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Al Qaida threat on rise in Yemen

Analysts say former president Saleh may have used militant outfit for rabble-rousing

Image Credit: EPA
Members of the Yemeni military march beneath a poster of newly-elected Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to demand the removalof General Mohammad Saleh Al Ahmar in Sana’a. The death toll in fighting between army and Al Qaida in south has risen to 139 on Monday.
Gulf News

Sana'a: To the disappointment of many analysts who had thought the threat of Al Qaida in Yemen would peter out when the political wrangling in the capital came to an end, the terrorist organisation, on the contrary, has amplified attacks on security forces.

As the new president was formally inaugurated in parliament, a car bomb shattered the gate of a presidential palace in the port city of Mukalla. At least 26 soldiers from the elite Republican Guard were killed. The incident was a big blow to the efforts of Yemen's split forces that have battled Al Qaida for more than a decade. The terrorists who claimed responsibility for the attack vowed to orchestrate more ferocious attacks.

In less than a week, they attacked two military bases in two provinces, killed and kidnapped security officers and assaulted army soldiers in the province of Abyan, killing 60 soldiers. For many observers in Yemen, these attacks are not a stroke of luck of Al Qaida, rather some people in the shadows were paving the way for Al Qaida to destabilise the country.

New goals

The terrorists have recently changed their means and goals. "In the recent attack, Al Qaida used car bombs in their attacks for the first time. They also added new goals; the Republican Guard, Central Security and presidential palaces," said Nabeel Al Bukairi, an expert on Al Qaida and other terrorist groups.

Al Bukairi thinks there are some parties who play the violence card for political purposes. He didn't rule out the possibility of involvement of the former regime.

"There is no doubt the regime of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh is one of these parties. Saleh's regime has used Al Qaida as a card to intimidate the international community to keep him in power."

Al Bukairi claimed that the former commander of the Southern Area, Mahdi Magoula, was dismissed from his post because of his involvement in aiding terrorists in Abyan.

"When the militants took control of Abyan last year, news agencies reported that government facilities in the province were handed over to the militants. It is no coincidence that when Mahdi leaves office, Al Qaida militants slain soldiers and seized heavy weapons in Abyan this week."

Mahdi's division of the military area is mainly responsible for sending military reinforcements to the battling forces in the Al Qaida-held province. He is also known for his alliance to Saleh. He backed Saleh last year when dozens of his senior followers deserted him after the death of 52 protesters in the capital on March 28.

Other observers like Abdul Bari Taher agreed with Al Bukairi that Saleh has used Al Qaida in rabble-rousing.

"Saleh's regime wants to say that either you leave my relatives and I to run the country or I will create havoc. Al Qaida is not that strong and we have a trained army that defeats it easily. But the problem is with the leader of the army."

Taher, a political analyst, said the Al Qaida threat is getting bigger. "Al Qaida is like cancer that spreads very quickly."

"The Islamist fighters, who returned to Yemen in the early 90s from Afghanistan during the war with the Russians, set the foundation for Al Qaida ideologies in Yemen. Yemen returnees integrated into the political system. Many of them were given high positions in Saleh's party like Tarek Al Fadhli," Al Bukairi said.

During the civil war in 1994, the former jihadists were used by Saleh's regime to fight the communists in the south.

Internet expertise

"Saleh promised Bin Laden the South would be his Islamic state," Taher recalled.

As those fighters got older, another young generation of jihadists sprang into being. The new generation has expertise with the internet which enabled them to establish connection with other jihadists world-wide. They absorbed doctrines and adopted violence as a means to achieve their goal of building an Islamic state.

Al Bukairi said Yemen's failed state, locked political horizon and unrest were contributing factors that drove the young generation to embrace violence. "I suggest organising re-education sessions in which Islamic intellectuals disprove their extremist ideas", he added.

However, Tarek added another solution to the Al Qaida issue — removing Saleh and his influential relatives from power.