Yemen and Al-Qaeda: a difficult confrontation or an even more difficult dialog [Archives:2008/1191/Reportage]

September 18 2008

By: Aqeel Al-Halali
Soon after President Ali Abdullah Saleh declared on July 17 that the war in Sa'ada between the army and Houthis was over and reached an agreement with Abdul Malek Al-Houthi, the government started launching a wide arrest campaign against Al-Qaeda cells nationwide. The campaign further targeted people suspected of affiliation with this organization, which has been banned since the September 11 attacks in the United States.

The Yemeni government's security measures were not confined to arrest campaigns only, but broadened to encompass a stage of murders. This act is strange in the president's agenda as he has been known for his inclination towards dialog and negotiation with his main rivals both inside and outside the country, since he assumed power in July 1978.

The Al-Qaeda organization seems to be outside the policy of religious balance that Saleh prefers, according to Ahmed Ghurab, a journalist, who is of the opinion that dialog with Al-Qaeda is not in the hands of the Yemeni government alone, but in the hands of all anti-terrorism partners worldwide.

Nabil Al-Soofi, head of the Yemeni Media Group, says that whenever the internal situation is calm in Yemen, the security apparatuses turn to pursuing their permanent war with Al-Qaeda. During the last few months, the government was preoccupied with the political movements' activities in the southern part of the country and then war with the Houthis. During this period, it neglected the Al-Qaeda cells that increased their activities. The government's investigations on these activities didn't reach any results in spite of the notable increase of Al-Qaeda operations.

Even before 1998, the Yemeni government had overlooked the armed Islamists who chose the country as a place for training. In return, the Islamists undertook to stop armed operations inside the country. However, the attack that targeted the USS Cole in the Gulf of Aden in October 2000 and the September 11 attacks in America in 2001 made Yemen a main partner in the American anti-terrorism campaign.

Therefore, Yemeni policy has changed toward Al-Qaeda, which has added Yemeni oil constructions and tourist sites as potential targets in its operations against foreign interests in Yemen.

In 2007, the government was able to convince some leading figures of Al-Qaeda to surrender and drop arms, and in exchange the Yemeni government released them and stopped chasing them. As a result, Jamal Al-Badawi, who is accused of carrying out the attack against USS Cole, was set free and Jabr Al-Banna, who is wanted by the United States for alleged affiliation with a terrorist cell, was put under house arrest.

The surrender of these leaders to the Yemeni government didn't stop Al-Qaeda's explosives, as the organization considers Yemen to be a ground for recruitment. Brian O'Neil, an American researcher in the American James Town Association, believes that a new Al-Qaeda generation in Yemen has replaced the old generation in terms of leadership, pointing out that “Al-Qaeda cells' participation in the war in Iraq and their experience in prisons boosted up their force.””

O'Neil indicated in his essay “” The three rebellions in Yemen””