Why Saleh Must Go
Written By Abdullah Alasnag
Yemen is slipping further into the unknown, and a controlled outcome to the current political crisis is now unlikely.
It has become clear over the past week that the negotiations held at the Vice President’s house in Sana’a between President Saleh, the opposition, and Marshal Ali Mohsen have come to failure four times in a row. At the heart of the failures is Saleh’s insistence on immunity from prosecution and a monthly stipend to be paid to him by neighboring Gulf States after relinquishing power.
According to sources who have attended the meetings, the President seemed adamant and unwavering on these two conditions. The Americans on the other hand insisted that key figures including Ahmed Ali Saleh, the President’s son, as well as Yahya Mohammed Saleh and Amar Mohammed Saleh, his nephews who are currently heading the CSF/CTU and the National security agency respectively, are not relieved of duty.
This American insistence seemed bewildering to the attendees, specially considering that the record of these commanders and Saleh in fighting terrorism is full of failures, corruption, and misleading intelligence which has yielded little if any results to show for compared to the aid Saleh has received over the years.
In this regard, there has been no approach by the west towards the opposition or the youth with respect to security matters which is wrong since it seems that Saleh is well on his way out of power.
When the USS Cole was attacked in October 2000, Saleh initially refused to accept that the destroyer was attacked by terrorists and made a statement that the explosion happened inside the ship through miss handling of explosive materials. Throughout the ensuing investigation, Saleh hampered the efforts of the FBI even after admitting it was a terrorist attack.
In November 2000, Saleh instructed all newspapers in Yemen not to publish the “information for rewards” advertising campaign which was launched by the FBI. The only newspaper to publish the advert was Al-Ayyam Newspaper in Aden which ran the advert repeatedly free of charge. FBI investigators approached the newspaper however after publication of the advert, the Yemeni Ministry of Telecommunication changed the Area code of the U.S. embassy in Sana’a rendering all the embassy telephone numbers invalid. The advert was subsequently amended to reflect U.S. numbers instead. The newspaper was sued by the government for threatening national security on another matter.
The government of Yemen did not publicly condemn the 9/11 attacks until the 24th of September. Government newspapers and TV stations ignored the event completely. It was only after threats of air strikes against Yemen appeared in US media that Saleh requested to visit Washington and did so in November of 2001. During the visit, Saleh handed over documentation which he had denied the USS Cole investigators from over the preceding 13 months. Although he joined the war on terror, he used the war mainly to oppress his political opponents over the coming years.
Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri:
Al-Nashiri was arrested in November 2002 while transiting through the UAE. When Saleh came to know of the arrest three days later, the official Saba News agency published a story that Al-Nashiri was executed in the city of Hodeidah for murder of the missionary nuns in 2000 (part of the Mother Teresa missionary service in Hodeidah where their bodies were buried in Aden). The news item explained that Al-Nashiri was arrested tried and executed, although there was no trial or a ruling in the case which was registered at the time of the murder against a mentally unstable individual named Al-Nashiri.
Abdul Al-Salam Al-Hila (wrongly named Al-Hilal):
Abdul Al-Salam Al-Hila is an officer in the Yemeni Political Security Organization, a security branch that answers directly to the Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The fact that Al-Hila carried a Yemeni diplomatic passport indicates his high status within the organization.
Al-Hila met with the chief of the an Egyptian terror network operating in Italy during the summer of 2000 when the Islamic Institute in Milan, Italy organized a camp for Islamic fundamentalists. Wire taps by Italian police link the alleged Milan al Qaida cell to the 9/11 massacres in the United States. The wiretaps recorded Al-Hila saying: “Well, I am studying airplanes! If it is God’s will, I hope to bring you a window or a piece of a plane next time I see you… We are focussing on the air alone… It is something terrifying, something that moves from south to north and from east to west: the man who devised the program is a lunatic, but he is a genius. It will leave them stunned… we can fight any force using candles and planes. They will not be able to halt us, not even with their heaviest weapons. We just have to strike at them, and hold our heads high. Remember, the danger at the airports. If it comes off, it will be reported in all the world’s papers. The Americans have come into Europe to weaken us, but our target is now the sky.”
A foreign government reported that Al-Hila was an Al Qaida member and travelled to Afghanistan prior to November 2001. He also visited his brother a Yemeni prisoner in July 1999 while in Bosnia. His brother was serving a six year prison term in Bosnia for his involvement in a 1997 car bombing in Mostar, Bosnia. His brother had been extremely close to the would-be bomber of the USS Cole and the failed bomber of the USS Sullivans.
Al-Hila was captured in Cairo on September 19, 2002 and after spending a week, he was airlifted to Baku, Azerbaijan on September 28th 2002. He was then transported to a US detention centre in Afghanistan. He was transferred to the Guantanamo detention camp on September 20, 2004.
The big escape:
On February 5, 2006, twenty–three senior Al Qaeda operatives escaped a maximum security prison in Sana’a operated by the Political Security Organization (PSO). The prisoners tunnelled 300 meters to the women’s bathroom of a nearby mosque. Reports indicate security officials may have assisted in the escape. Several escapees were later killed in confrontations with authorities; those who voluntarily surrendered were granted “loose house arrest” in exchange for a pledge of loyalty to the Yemeni President. At that time the American embassy was warned that a high level Yemeni military commander personally released the detained prisoners as part of an agreement between President Saleh and the families of the detained. This was later confirmed when Jamal Badawi, the mastermind behind the USS Cole bombings was released to the custody of his family. At the time, the American Ambassador Thomas Karjesky visited Saleh in his palace in Aden to protest.
Although Mr. Badawi was subsequently returned to the PSO prison, suspects released from the same prison said that Mr. Badawi was held in a fully furnished flat in the prison’s upper floors with his wife and children and enjoyed internet, telephone access, and held lunch banquets for his relatives.
On the other hand Mr. Fahd Alquso who is another escapee that was never captured despite the fact that his location was well known to the government. He resides in a small village in Shabwa and continues to run his school where he educates young students.
The US embassy attack:
On September 17, 2008 a double car bomb attack on the US embassy in Sana’a killed 16 including six attackers. Three terrorists were wearing suicide vests. Four civilians and six Yemeni security personnel were also killed. The terrorists were on Central Security Forces (CSF) trucks, and the attack took place during the guards’ shift rotation.
When the CSF trucks arrived at the embassy parameter, they were allowed to enter and later exploded outside the embassy’s outer gates. The attackers were wearing military uniforms. The most crucial question that was never answered was: “Where is the truck’s original complement of soldiers?” ”Were they changed after leaving the CSF military camp or before?”
Yemeni Islamic Jihad took credit for the attack in a fax to news agencies. “We, the Organization of Islamic Jihad, belonging to the Al Qaeda network, repeat our demand of (Yemeni President) Ali Abdullah Saleh to free our detained brothers within 48 hours,” said a statement signed by Abu Ghaith al-Yamani. The group said it would attack the Saudi, British, and Emirates embassies unless its demands were met. The threatened nations are among major donors to Yemen. Saleh was later rewarded after this attack with more aid from the countries threatened.
Al-Majala (The Abyan Strike):
On December 17th, 2009 the U.S. launched a strike thought to be a tomahawk missile strike on an area in the Abyan governorate. The Yemenis provided intelligence to the American forces on high value targets purported to be in the area. After the strike, it was revealed that 57 innocent civilians including women and children were among the dead and no target of any value was eliminated. In the following months, the Yemeni government had to formally apologize to the families of the dead and promised compensation. As of 2011 nothing has been done, and the further revelation of American involvement in the strike was used by Saleh throughout his meetings with representatives of the victims’ families to redirect public anger towards the American administration and deflect it from him.
On May 25th 2010 an American Air strike killed Jabir Al-Shabwani the Deputy Governor of Marib Governorate. In the early hours of Tuesday, Mr. Shabwani was en route to meet AQAP operatives to mediate between them and the National Security Agency (NSA).
Mr. Shabwani’s father, an influential tribal leader met with President Saleh who informed him that the “Americans killed your son not me.” However a close friend of Mr. Shabwani later informed the family that Mr. Amar Mohammed Abdullah Saleh (the head of the NSA) was with Mr. Shabwani the night he before was killed, and when Shabwani asked Amar Saleh to accompany him, Amar told him to proceed and that he would follow. This friend told family members that the NSA ordered the Shabwani death because he was the only person with evidence as to the links between the NSA Chief Amar Saleh and AQAP, and that Shabwani started to talk about these links.
The “American Military Aid for Hire” fiasco:
The US invested heavily in the formation of the Yemeni Coast Guard and provided patrol boats that have been channelled through corrupt officials to service two private security companies owned (through fronts) by Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, the President’s son and Republican guard commander, and Yahya Saleh, the President’s nephew and CSF commander. The fiasco was published in the Wall Street Journal.
The two companies are “Lotus Maritime Security Services,” based in Sana’a, and the Channel Islands-based “Gulf of Aden Group Transits Ltd.”, or GoAGT, according to officials and clients.
A Yemeni Coast Guard official who has participated in the privately arranged escorts, said Coast Guard vessels given by the U.S. are employed in contracted operations run by both companies. Coast Guard commanders also provide U.S.-trained sailors on a routine basis for these escorts. Coast Guard officers routinely refer private shippers afraid of pirate attacks to Lotus.
The Coast Guard was also involved in diesel smuggling to Somali pirates in the area. Although the American embassy was involved in the removal of the previous Yemeni Coast Guard commander in 2007, the operation continues today and has expanded to include sales of arms, GPS, and radar equipment.
There were also allegations that the Yemeni Coast Guard elements sold intelligence including ship movements to pirates to use as targets. Although these allegations have not been confirmed, the fact that most pirate attacks take place in Yemeni sea waters and in close proximity to the Yemeni coast raises a lot of questions.
The War on terror although crucial to Yemen’s interests and future, has been turned into a subject of ridicule and doubts by Saleh. Yemenis are suspicious of every announcement the government makes and firmly believe that the war on terror only serves Saleh’s interests and not their own.
Over the years the capture and silent release of alleged Al Qaeda members through agreements only solidified this idea in the public psyche.
The use of the CTU resources and allegations of terror against political rivals only aggravated this mentality. Moreover, unless all the current leaders of the Yemeni security agencies and Saleh himself are removed, it will prove to be very difficult to regain public trust in future anti-terror operations in Yemen.
There is no doubt that a new regime in Yemen will be more effective in combating terrorism since the opposition is not linked with these groups like Saleh is.
Saleh is defiantly on his way out and a new arrangement must be reached with the opposition. The youth who are pushing for change are demanding more freedoms and equal citizenship both values of which are not conducive for Al Qaeda growth. Until now however, no gesture by western embassies has been made towards this group.
It was too late when the west jumped on the revolution bandwagon in Tunisia and Egypt as evidenced by the refusal of the youth in Egypt to meet with Secretary Clinton. This is indicative of the current mistrust the group now views the US with and the same mistake should not be committed in Yemen. Accordingly, a statement of support is badly due and I earnestly appeal to Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton to reconsider any sympathetic attitude they harbour towards the dictator in light of the facts contained herein.