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How American Drone Strikes are Devastating Yemen

Posted by vmsalama on April 14, 2014

Anyone who knows me, knows Yemen holds a special place in my heart. Its diverse landscape is breathtaking and its rich history is virtually untouched after centuries. But what I love most about Yemen is, hands down, its people (its food comes in a distant second!) They smile from inside, even though they face a great deal of adversity, militants roam freely by land and foreign drones hover above them. This report, from my latest visit to Yemen, explores that latter phenomenon — U.S. drones — and argues that the their existence alone is causing profound psychological detriment to a nation. (photos in the piece are also by me)

How American Drone Strikes are Devastating Yemen

On the ground in a country where unmanned missile attacks are a terrifyingly regular occurrence

By Vivian Salama
April 14, 2014
ROLLING STONE

EXCERPT:

….As the sun began to set on that fateful winter day, the line of SUVs and pick-ups, decorated with simple ribbons and bows for the [wedding], set off for its 22-mile trip. But as the procession came to a standstill to wait on some lagging vehicles, some of the tribesmen claim the faint humming sound they typically heard from planes overhead fell silent.The emptiness was soon filled with the unthinkable. “Missiles showered on our heads,” Abdullah says, moving his hands frenetically. “I started to scream and shout for my cousins. Anyone who was still alive jumped out of their cars.”

Four hellfires, striking seconds apart, pierced the sky, tearing through the fourth vehicle in the procession. When it was over, 12 men were dead, Saleh among them. At least 15 others were wounded according to survivors and activists, including Warda, whose eye was grazed by shrapnel and whose wedding dress was torn to shreds.

The blast was so intense that it reverberated all the way to al-Abusereema, where the groom’s brother Aziz waited for the guests. “I called some people to ask what was that explosion and somebody told me it was the drone,” Aziz recalls. “It was the most awful feeling.”

“As we were driving to the site,” he continues, “I felt myself going deeper and deeper into darkness. That is the feeling of a person who sees his brothers, cousins, relatives and friends dead by one strike, without reason.”

“We are just poor Bedouins,” says Abdullah, now pounding his hands against his chest. “We know nothing about Al Qaeda. But the people are so scared now. Whenever they hear a car or truck, they think of the drones and the strike. They feel awful whenever they see a plane.”…. (Click here to read more)

The wedding of Abdullah Mabkhut al-Amri to Warda last December made headlines around the world after it ended in tragedy./By Vivian Salama

The wedding of Abdullah Mabkhut al-Amri to Warda last December made headlines around the world after it ended in tragedy./By Vivian Salama

Oum Salim sits in her home majlis in Khawlan holding a photo of her late son Salim Hussein Ahmed Jamil, her daughter Asmaa, 7, by her side. /By Vivian Salama

Oum Salim sits in her home majlis in Khawlan holding a photo of her late son Salim Hussein Ahmed Jamil, her daughter Asmaa, 7, by her side. /By Vivian Salama

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Posted in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda, American, Arab, Arab Spring, Awlaki, C.I.A., dictatorship, Drones, Economy, Education, Elections, Employment, Environment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Insurgency, Intervention, Islam, Jihad, Middle East, military, niqab, Obama, Pakistan, Politics, Poverty, PTSD, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Signature Strikes, Social Media, Somalia, South Yemen, Terrorism, Warda, Yemen | 8 Comments »

What’s Behind the Wave of Terror in the Sinai

Posted by vmsalama on November 22, 2013

In just five months, Egypt has suffered more than 200 attacks.
By Vivian Salama
sinai

Writing to a network of followers and potential followers around the world, the Mauritanian-born cleric Sheikh Abu al-Mundhir al-Shinqiti, one of the world’s most prominent jihadi ideologues, described a religious obligation for Muslims to take up arms against the Egyptian army. “The goal of the security campaign that the tyrannical army in Egypt is directing in the Sinai is to protect Israel and its borders after jihadi groups in the Sinai became a real threat to it,” the letter, dated October 17, said. “Jihad in the Sinai is a great opportunity for you to gather and unite under a pure flag, unsullied by ignorant slogans.”

Hundreds of miles from Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s tumultuous revolution, the long-neglected Sinai Peninsula has become the frontline for the military’s fight against extremism. Having operated in a quasi-lawless state there for decades, jihadi groups are now finding an opportunity to ride on the coattails of discontent following the July 3 military-backed coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the interim government’s subsequent neutering of the organization.

Many militant groups see the Islamists’ fall from grace as justification for their claims that the creation of an Islamic state can only be achieved through violence, and not through the moderate political campaign waged by the Muslim Brotherhood following the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. In response, the military has launched an unapologetic crackdown in the Sinai in an effort to crush any group or individual that might challenge its authority or uphold the legitimacy of the now-defunct Morsi regime.

While the military declared an end to a three-month state of emergency earlier this month, a strictly enforced curfew remains in effect in Sinai from 6 P.M. to 4 A.M., with military checkpoints commonplace across the peninsula. And while Egyptian tanks were barred from certain areas of the Sinai following the 1978 Camp David Accords, Israel authorized Egypt to deploy two additional infantry battalions to the region after Morsi’s ouster to counter terrorist threats. It did not end there. In September, the military stepped up its campaign to rid northern Sinai of militants, with Army Spokesman Ahmed Ali saying it would be “taking action against terrorists, instead of merely reacting to terrorist attacks.” That same month, dozens of homes were bulldozed and trees removed along the roads from the northern town of Al-Arish to Rafah, the border city with Gaza, according to witnesses and media reports, as the military prepared to create a 1,640-foot-wide, six-mile-long buffer zone around the Rafah border crossing. Schools in northern Sinai began the 2013-14 academic year five weeks later than scheduled amid fears that children would be at risk.

The military’s “heavy-handedness is more out of lack of experience than anything,” said Mokhtar Awad, an Egypt researcher at the Center for American Progress. “If the [militants’] goal is to make the military look weak then they can do that. I always compared [militancy] to a virus—that if it does spread to [the Nile] Delta and Upper Egypt, they won’t be able to control it.” (more…)

HERE ARE SOME OF MY OWN PHOTOS FROM THE 2004 TERRORIST ATTACK IN TABA, SINAI:

Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Posted in Africa, Al-Qaeda, al-Sisi, Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Coup, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Environment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Gaza, Hamas, Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights, Insurgency, Intervention, Islam, Israel, Jihad, Journalism, Libya, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinians, Politics, Protests, Sahara Desert, Sinai, State of Emergency, Suez, Terrorism | Leave a Comment »

Living in Terror Under a Drone-Filled Sky in Yemen

Posted by vmsalama on April 29, 2013

Children fear “planes that shoot” as communities grieve lost loved ones.
APR 29 2013

A small house, once made of large cement blocks, is reduced to rubble in a sea of untouched homes and shops in Jaar, a town in South Yemen’s Abyaan governorate. There are no signs of life where that house once stood — no photos, furniture, and certainly no people left behind. In May 2011, the house was struck by a drone — American, the locals say. Some believe the sole occupant, a man named Anwar Al-Arshani, may have been linked to Al Qaeda, although he kept to himself, so no one knows for sure. As Al-Arshani’s house smoldered from the powerful blow, townspeople frantically rushed to inspect the damage and look for survivors. And then, just as the crowd swelled, a second missile fired. Locals say 24 people were killed that day, all of them allegedly innocent civilians.

Eighteen-year-old Muneer Al-Asy was among them. His mother Loul says she knows nothing about America — not of its democracy or politics or people or values. All she knows is that it killed her son. She cannot read and does not own a television. Like many in her village, she says Al-Qaeda is “very bad,” but the thought of her youngest son being killed by an American missile haunts her dreams at night. She screams in fury at the people who took her son: “criminals!” She rocks anxiously back and forth on her sole piece of furniture — a long cushion in her single-room home — recalling the day her son was “martyred” by a U.S. drone. “I am like a blind person now,” says Loul. “Muneer was my eyes.”

Anwar Al-Arshani's home/Photo by Vivian Salama

Anwar Al-Arshani’s home/Photo by Vivian Salama

Thousands of miles from Washington, where the debate rages on over the moral and legal implications of using unmanned aerial vehicles for lethal targeting, the names and faces of many of the victims paints a somber picture. Some are fathers who can no longer buy food and medicine for their children. Some are kids whose only crime in life was skipping out on studies to play soccer with friends. Some are expectant mothers who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the U.S. focuses attention on the successful targeting of names on the notorious “kill list,” the number of innocent civilians killed by U.S. drones on the rise — threatening to destroy families, spark resentment, and fuel Al-Qaeda recruitment.

While strikes in Pakistan have been recorded since at least June 2004, drones have become more common in Yemen in recent years, used to weed out and eliminate members of Al Qaeda’s notorious Arabian Peninsula network (AQAP). AQAP has been linked to recent schemes including the foiled 2012 underwear bomb plot, as well as for parcel bombs intercepted before reaching synagogues in Chicago in 2010. The drone program has seen some successes, including strikes on high-profile targets like Saeed al-Shihri, a Saudi citizen who co-founded AQAP, and senior operatives Samir Khan and Anwar al-Awlaki. The latter was a preacher who often delivered his provocative sermons in English and, like Khan, was at one time an American citizen.

However, with the growing use of so-called “signature strikes” — attacks against suspected but unidentified targets — there have been increasingly troubling signs that many victims are deemed guilty by association. Having committed no crime, their names not part of any list and in some cases, not even known. (click here to read more….)

Posted in Abyaan, Al-Qaeda, American, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Awlaki, C.I.A., corruption, Drones, Economy, Elections, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Guantanamo Bay, Human Rights, Insurgency, Islam, Jihad, Ma'rib, Middle East, military, Politics, PTSD, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Signature Strikes, South Yemen, Terrorism, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

South Yemen Separatists Renew Calls for Secession

Posted by vmsalama on March 1, 2013

by Vivian Salama

Al-Monitor (click here for original link)

March 1, 2013

ADEN, Yemen — With two weeks to go until Yemen’s crucial national dialogue, aimed to set in motion transitional imperatives like writing a new constitution and scheduling parliamentary elections, tensions are rising between North and South Yemen as Southern separatists renew their calls for secession.

aden violence

Separatists in Aden, the capital of South Yemen, engaged in deadly clashes with security forces and pro-unification protesters, mainly from the Islamist Islah party, claiming that the state has — and will continue to — ignore their pleas for basic rights. Tents returned this past year to Martyrs Square in the Mansoura section of Aden, and the Southern flag has grown increasingly visible on the streets and in graffiti art. Slogans spray-painted on the walls of government buildings read “Freedom for the South.”

Separatist demands have long been a major facet of Yemeni politics, however the popular uprising that ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh last year ignited a wave of protests among Southerners who previously faced persecution for expressing sentiments that undermined the country’s delicate unification. Yemen’s new president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi — a Southerner himself — made a surprise visit to Aden this week to hold talks with the leaders of various factions. However, Hiraaki [Southern Separatist Movement] activists dismissed the visit as political theater, pointing to visits Hadi made to the United States, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States in his first year in office, before ever visiting the Southern capital.

Sensitivities over Southern secession were particularly apparent during Hadi’s visit as police checkpoints erected large Yemeni flags and Southern flag graffiti was partly painted over to show only the red-white-and-black colors that represent the unified Yemen flag.

Separatist graffiti in Aden, Yemen (photo by Vivian Salama)

Separatist graffiti in Aden, Yemen (photo by Vivian Salama)

“We were expecting things will change with President Hadi’s visit, but it didn’t calm anything,” Maged Mohsen Fareed, 22, a college student and Hiraak member who has been jailed repeatedly for his activism. “It is as if he gave security forces green light” to attack.

Originally scheduled for mid-November, Yemen’s National Dialogue has been repeatedly delayed, more significantly due to differences Southerners had over the proposed groundwork. Some leaders with the Southern Separatist Movement, known as Hiraak, have said they are willing to join the talks from the start, but more hardline factions, led by Ali Salem al-Baidh, have refused to engage, saying that their demands have not — and will not — be met by Sanaa. The talks are now scheduled for March 18, however, the recent tensions in Aden have raised concerns that even those who are willing to take part in the talks will be swayed against it.“To us, there is no dialogue with murderers and we will not talk with murderers,” said Abdulhameed Darwish, a Hiraaki activist whose brother Ahmed was gruesomely tortured to death in police custody in 2010, sparking fury across the South. “Until today, my brother’s case is still on hold in the courts. Nothing has changed. The situation is going from bad to worse.” (click here to read more….)

Aden, Yemen (Photo by Vivian Salama)

Aden, Yemen (Photo by Vivian Salama)

Posted in Aden, Al-Qaeda, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Arab, Arab Spring, corruption, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Middle East, South Yemen, Terrorism, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Algeria, and its volatile neighbors…

Posted by vmsalama on January 20, 2013

While Algeria has fallen below the radar of the US government for quite some time, it has been a growing concern for many countries in Europe — particularly France, which has heavy interests — financial and otherwise — in the North African nation. I had the pleasure of visiting Algeria last summer during their parliamentary elections. During my visit, I had quite a number of discussions with people about the growing influence of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Meghrib — particularly as law in order in neighboring Mali deteriorated. Most security officials there felt that Algeria is highly skilled at handling the problem, especially since it had experience dealing with extremism during its brutal civil war in the 1990s. I remember visiting Berber villages some two hours outside the capital. Many of them still remain without power since the days of the civil war, because the government suspected those villages of being safe houses for many extremist groups.

The recent hostage crisis will undoubtedly catapult Algeria back on the international stage as a potential hotspot for extremism. the vast and hidden pockets of the Sahara Desert are a growing concern for security experts who question whether local governments have what it takes to fight extremism (some even speculate that senior members in many of these groups have contacts within the governments of countries in which they operate). Algeria’s government, traditionally very reluctant to cooperation on issues relating to its security, must work with its neighbors to share intelligence and resources to put down the rise of extremism. With increasing volatility along its borders with Mali and Libya, it is opening itself up to a massive problem. This latest incident in Illizi was only the beginning.

Posted in Al-Qaeda, Algeria, Foreign Policy, France, Mali, Politics, Terrorism, United Kingdom, United States | Leave a Comment »

Americans Kidnapped as Islamist Violence in Mali Spills Into Algeria

Posted by vmsalama on January 16, 2013

Jan 16, 2013

By Vivian Salama

The Daily Beast (click here for original link)

An offshoot of al Qaeda in the Islamist Maghreb is claiming responsibility for the kidnapping of 41 foreign nationals at a gas field Wednesday, as the violence in northern Mali spread across the border. Vivian Salama reports.

As French troops step up their air campaign against Islamist rebels in Mali, a new kidnapping is intensifying fears that jihadists affiliated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have already penetrated parts of the vast Sahara Desert.

algeria hostageAt least seven Americans were among the 41 foreign nationals taken hostage Wednesday at the In Amenas gas field in the remote province of Illizi, Algerian state media reported, citing unnamed rebel leaders. A group known as Katibat Moulathamine—or the Masked Brigade, an offshoot of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb—reportedly contacted the Mauritanian news outlet ANI and claimed responsibility for the attack.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed on Wednesday that Americans are among the captives but declined to give further details in an effort to protect their lives. “By all indications, this is a terrorist act,” said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at a meeting with Italian government officials in Rome.

Algerian officials said the attackers threatened to blow up the site and kill the foreigners if their demands were not met. Japanese, British, Norwegian, and French nationals were among the kidnapped, and at least one Briton has been killed, according to state media. Some 300 Algerian workers also were captured but have since been released, according to the state-run Algérie Presse Service.

Algeria “will not meet the demands of terrorists and refuses any negotiation,” Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia said in a nationally televised address.

Just over Algeria’s southern border, French and Malian troops have been targeting Islamist positions in northern Mali since Jan. 11, attempting to win back territory seized by rebels in April. Turmoil in Mali has intensified in recent years, after a handful of militant groups linking themselves to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, an ethnic nationalist group linked to the Tuareg tribe, made considerable gains against the government following a short-lived coup. Amid the confusion and chaos, the MNLA declared the independence of three of Mali’s northern regions, considered the Tuareg homeland, and declared sharia the official law of the land.

According to local reports, the militants have sent child soldiers to reinforce their positions in northern Mali, as well as using the local population as human shields from the French-Malian raids.

“The situation in Mali is in part driven by poverty and extremism, but also by weapons flows from Libya,” said Paul Sullivan, a North Africa expert and professor at the National Defense University. “The Tuareg and others who fought in Libya and then moved back to Mali are a hardened bunch and fairly well-trained. The Algerian government warned the French that it may spill over. It has.”

While Algeria has refused to take part in military action against Mali or any other foreign nation, it has taken precautions to protect its vast border with Mali, sending troops to guard against any cross-border incursions. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African affiliate of the terrorist network, initially emerged as a radical opposition group in the days of the Algerian civil war of the 1990s but has since expanded its foothold in Mali’s vast ungoverned northern region. Its initial goal was to overthrow Algeria’s government and establish an Islamic state, but experts say its regional ambitions have since expanded to target much of North Africa, as well as Europe and the United States.

“AQIM exists in Algeria and in Libya,” said Sullivan. “They are looking for a safe zone. Mali looks most likely. Libya is pretty much the Wild West in the desert regions. Huge swaths of Algeria are open desert. The borders are porous.”

“The Obama administration needs to have a clear and focused policy on eliminating the threats that diverse, al Qaeda-affiliated groups pose to the United States and to Americans working abroad off of the usual battlefields,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

The report in Mauritania’s ANI links Wednesday’s attack to Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Algerian-born radical jihadist who has been linked to some of the most dramatic and high-profile kidnappings of the past decade. In 2002, French intelligence called him “uncatchable.” In 2008, Algerian media reported that Belmokhtar and 15 of his men had surrendered to authorities, a claim later disputed by the group. Belmokhtar, who lost an eye in combat, also has been reported dead on more than one occasion. Experts on jihad note that Belmokhtar maintains allies in the Malian government and has won the support of various extremist elements in the region.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar

“Algeria is also home to Tuaregs, and any fire erupting in one corner of the Sahara involving a Tuareg tribe could ignite a reaction elsewhere,” said Arezki Daoud, an Algerian political analyst and editor of the North Africa Journal. “This is dream come true for al Qaeda. They want that regional instability.”

The In Amenas field is a joint venture of the Algerian national oil company Sonatrach, BP, and Statoil. In a statement on its website Wednesday, BP said that “contact with the site is extremely difficult, but we understand that armed individuals are still occupying the In Amenas operations site,” adding that there is no confirmed information available on the status of the workers.

—With reporting from Eli Lake

 

Posted in Al-Qaeda, Algeria, Egypt, Foreign Policy, France, Insurgency, Intervention, Islam, Jihad, Mali, Middle East, Negotiation, North Africa, Politics, Terrorism, United Kingdom, United States | Leave a Comment »

Al Qaeda Offers Gold for Ambassador’s Murder

Posted by vmsalama on December 30, 2012

Dec 30, 2012

By Vivian Salama

The Daily Beast (Click here for original link)

The cell’s Arabian branch is offering $160,000 in gold for anyone who kills the U.S. ambassador to Yemen. Vivian Salama on what’s feeding the region’s extremism.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has offered a bounty to anyone who kills America’s ambassador to Yemen, calling it a move to “inspire and encourage our Muslim nation for jihad.” It’s the first such threat made publicly against an American diplomat since assailants killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Benghazi consulate employees in September.

FeiersteinThe reward, announced in an audio message via Al-Malahem Foundation, the group’s media arm, and circulated on extremist Web forums, would be paid in the form of three kilograms of gold—worth about $160,000—the message said, without providing details on where and how the payment would be delivered. The recording included mention of a 5 million Yemeni riyal ($23,000) reward to anyone who kills an American soldier on Yemeni soil.

Gerald Feierstein has served as ambassador to Yemen since September 2010, according to the embassy website. Prior to his appointment, he served as deputy chief of mission in Islamabad. A Yemeni government official who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity said Ambassador Feierstein is “very well protected” and added that the “threats are taken seriously, and he is the most secured diplomat in Yemen.”

Yemen, the ancestral home of the late Osama bin Laden, was the site of an attack on the USS Cole in 2000 that killed 17 American sailors. It was also the home of the late Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born Islamic cleric who plotted the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airplane in 2009, now notorious for using an underwear bomb.

Yemeni protesters, inspired by popular uprisings across the Arab world, successfully ousted their president of 33 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in February. However, like many other countries in the region, security forces were stretched thin during the yearlong revolution, and law and order and political and economic stability have since declined. Yemen ranked eighth on Foreign Policy’s 2012 Failed States Index, scoring almost on par with Haiti. (click here to read more…)

Posted in Al-Qaeda, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Drones, Foreign Policy, Insurgency, Libya, Middle East, Salafi, Terrorism, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Al-Qaeda’s American-Born Agent Al-Awlaki Killed in Yemen

Posted by vmsalama on September 30, 2011

The bad guys are dropping like flies this year…!!

By Mohammed Hatem and Vivian Salama

Sept. 30 (Bloomberg) — Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Islamic cleric who masterminded the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airplane in 2009 with explosives hidden in underwear, has been killed in Yemen, the Defense Ministry said.

A U.S. government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed al-Awlaki’s death. Al-Awlaki was targeted and killed 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the town of Khashef in the province of Jawf, the Yemeni foreign press office said in an e-mailed statement today. Intelligence services say he inspired a shooting rampage that killed 13 people last year at an army base in Fort Hood, Texas.

Al-Awlaki is identified by the Office of Foreign Assets Control list of “specially designated nationals” as a 40-year- old native of Las Cruces, New Mexico, with dual U.S. and Yemeni citizenship. Last year, President Barack Obama approved an order making him the first American ever to be placed on the Central Intelligence Agency’s hit list.

“He is an excellent role model for what al-Qaeda wants its recruits to be in terms of English language, having exposure to the United States or the West, and adhering to the doctrine of al-Qaeda,” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.

Yemen’s government is under considerable strain following almost nine months of anti-government protests aimed at toppling President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Karasik said.

‘International Fame’

Al-Awlaki reportedly survived an attack by a U.S. drone in Yemen in May, according to Arabiya television, which cited a member of his tribe. He was an avid blogger and used the Internet to communicate with followers around the world, something that “propelled him to international fame,” IHS Global Insight analysts Gala Riani and Jeremy Binnie said today.

Obama, speaking at the start of a swearing-in ceremony for the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Martin Dempsey, in Fort Meyer, Virginia, called al-Awlaki’s death a “major blow” against al-Qaeda that “marks another significant milestone in the effort to defeat al-Qaeda and its affiliates.”

U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said in an e-mailed statement that countries must “keep up the pressure on Al-Qaeda and its allies and remain vigilant to the threat we face.”

Boost for Obama

Al-Awlaki’s death follows that of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, killed on May 2 in a U.S. raid on an Islamabad, Pakistan suburb.

“If an unmanned vehicle killed the militant, it will have offered an immediate return on Obama’s recent decision to increase the use of UAV’s in Yemen,” Riani and Binnie wrote in an e-mailed report. “These foreign and security credentials are likely to boost Obama’s bid of re-election next year.”

Pakistani-American Samir Khan, an al-Qaeda militant living in Yemen, died in the same attack that killed al-Awlaki, Yemeni state-run Saba news agency reported, citing an unidentified security official.

Yemen, bin Laden’s ancestral home, was the site of a 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 U.S. sailors. Since the start of anti-government protests inspired by uprisings that toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia this year, concerns about the deterioration of security in Yemen have grown. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in April that he saw Saleh’s possible fall as a “real problem.”

Al-Qaeda Offshoots

In the decade since the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. that killed almost 3,000 people at the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon just outside Washington and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, al-Qaeda offshoots have sprung up around the Islamic world, from the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa to Iraq and the Arabian peninsula.

An Obama administration official said al-Awlaki directed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is accused of trying to blow up a U.S. jetliner in December 2009 with explosives hidden in his underpants. Al-Awlaki instructed Abdulmutallab to detonate the device over U.S. airspace to maximize casualties, the official said. He also sought to use weapons of mass destruction, including cyanide and ricin, to attack Westerners, the U.S. official said.

The threat posed by al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch was further highlighted last October when two parcel bombs sent from the country to U.S. synagogues were seized in the U.K. and Dubai. The bombing attempts, in which devices were concealed in printer cartridges, prompted the U.S. and European countries to bar flights or cargo from Yemen.

Body Bombs

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based group, has been examining how to develop body bombs stitched into a terrorist’s belly, breasts or buttocks, Seth Jones, a senior political scientist for the RAND Corp., a Santa Monica, California-based policy research organization, said in a July 18 interview.

Yemen, which gets about $300 million a year in security and humanitarian assistance from the U.S., stepped up operations against al-Qaeda after the parcel-bomb attempts, including air strikes targeting the group’s camps. Military aid to Yemen includes Huey helicopters, Hummer vehicles and night-vision goggles, the Pentagon said in August 2010.

Given al-Awlaki’s popularity, revenge attacks may be carried out in the U.S. and Yemen, IHS analysts Riani and Binnie wrote. “His death will likely be considered a victory for both governments,” they said.

–With assistance from Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut, Lebanon, and Margaret Talev and Roger Runningen in Washington. Editors: Jennifer M. Freedman, Karl Maier

Posted in Al-Qaeda, Arab, Arab Spring, Jihad, Middle East, Obama, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Yemen Shortages Worsen as Street Violence Leaves Locals Searching for Food

Posted by vmsalama on May 26, 2011

By Vivian Salama and Mohammed Hatem

Bloomberg

Click here to see original

Safiah Hussein al-Raimi stood for hours outside a store in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, for five straight days to buy a tank of cooking gas to prepare food for her husband and four children. She left empty handed each time.

“Life is becoming hell here and we can’t afford it,” al- Raimi, 43, said as she lined up during her fifth attempt. “We have no gas, no power, not enough food.”

As President Ali Abdullah Saleh clings to power and Yemen edges closer to civil war, the country has become paralyzed by shortages of fuel, bread, sugar and milk. Power cuts, which were the source of riots in the south last year, are now commonplace across the country, already the Arab world’s poorest and a base for al-Qaeda terrorist activity.

With the wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East in its fifth month, the issue of how long Saleh’s regime will last in Yemen is being compounded by the question of what would be left of the country should he be ousted.

“Yemen’s economy is already at a crisis point,” said Will Picard, director of the Yemen Peace Project, a U.S.-based group. “No one is earning money, save the gasoline sellers, arms dealers, and foreign journalists.”

More Violence

Gunmen from Yemen’s most influential tribe clashed on May 24 with security forces loyal to Saleh, 68, in Sana’a, a day after he refused to sign an accord to give up power.

Dozens were killed or wounded in an assault on the home of tribal chief Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, said Sheikh Saleh al- Mihjani, a member of the tribe. The Interior Ministry said that 14 policemen were killed, 29 others wounded and two are missing.

Shortages of cooking gas and petrol are being reported across the country, and cars are often turned away as they try to refuel. The shelves at local supermarkets are increasingly barren, with basic food items marketed up amid low stock.

The price of a 50 kilogram (110 pound) sack of sugar jumped 22 percent to 11,000 rials ($51.50) at al-Raimi’s local grocery store since the protests escalated in February.

Yemen already faces a severe water shortage, with the World Bank forecasting that Sana’a will be the first capital city to run out of water by 2025. More than half the country’s population of 23 million is under 20 years old and about 40 percent of the people live on the equivalent of less than $2 a day, according to the United Nations.

Bad Shape

Oil accounts for 60 percent of government revenue and 90 percent of exports, the International Monetary Fund said in a report on April 8. Oil reserves are expected to be depleted within a decade, the Washington-based organization said.

Saleh said yesterday that the economy is “not in good shape.” Industry and Trade Minister Hisham Sharaf said the protests cost Yemen $4 billion and a growing budget deficit, now expected to reach $3 billion, threatens to destroy the country.

“The government is running out of money,” Abdul Ghani Aryani, an independent political analyst, said in a telephone interview from Sana’a. “The deficit is now close to half the national budget and as a consequence there isn’t enough foreign exchange to import food stuffs.”

The country postponed the sale of a 25 billion-rial Islamic bond indefinitely as a result of the political unrest, Kamal Al- Rabie, general manager of the central bank’s Islamic unit, said in an interview on May 17.

Black Markets

Black markets are burgeoning across Yemen as people look to profit from the shortages. Khalid Saleh, a supermarket owner in Sana’a, said he’s losing business by the day and revenue has fallen 30 percent since the uprisings began. Al-Raimi said she can’t afford the marked up prices.

“I bought a cooking machine that works on electricity but it’s impossible since power goes off four times a day, each time for three or four hours,” she said.

Yemenis struggled to make ends meet before anti-government protests seeking to topple Saleh deepened the economic crisis. Demonstrators, like their counterparts in Libya and Syria, are demanding an end to corruption, and more jobs and freedom.

The difference in Yemen is that Saleh’s opposition is fragmented along tribal lines, posing the biggest challenge to the country since north and south were unified in 1990. Saleh said yesterday that recent violent threatened civil war and accused al-Qaeda of inciting protests.

“Every day Saleh stays on the throne is another day that Yemen’s already non-existent wealth is divvied up among his allies-for-hire,” Picard said by e-mail on May 23. “Economic recovery of any kind would be impossible given that fact.”

Bin Laden

A U.S. ally and the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, Saleh also struggled to quell the threat of terrorists. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based branch of the group, said in a May 10 statement that it would avenge bin Laden’s death in a Pakistan raid on his hideout by U.S. forces.

This week, prospects for peace grew dimmer after the six- nation Gulf Cooperation Council abandoned efforts to broker an agreement between the country’s political parties that would pave the way for a transition of power in Yemen.

Saleh, who reiterated yesterday that he would be willing to sign the agreement, earlier called the deal a “coup on constitutional legitimacy.” Anti-government protesters maintain the only acceptable solution is for Saleh to leave immediately.

“Outside investors and foreign donors will not put a penny into this country if things continue to looks so unstable,” Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism research at the Gulf Research Center, said by telephone from Dubai. “These problems will not go away with a magic stick.”

Arab Grievances

The grievances of Yemenis are similar to those of young people across the Arab world, though regional and sectarian.

Separatists claim the government discriminates against southerners, claiming the north seizes the proceeds of Yemen’s southern oil reserves for its own purposes. Shiite Houthi rebels have also been battling the government, claiming discrimination.

Saudi Arabia sends about $1 billion a year to Yemen in an attempt to keep the country “contained” and buy tribal support, according to Alani. The U.S. gives Yemen $300 million a year mainly in military aid.

“The Yemeni government has been mismanaged for more than three decades so there is no shortage of things that have to be done and quite quickly,” Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University, said by telephone from Cairo. “One of the main things is job creation but that can’t be done over night.”

The IMF said on April 27 that aid talks with the government of Yemen are on hold until there is greater stability. While unemployment in Yemen stood at 15 percent in 2008, the rate for youths between 15 and 24 years old climbed to 52.9 percent that year, UN figures show.

In the line for cooking fuel in Sana’a, al-Raimi is itching to get back to her kids at home, though she is unsure what kind of meal she’ll be able to prepare.

“I’m not able to cook for them,” al-Raimi said. “We just need the basics to live and we are not able to get them.”

Posted in Al-Qaeda, American, Arab, Arab League, dictatorship, Economy, Elections, Foreign Policy, Oil, Saudi Arabia, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Al-Qaeda Fears in U.S. Buy Time for Saleh as Clashes in Yemen Escalate

Posted by vmsalama on April 7, 2011

By Vivian Salama and Glen Carey

Bloomberg

Click here to get original link

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is facing down mass protests and defections with backing from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, who are betting it’s safer to let a key ally against al-Qaeda leave on his own terms.

Like Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, Saleh justified his violent crushing of anti-government protests by arguing his downfall would lead to anarchy and a greater threat from Islamic terrorists. The difference is Saleh, who called Yemen a “time bomb,” has support in Washington and Riyadh.

This year’s wave of Arab unrest has shown the U.S. is willing to dump longtime partners like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak as well as more recent ones like Qaddafi. In Yemen, the poorest Arab state and already a base for al-Qaeda attacks, Saleh’s army, government and much of his tribal base have abandoned the president, yet the U.S. is reluctant to do so. The standoff adds to the risk of a Libya-style conflict as violence escalates.

“Two weeks ago, it was really looking like game over for Saleh, then all of a sudden he seemed to have gotten a second wind,” said Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen scholar at Princeton University. “The only two foreign voices that matter for Yemen are the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. They are scrambling now with the reality that Saleh’s days may be numbered.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week that he saw the possible fall of Saleh as a “real problem.” Mark Toner, acting deputy spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said on April 4 that while Saleh must respond to public demands, “it’s not for us to impose a solution.”

Crackdown Hardens

Saleh’s treatment of the protest movement, now in its third month, has hardened. The shooting of 46 protesters by police and snipers in the capital, Sana’a, on March 18 sparked a wave of defections from the regime.

This week, at least a dozen protesters were killed in the town of Taiz when they battled with police, and in Sana’a there were reports that soldiers from a rebel-led division clashed with Saleh’s supporters.

Saudi Arabia, holder of the world’s biggest oil reserves, this week invited Yemen’s government and opposition to Riyadh as part of an effort by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council to resolve the crisis and preserve “stability and security” in Yemen. The official Saudi Press Agency said Saleh, 68, welcomed the mediation. He had earlier offered to stand down provided there was a transition plan, and then said he would make no more concessions to opposition “arm-twisting.”

‘Key Solution’

The prime minister of GCC member Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jasim Bin Jaber Al Thani, said the group is hoping to broker an accord that would involve Saleh stepping down, according to the state-run Qatar News Agency. The Joint Meeting Parties, Yemen’s main opposition coalition, welcomed its invitation to join the Riyadh talks and called Saleh’s departure “the key solution.”

Yemen is the ancestral home of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It was the site of the 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 U.S. sailors, and the breeding ground for plots including the attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound plane in December 2009. In October, Dubai police said they intercepted two parcel bombs en route from Yemen to U.S. synagogues.

When a blast at a weapons factory in the south last week left about 100 people dead, the government pointed to al-Qaeda and the opposition charged Saleh with fomenting chaos and then posing as the only bulwark against it.

‘Complete Breakdown’

“If there is a complete breakdown of order in Yemen, al- Qaeda Arabian Peninsula could have more freedom of operation,” Gregory Gause, a professor at the University of Vermont, said in response to e-mailed questions.

The U.S. gives Yemen $300 million a year mainly in military aid. It has done less to tackle the social problems that help militants flourish, said Will Picard, co-founder of the Yemen Peace Project, which is based in California and Sana’a and aims to promote dialogue between the countries.

The government in Washington “looks at Yemen through one lens, the lens of counter-terrorism,” Picard said. “It’s always going to be harder to impress Congress with water catchment systems and pre-natal health clinics than with predator drones and covert strike teams.”

Saudi Arabia funnels about $1 billion a year to Yemen in an attempt to keep the country “contained” and buy tribal support, according to Mustafa Alani, director of the security and terrorism program at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai.

Assassination Attempt

Al-Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing tried to assassinate the top Saudi anti-terrorism official, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz, in 2009. The same year, Shiite Houthi insurgents in northern Yemen seized a sliver of Saudi territory and killed a Saudi soldier, prompting retaliation with air attacks.

King Abdullah sent troops into Bahrain, another neighbor, last month to help quash Shiite-led protests. The risk of military intervention in Yemen, though, is that “it is very easy to get in but would be very difficult to get out,” Alani said. “It’s like Afghanistan with the geography, a tribal system and a heavily armed society.”

Yemen is the second most-heavily armed in the world, after the U.S. on a per-capita basis, with 54.8 guns per 100 people, according to the Small Arms Survey 2007 by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies. Tunisia, where protesters ousted their president in January and triggered the season of uprisings, placed last in the study.

‘Factions in Uniform’

The challenges also stretch beyond security. The country faces water shortages, declining oil output and a society where more than half the 23 million people are under 20 years old. About 40 percent of Yemen’s population, forecast to almost double by 2030, lives on less than $2 a day.

Yemen also lacks a unified military that could oversee a transition. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the commander of the First Armored Division, has joined the opposition and his troops clashed with government supporters in Sana’a this week.

“We don’t have a military, we have tribal factions in uniform,” Abdul Ghani Aryani, an independent political analyst, said from Sana’a. “They cannot be a safeguard for social order and stability. They are only a source of threat.”

Posted in Al-Qaeda, Arab, Arab Spring, Politics, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, United Arab Emirates, United States, White House, Yemen | Leave a Comment »