its operatives in the south.

Al-Qa'ida is currently practicing guerrilla war against army troops in which it depends largely on collaboration inside these military institutions as well as on the element of surprise, Mohammed said.

“Yemen, as well as the US, should not focus primarily on the Al-Qa'ida threat because it's no longer the biggest challenge facing the country. Currently, the biggest threats to Yemen's security as well as to the regional security are the expansion of the Houthi Group and the former regime which tries to sew chaos,” he concluded.

Yemeni President asserts authority as U.S. partner on American visit

If there were any doubts about the budding alliance between US President Barack Obama and his newly-inaugurated counterpart in Yemen, Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, the Yemeni president dispelled them in his first official visit to the United States over the weekend.

In a scheduled talk at the Atlantic Council and the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., followed by a joint interview with the Washington Post and Foreign Policy magazine, Hadi delved into the details of a classified US drone program that is reported to have killed hundreds of Al-Qa’ida loyalists and a growing list of civilians since last year, when the international terrorist organization’s Yemen franchise, Al-Qa’da in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), seized control of a southern province amid Yemen’s Arab Spring-inspired anti-government uprisings.

“Every operation, before taking place, they [the US government] take permission from the [Yemeni] president,” Hadi said in an apparent attempt to show that Yemen is not, as is often-depicted, subservient to the American superpower, but rather an active participant in the decision-making process.

In another remark, President Hadi claimed that “drones have zero margin of error, if you know exactly what target you are aiming at.” 

The website globalvoicesonline.org catalogued some Yemenis’ reactions on Twitter. Mohammed Al-Amrani tweeted that there was “no need for WikiLeaks on Hadi's case,” alluding to the 2010 WikiLeaks cable in which former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told US General David Petraeus, at that time commander of American forces in the Middle East, that ‘We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.’”

Atiaf Alwazir asked President Hadi, “How precise were these missiles that hit a hospital, a pharmacy & a #civilian home?” 

Those who had heard about the speech, including tribal Sheikh Al-Hasan Abkr from Al- Jawf governorate northeast of Sana’a told The Media Line that Hadi’s remarks reflected “badly on him and badly on his position” as president. “Everyone will be upset,” he said.
The US-Yemeni relationship has hinged on the shared goal of defeating various militant jihadist organizations in the Arabian Peninsula state for years. The October 2000 Al-Qa’ida bombing of the American naval destroyer USS Cole in a southern Yemen port laid the foundations of the anti-Al-Qa’ida military alliance, which would strengthen in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York. Indeed, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) carried out its first-ever drone strike outside a declared war zone in autumn 2002, killing a suspect in the USS Cole attack along with five associates traveling in a vehicle east of the capital.

A decade later, remote-controlled drone strikes now represent the centerpiece of a US-Yemeni strategy aimed at crushing AQAP, the global terrorist organization’s affiliate identified as the most likely to attack the US homeland after its failed Christmas Day bombing in 2009, when a Nigerian member tried to detonate his undergarments on a Detroit-bound airliner. The near-successful plot mobilized hundreds of millions of dollars in counter-terrorism aid to train Yemeni forces to tackle AQAP themselves.

By mid-2011, however, Yemen’s Arab Spring-inspired uprisings had plunged the country into chaos bordering on civil war and Washington was forced to suspend all military cooperation. AQAP exploited the situation, seizing several cities in the southern Abyan province in an initially successful bid to build an Islamic state.

A Yemeni official told The Media Line that President Hadi’s controversial remarks in Washington should be seen in the context of a larger strategy: “Drones are just one part of the equation,” he said.

In June, only four months into his presidency, Hadi deployed an army of ground troops who swiftly wrested control of Abyan from Al-Qa’ida.

Nonetheless, many Yemenis don’t view the conflict in strategic military terms. It appears that for them, each missile fired from an American drone further alienates the new president from his people. As Alwazir tweeted, “some local papers expressed worries about Hadi's visit to #US w/Qs of sovereignty & independence. not good for his #legitimacy #Yemen #US.”

Britain ready to take in Yemeni Jews

Britain is nearing an agreement to take in persecuted Jews from Yemen who have relatives in the country.

Britain’s Foreign Office is talking with Yemen authorities about the transfer of some Jews who have been attacked amid rising anti-Jewish sentiment in northern Yemen and the growing al-Qaida-inspired militancy, according to the Independent newspaper.

The report said that 20 to 30 families living in the northern town of Raida have relatives living in Britain. They are seeking sanctuary because of rising hate attacks, murders and forced conversions by the hostile Shia al-Houthi tribe, which dominates Yemen’s mountainous border with Saudi Arabia.

Last year the U.S. State Department arranged the evacuation of more than 100 Yemeni Jews who have relatives in the United States.

Britain previously has refused to grant visas to Jews from Yemen, but according to the nearly completed agreement, Raida Jews with British connections will be invited to apply for a three-month visitor visa to see their UK relatives. Once they are out of Yemen, the Raida Jews will be able to claim refugee status, although each application will be considered on an individual basis, unlike in the United States, where all Yemeni Jews are guaranteed asylum.

Spiriting the families out of the country on a visitor visa frees the Yemeni authorities from embarrassment and allows them to avoid claims that they can no longer protect the country’s Jewish population, according to the Independent.