Two top al-Qaeda members caught, but still . . .Hard time cracking down on Abyan militants [Archives:2004/718/Local News]

March 8 2004

By Peter Willems and
Mohammed al-Qadhi
Yemen Times Staff

Yemeni security forces arrested two senior Al-Qaeda members last Wednesday during a hunt for Islamic militants in a mountainous area of the Abyan province, security officials said.
Abdul Rauf Nassib, a top Yemeni Al-Qaeda leader, and Egyptian Sayyed Imam Sharif, an influential member of the militant organization, were both captured in the same operation. However, elder son of Nassib denied that his brother is a meber of al-Qaeda and he was not arrested but he himself surrendered to the security when he knew that he was wanted by security.
“The Yemeni government is very serious on the war on terror because national security in Yemen is very important,” said Sultan Al-Barakani, Chairman of the GPC Caucus, to Yemen Times. “Security is our number one priority, and this operation provides more proof that when the Yemeni government says it will do something, it follows through and delivers.”
Nassib, also known as Abu Mihjim, is said to have worked closely with Al-Qaeda's leader Mohammed Al-Ahdel, who was arrested in Yemen last year. It is believed that Nassib survived the Nov. 2002 missile attack in the Marib province that was carried out by the CIA and one of its drones. The attack killed a top Al-Qaeda operative, Qaed Salim Sinan Al-Harethi.
Nassib was also wanted for allegedly planning the escape of 10 militants from an Aden prison in April 2003. The militants were detained as suspects in connection with the bombing of the US warship USS Cole in 2000, which killed 17 American sailors.
Sharif, also called Doctor Fadhel, was once a founder of Islamic Jihad in Egypt. It is reported that in the mid-nineties, he handed over leadership of the militant organization to Ayman Al-Zawahiri, currently Al-Qaeda's number two leader and Osama bin Laden's right hand man.
Islamic Jihad formed an alliance with Al-Qaeda in 1998 and announced that they joined forces to strike US and Jewish interests.
On Wednesday, security forces, backed by tanks and armored vehicles, surrounded a hideout of a number of Islamic militants in the mountainous Jebel Thira region near the town of Lawdar, approximately 250 km (155 miles) south of Sana'a and 150 km (90 miles) northeast of Aden.
Officials said that the area was sealed off and security forces gave the militants a chance to surrender. However, other local sources said the two men were easily captured in the city and were among a dozen militants captured during the operation.
The operation came following reports of planned terrorist attacks in Yemen. Security has increased around embassies, foreign companies and government institutions in Sana'a.
According to officials, security forces have continued surrounding the area in an effort to allow more militants in hiding to give themselves up and avoid using military force. It is reported that mediators have been selected to help persuade the militants to surrender.
But, eyewitnesses told The Yemen Times that the government troops number was decreased and that some of the set checkpoints were removed.
They said that the troops continued their intelligence work to locate the militants who fled to the rugged mountains difficult for the troops to reach which means that a military operation against them has become very difficult. Local sources said that the militants scatted in small groups in the mountains, making the task of the troops unlikely to happen.
Soon after it was announced that the two senior members of Al-Qaeda were arrested, it was reported that Sherif had already been detained by the Yemeni government and was extradited to Egypt along with five other Eqyptians. The news came from Islamic Observation Center rights watchdog based in London. Security officials in Yemen have yet to confirm or deny this report.
The Yemeni government has been working closely with the United States since terrorist attacks in US cities on Sept. 11, 2001, believed to have been carried out by the militant group Al-Qaeda and led by Osama bin Laden whose ancestral homeland is Yemen.
Although vast rural areas of Yemen are mostly under tribal rule, the Yemeni government has been successful cracking down on Al-Qaeda suspects.
“In the war on terror, the Yemeni government has set an example on how to fight terror,” said one foreign diplomat based in Yemen.
According to Al-Barakani, even though there is close cooperation between Yemen and the United States to track down Islamic extremists, the capture of Nassib and Sharif was not done under US pressure.
“This is an important issue: The United States is not pressuring the Yemeni government but just helping,” said Al-Barakani. “Terrorism is an important issue.
The Yemeni government cares about the security in Yemen. It cares about the security of the Yemeni people, foreigners in Yemen and the international reputation of our country's security. Therefore, we are always taking the first steps to crack down on militants. If we need any advice, we ask the United States.”
Since the war on terror began, the Yemeni government has rounded up numerous suspects, has captured key Al-Qaeda operatives and has been able to stop the kidnapping of foreigners by tribesmen in over two years.
Along with US soldiers training Yemeni security forces, the US government delivered seven gunboats last month to help the Yemeni coastguard patrol the country's shorelines.