British Ambassador to YT “Our Cooperation With Yemen in Countering Terrorism is Not as Good as it Should Be” [Archives:2001/40/Interview]

October 1 2001

Interview by
Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi

The British Ambassador to Yemen, Frances Guy, told Yemen Times that the embassy tightened up its security and employed new guards after the terrorist attacks against the USA. She said these attacks targeted everybody. Concerning the trial of abu al-Hamzza al-Masri, wanted by the Yemeni government, she said that is not possible at the moment, as there is not enough information for him to stand before an English court. She also disclosed that Yemen and Britain had contacts on countering terrorism after the attacks on the USA. However, she said the cooperation between the two countries in this regard is not as good as it should be.
Yemen Times met the ambassador and conducted the following interview.
Q: How do you look at the process of the trial of the UK embassy bombing attackers?
A: We are satisfied with the way the investigations into the bombing of our embassy have been carried out and the speed with which the case has been taken to trial, and now to the appeals court. If there was any delay for a few weeks, as far as I know it was only because the judge for the appeals court changed, and the new judge had to learn more about the case. Otherwise, progress on the case has been very quick.
Officials from Scotland Yard came here and carried out an investigation in parallel to the Yemeni police and handed their results over fully to the Yemeni authorities. These documents were used by the court. They were available to the people in the court, so it is wrong to suggest otherwise.
We have no difference on this at all. We shared all the information we had with the Yemeni authorities. What they chose to do thereafter in the process of the court case is their decision. It was carried out according to Yemeni law. We have no grounds to wish to question that. But, as far as I know, all the documents from the Scotland Yard were papers in the court. They were not necessarily presented in public, but they were papers attached to the case for consultation.
Q: What was your response towards the Primary Court verdict?
A: We were pleased that the verdict seemed to give a long sentence for the crime which could have caused a serious accident if it had happened at a different time.
Q: In the light of new developments after the terror attacks on the USA, is not the question of the British prisoners in Aden and abu al-Hamzza al- Masri revisited?
A: The Yemeni government requested the extradition of abu al-Hamzaa some months ago. The answer was that we could not extradite him. He is a British citizen. We have no extradition treaty with Yemen. We have new anti-terrorism legislation that was passed in the UK in February this year. We have encouraged the Yemeni authorities to give us as much information as possible about abu al-Hamzaa so that we can deal with him.
Q: Have the Yemeni authorities submitted this information to you?
A: We have some information, but unfortunately, not enough to arrest him. To take abu al-Hamzaa before a court of law in the UK under the new legislation, the prosecutor must feel satisfied that such a case will stand up in court. We have held abu al-Hamzaa and searched his property. We have attempted to find a case against him that will stand up in an English court, but we have been unable to do so. But, if anybody has more information to give us, we would be very grateful
Q: But now some European countries are creating amendments to laws to meet the new requirements of fighting terrorism worldwide?
A: There has been cooperation between the European countries in this regard. There is a possibility of setting up an arrest warrant that will act between all European countries, so that if a person is wanted in one country, he can easily be arrested in another. It would be good if they could think of a method that could be extended beyond Europe. For the moment, I think we will concentrate on what is happening within Europe. There have to be laws changed in nearly every European Union country to make that happen. It remains unlikely to extradite British citizens to other countries. But, that does not mean we can not try them in the UK. We have a law under which we can try people for inciting terrorism outside the UK. As I said, we need the information to be able to do so. But, I am sure that after what happened in the last two weeks, we will also be looking at tightening up bylaws. But, I am not in a position to comment on that.
Q: In light of the attacks on the USA, has the Yemeni-British counter terrorism cooperation been refreshed?
A: We have had some contacts with Yemeni officials about this issue after the attack on the USA. This is what I can say at the moment. But, we will continue the dialogue about cooperating on counterterrorism between Yemen and Britain
We had good cooperation with the Yemeni authorities in this regard and we would like to see it improved by better sharing of information. That works in two ways; the Yemenis would like us to share more information. We would also like Yemeni authorities to share more information about what they know. It is not as good as it could be, but it is starting from a good foundation.
Q: What about the British prisoners in Aden?
A: What do you expect to change? They have been tried. They are in prison. We are concerned about how they were tried and we have expressed that concern.
Q: An appeal letter for their amnesty was submitted to the Yemeni government. Is their any response so far?
A: The appeal letter was submitted last year. There has been no official response to it.
Q: How do you assess the commercial relations between Yemen and Britain?
A: I have to be honest and say that commercial interests in Yemen have declined since 1996-97, and it is only in recent months that we have begun seeing a little bit more interest.
Unfortunately, recent events will put that back again. We have to work hard yet again to try to encourage more interest.
Q: What about tourists from the UK?
A: British tourists coming to Yemen have been very few since the kidnapping incident of 1998. I think we have to wait and see the developings over the next few weeks and months. Only then will we decide whether to encourage or discourage our people to come to Yemen. But, there are still issues beyond the world’s recent happenings, and one of these is highlighted by the recent kidnapping of the German diplomat. Until the UK is able to say to its citizens that these kinds of things are very unlikely to happen, it will continue to be difficult to encourage tourists to come to Yemen.
With regards to advice to our citizens visiting or living here, I think you will see our advice close to the Americans’ , both in terms of not advising people to come here and what we advise people to do.
Q: Have you taken any stiff measures to protect the embassy?
A: We have tightened up some of our security. We are employing new guards. The security around our places have been also tightened since the terrorist attack on the USA.
Q: Hundreds of Arabs and Muslims have been affected by the counter offensives of people in the USA and Europe over the attacks on the USA. What was the response of your government to that?
A: As far as I know, more than 1,500 Muslims were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center. This was an attack not against the USA, not against British citizens, but it was an attack against everybody. And I think this is why we are trying our best with the Americans to form as broad a coalition as possible to see what is the best action that can be taken against that. Attacks on Muslims are not justified. The Home Section in the UK had a meeting last Monday with Muslim leaders, regretting any such incident and working very closely with Muslim leaders in the UK to ensure such incidents are not repeated. It is a big concern. Mr. David Blunkett, Home Secretary said ” I unreservedly condemn any attacks on Muslims or Muslim communities.”