Yemen: Al Qaeda in Broad Daylight
Yemeni men walk down a street as pictures of President Ali Abdullah Saleh are brandished in Mukalla city, where celebrations of the 15th anniversary of the re-unification of Yemen took place earlier this week. (Photo: Khaled Fazaa / AFP-Getty Images)
So did you hear the one about Yemen? They are “reforming” the press law. The proposed law now includes the death penalty for journalists. How about this one? To unify the country, the government is confiscating Shia religious material. How about this? This ally in the War on Terror is perpetuating an Al Qaeda jihad.
Recent public statements about Yemen paint a dire picture. Grand Ayatollah Ali and the religious establishment in Najaf, Iraq, said there is a “brutal massacre” of Shiites going on. The defecting Yemeni ambassador has stated that high-ranking members of the Yemeni government and military are affiliated with Al Qaeda. Putting together the massacre with the Al Qaeda, it’s like another 9/11 unfolding slowly in the mountains and cities of Yemen.
The Yemeni ambassador to Syria, Ahmed Abdullah al-Hasani, is attempting to defect to the United Kingdom. He says that members of Al Qaeda are in the highest ranks of Yemen’s military and security forces. Al-Hasani says that it is very likely that President Ali Abdullah Saleh “knew in advance of the Cole explosion” which killed 17 United States servicemen. Indeed, Freedom House, an American-based nonprofit organization, in 2003 reported that Saleh refused to even investigate the Cole bombing until the United States threatened military action. Also in 2003, Al Qaeda praised President Saleh as the only Arab and Muslim leader who is not an agent for the West or the East.
Currently President Saleh is refusing to act against terrorist financing, probably earning more praise. Only one bank account in Yemen was frozen in response to a 2003 United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee directive to freeze 144 terrorist affiliated accounts of persons, companies, and organizations. The other 143 terrorist associated bank accounts in Yemen remain fully functional. In 2004, the Sanctions Committee list of Al Qaeda owned Yemeni bank accounts was not even issued by the Yemeni government to Yemeni banks.
Next is Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, President Saleh’s half-brother. He is currently a prominent military commander in Yemen. Al-Ahmar was an ally of Osama bin Laden and helped him to recruit Yemenis to fight Soviet troops in Afghanistan reports indicate. Later these fighters set up terrorist training camps in Yemen.
Ambassador al-Hasani says that al-Ahmar was complicit in the kidnapping of 16 western tourists in December 1998. “Two days before the killings, members of the terrorist group were in al-Ahmar’s house in Sanaa,” al-Hasani said. “They were also in telephone contact with Sanaa just before the shootings.” Three British citizens and one Australian were killed as a result of the kidnapping.
Then there is Zindani. Open source intelligence analysis from Power and Interest News Report, an American-based organization, describes Sheik Zindani as bin Laden’s personal mentor. Zindani was a key recruiter in Yemen during the Afghan war against the Soviets. Currently Zindani is the leader of the radical faction of Islah, the Islamic reform party. He is well known for his fiery sermons against the United States. Zindani is also a prominent businessman in Yemen.
In 2004, the Treasury Department designated Zindani as a “Major Terrorist” for his active support of Al Qaeda. Zindani, according to the United States, influences and supports “many terrorist causes.” He is also noted as a contact for Ansar al-Islam, the terrorist group that contains the faction Ansar al-Sunna operating in Iraq. Ansar al-Sunna has claimed responsibility for the beheading of 12 Nepalese hostages and for the explosion at an American base in Mosul, Iraq, which resulted in the deaths of 22 people with 60 more injured.
The Iraqi religious scholars’ statement about internal events in Yemen describes a widespread attack, a kind of jihad, on the Shiites: “What happened in Yemen during the recent months, such as official resolutions, the economic blockade of several areas, and the continuous acts of killings, arrests, oppression and chasing, reveal only a part of the concealed picture of reality in Yemen.” Shia sermons are banned. Shia religious literature confiscated. Shia religious schools are closing. Their teachings have been termed “blasphemous.” There are ongoing mass arrests by village and several thousand men are trapped in the gulag of hellish Yemeni prisons incommunicado, without charges. Their families left without financial support. And then there is Saada.
Chasing a few hundred followers of slain “rebel” cleric, Hussein al-Houthi, the Yemeni military has turned Saada, a Shia region, into a place of blood and tragedy. One mother describes the conditions: “Saada now is being subjected to ethnic cleansing with out any reason. We are starving and thirsty because we cannot get out of our houses, every one who gets out of the house will be killed. Our neighbor’s house was demolished by a missile. Two families were in the house. All of them were killed.”
“I am in the ninth grade,” a girl in Saada relates. “I was in school when they started shooting. I saw the girls of 7 to 15 years student were crying because they were frightened, scared. The teachers called the fathers to come and get their daughter from the school, but they could not because of fire shooting. Even the school was targeted by tanks.” The Iraqi religious leaders have labeled the conditions in Saada as “genocide.”
But the jihad in Yemen today, like any good jihad, also targets democratic reformers, journalists, secularists, and socialists. Within the last few weeks, the Shia led Popular Forces Union Party headquarters was stormed. The Secretary General of the party, Rashad Ali Salem, was held in the building for days. Abdul Mohsen, a founder of a democratic reform movement, was arrested and after days finally charged with drunk driving. The Socialists party headquarters was bombed. The computers for the Popular Forces newspaper were confiscated. And a member of the Popular Forces Union party was kidnapped. The security forces made no attempt to recover him and have taken no action against his kidnappers since his release.
It is both a civil jihad and a bloody jihad. The Yemeni Socialist Party has termed the severe attack on opposition parties as “political terrorism.” The arbitrary arrests continue daily, dead bodies are burnt and dragged behind government vehicles, and the bombing of villages goes on. It is an Al Qaeda jihad in broad daylight by America’s ally, Yemen.
Jane Novak is an American journalist and political analyst.