Warning to US citizens [Archives:2004/724/Front Page]

March 25 2004

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

The day after Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was assassinated last week, the US State Department issued an announcement that there may be a threat of terrorist attacks on US citizens in the Middle East and North Africa.
“The Department of State is deeply concerned about the heightened threat of terrorist attacks against US citizens and interests abroad in the aftermath of the recent killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza,” said the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement. “The Department is also concerned about the potential for demonstrations and violent actions against US citizens and interests overseas as a response to the killing.”
The warning was based on Hamas statements soon after Yassin was killed. A statement from Izzedine Al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, put blame not only on Israel but also the United States.
“The Zionists cannot have carried out this act without the approval of the US Administration, which carries the responsibility for this crime,” said the Izzedine Al-Qassam statement. It also added, “All the Muslims of the world will be honored to join in on the retaliation for this crime.”
The US government interpreted the message as Hamas is reaching out to militant groups operating internationally to target US interests and American citizens.
At the end of last week, Hamas, which was founded by Yassin in 1987 during the Palestinian intifada, announced that it will continue to focus on the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians and has no plans to target the United States.
“We are inside Palestinian land and acting only inside Palestinian land,” said the new Hamas leader Addel Aziz Rantisi to reporters last Wednesday. “We are resisting the occupation, nothing else. Our resistance will continue just inside our border, here inside our country.”
The US Government maintained that the threat is still taken seriously. According to State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli, the United States remains concerned about the safety of Americans in the Middle East and North Africa.
The US Embassy in Sana'a released a Warden Message for Americans in Yemen last week, advising them to avoid demonstrations, especially last weekend. There were no large demonstrations in the capital last weekend, but the message advised US citizens to take precautions.
“Americans are reminded to pay particular attention to their personal security at all times, including keeping a low profile, varying routes and times of travel, avoiding large crowds and demonstrations,” said the Warden Message.
John Balian, the Political Affairs Officer at the US Embassy, told Yemen Times that security at the embassy has not changed since the assassination.
“Our precautions and our strong security posture has remained the same,” said Balian. “The security arrangements at the embassy have been and will remain strong.”
The Yemeni government intensified security around embassies, foreign companies and government institutions in Sana'a in recent weeks after receiving reports of planned terrorist attacks in Yemen. This came when security forces began its operation of tracking down and arresting Al-Qaeda suspects in the Abyan region.
Sultan Al-Barakani, Chairman of the GPC Caucus, told Yemen Times recently that national security has been the Yemeni Government's top priority. He cited that the Government has rounded up numerous suspects, captured key Al-Qaeda operatives, thwarted terrorist attacks and stopped the kidnapping of foreigners, which hasn't occurred in over two years.
A foreign diplomat said that although Yemeni security has increased dramatically, the combination of US presence in Iraq and the Israeli assassination of Yassin may spur an increase in terrorist activities.
“The war in Iraq and the killing of Sheikh Yassin could motivate terrorists to increase their activities worldwide,” said the foreign diplomat.
Hamas has announced its plans to target Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other Israeli officials.
Khaled Meshaal, based in Damascus and head of the Hamas political bureau, was quoted by the pan-Arab Al-Hayat daily as saying that Hamas now has the right to “hunt down the big Zionist heads” including Sharon.
Sharon is said to have ordered the assassination and described Yassin as “the greatest arch-murderer of Palestinian terrorism” who sought to “kill Jews everywhere and eliminate srael.”
Since violence erupted in 2000, more than 2,700 Palestinians and 950 Israelis have been killed.
Israeli helicopters fired three missiles that killed Yassin and seven others as they left a mosque in Gaza City at dawn last Monday. Up to 17 were wounded, including two of Yassin's sons.