A Special Study by the Yemen Times Unravelling the Phenomenon of Kidnapping [Archives:1999/50/Reportage]

December 13 1999

By: Hassan Saeed Al-Zaidy
Yemen Times

Recently, the phenomenon of kidnapping in Yemen has become of great concern to the local as well as foreign observers. It has really tarnished the image of Yemen at both local and international levels. It has far-reaching consequences. For example, there has been a sharp fall in the number of tourists. Many international organizations working in Yemen have wound up their operations due to these incidents that may cost them their lives. In addition, some foreign countries regard Yemen as an insecure place and thus advise their citizens not to venture on visiting it. What are the real reasons for these incidents?
The following are all speculations:
I) Deterioration of the government’s control over the disruptive activities of tribes.
II) People’s disillusionment at the non implementation of the essential projects which consequently leads agitation against the government to achieve their objectives.
III) Corruption in the judicial system which in many cases forces victims to avenge themselves by indulging in criminal deeds such as kidnapping, killing, etc.
IV) Disorder and chaos in the security system.
V) Political conflicts
VI) Blackmailing
The crime table below illustrates the gravity of the situation.
From the table below it would seem clear that the phenomenon of kidnapping originated in 1991. The main factors behind those incidents were the demand to get jobs in the companies operating in or near the kidnappers’ districts, secure some projects and so forth. Most of these demands, of course have been fulfilled.
The table shows an increase in kidnapping cases in 1993. Kidnappers’ main demand was punishing one of the bodyguards of Saleh Mohammed, former member of Presidency council, who killed a man from Al-Hadad tribe in Dhamar. This problem was settled according to the tribal norms. After this incident, kidnappings accelerated to force various demands on the ground.
In 1994, fortunately, incidents of such cases decreased. The first incident of kidnapping took place on February 12. The kidnappers’ demands now were political, for they asked for the release of prisoners who were accused of murdering political figures and who were involved in bombing incidents. The subsequent kidnapping incidents in the same year aimed at pressing the government to change the course of the proposed highway from Al-Ahnoom tribe, which belongs to Bakeel tribe, to Hashed tribe.
This year noticed a tribal discrimination, a number of tribal conferences were held, such as Bakeel United Conference and Sheba Conference of Yemeni Tribes. Other reasons for kidnappings in this year were to force the government to fulfill its earlier promises. Considered from this point of view, we see that the government’s lack of seriousness in fulfilling its promises has led to the occurrence of other incidents of kidnapping. We also notice that, in this year, some high ranking officials’ sons were also kidnapped due to disputes between the people in charge of those projects and engineers.
In 1995, there were only two cases. Demands this time centered around getting shares from the international and world aid for flood victims. Kidnappers demanded funds for reclamation of their fields damaged by heavy rain. The government’s dodging the issue and not giving them their share from the international aid also helped intensify the discontent. Other parties have seen in kidnapping an easy way to force the government to concede to their demands.
Seeing that such operations were often successful to force the government to meet the demands of the kidnappers’ tribes, other tribes which were deprived of many essential projects or services were encouraged to try the same strategy.
In 1996, kidnapping cases began to reappear more than before. Authorities recorded 19 kidnapping cases throughout the year. Problems, this time, were related to flaws in the judicial system, trade problems and tribal conflicts.
The remarkable rise in the number of kidnapping cases in this year and the following years 1997 and 1998 made the government think seriously to find a cure to this deteriorating situation. On August 1, 1998, it passed a law concerning kidnapping incidents, stipulating death as the punishment for kidnappers. However, only one kidnapper has so far been executed.
Going back to the table we notice the following:
I) Nationality of kidnapped people is not a factor to reckon with. The fact of the victims being foreigners is the most important thing for kidnappers.
II) The fall in the number of kidnapping cases in 1994 and 1995 is due to a number of factors that need more space to highlight.
III) The rise in kidnapping incidents in 1996, 1997 and 1998 led the government to pass a law stipulating death as a punishment for kidnappers.
The nature of solutions that have been tried so far:
At the beginning of this ugly phenomenon, in 1991, the government sent high ranking mediators to the kidnapper tribes for negotiations. Tribes were given cars and guns as “sobrah” (a term in the tribal norms meaning something given as a future guarantee for something) as a confidence building measure.
As the phenomenon began to reach new proportions and kidnappers’ demands tended to be more personal, military intervention was the inevitable choice. The government cordoned off hideouts of the kidnappers and arrested a number of people suspected to belong to the kidnappers’ tribes. However, the government softpedalled the issue due to its concern about the safety of the kidnap victims and its unwillingness to resort to military conflicts with tribes.
Generally speaking, most of the kidnappers’ demands are legitimate! Ignoring the kidnapper’s demands, the tough circumstances they underwent in their pursuit of getting these demands fulfilled and the absence of any political dimensions to these incidents make many people sympathize with the kidnappers. Could these kidnappers have succeeded to get their demands fulfilled through peaceful means? Was it not the denial of the essential basic public services to them that pushed them to practice kidnapping? In fact, the answer to the above questions needs a thorough study with respect to each kidnapping case, the kidnappers’ environment and their social and economic situations, etc. Moreover, the wide-spread corruption in the government’s offices, problems of mediation, bribetaking and the like, make the prospect of getting projects implemented doubtful. As far as the denial of public services is concerned, the government has tried to find some solutions to the problem by providing these tribes with some of their basic needs as discussed in the First National Conference for Middle Districts, but the difficulties faced in accomplishing the conference’s aims shows that there are people who do not want any permanent solutions to be found.
Can tourists move through the areas mentioned in the timetable without military guards? Will the government forbid tourists from visiting these areas because these are unsafe, despite the tourist potential? Undoubtedly, security is of great importance to tourists. They, under no circumstances, will risk their lives for the sake of a tour. The government must find fast solutions. For example, these areas which have became a cradle for launching kidnapping incidents need to have more attention paid to them and their problems, narrowing the gap between the native people and people of the other tribes and cities, etc. If this is done there is no need to deploy military forces from time to time, accentuate military conflicts with tribes and provide tight security to tourists. The matter needs serious attention of all concerned about stabilizing the national economy and accelerating development. Without cooperating with the inhabitants of these areas, finding a solution of the problem will be no easy task.