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Yemen's Gathering Jihad By: Jane Novak Gavaghen
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, May 30, 2005

In Yemen today, a violent jihad burns out of control. But those who perpetrate terror do not hide from authorities. Instead, al-Qaeda-affiliated individuals are ensconced as prominent members of the ruling party, military and security forces, and of the opposition party, Islah. Arrests of the civilian population continue, thousands of people are held incommunicado and burned bodies are dragged behind government cars. Shia religious books are confiscated, Shia religious schools are closed, civic leaders are targeted and the bombing of villages goes on as food, water and medicine are withheld. In order to prevent the dissemination of these tragic events, the government has proposed a death penalty for journalists. In short, Yemen, America’s supposed ally, has become a brutal country in which al-Qaeda holds sway and wages its bloody jihad in broad daylight.

Recent public statements about Yemen paint a dire picture. Ayatollah al-Sistani and the religious establishment in Najaf, Iraq, say there is a "brutal massacre" going on there.


The Yemeni Ambassador to Syria, Ahmed Abdullah al-Hasani, who is attempting to defect to the UK, has been making statements about al-Qaeda elements within the Yemeni government. He alleges that members of al-Qaeda are in the highest ranks of Yemen’s military and security forces. He also claims that they were behind the bombing of the USS Cole, in which 17 sailors died, and the 1998 kidnapping of 16 western tourists.


Al-Hasani’s statements support the existing evidence of a strong link between the Yemeni leadership and al-Qaeda. He says that it is very likely that President Ali Abdullah Saleh "knew in advance of the Cole explosion." Indeed, Freedom House in 2003 reported that Saleh refused to investigate the Cole bombing until the US threatened military action.


The Yemeni leadership also gives support by providing a safe haven for terror money. The Yemeni president refuses to interrupt the flow of terrorist financing. Only one bank account was frozen in response to a UN Security Council Sanctions Committee directive to freeze 144 terrorist-affiliated accounts of persons, companies, and organizations. The other 143 bank accounts in Yemen remain operational for al-Qaeda.


A prominent military commander in Yemen is Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, President Saleh’s half-brother. Reports indicate that al-Ahmar was an ally of Osama Bin Laden and helped him to recruit Yemenis to fight Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Later these fighters set up terrorist training camps in Yemen.


Ambassador al-Hasani claims that Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar was complicit in the kidnapping of 16 western tourists in December 1998. Two days before the killings, members of the terrorist group were in al-Ahmar’s house in Sana’a, al-Hasani said. They were also in telephone contact with Sana'a just before the shootings.


Sheik al-Zindani, on the US’s most wanted list, operates openly in Yemen. Open source intelligence analysis from Power and Interest News Report describes Zindani as Osama bin Laden's mentor and a key recruiter in Yemen during the Afghan war against the Soviets. Currently, he is the leader of the radical faction of Islah, the Islamic reform party, and a mentor to the Yemeni "Afghan Arabs." He is well known for his fiery sermons against the US.


The recent public statement of Iraqi religious scholars regarding Yemen is pretty blunt: "What happened in Yemen during the recent months, such as official resolutions, the economic blockade of several areas, and the continuous acts of killings, arrests, oppression and chasing, reveal only a part of the concealed picture of reality in Yemen."


And one can understand why al-Sistani thinks the Yemeni government is targeting the Shia. Shia religious schools are being shut down. Officials of the Yemeni government have characterized Shia teachings as "blasphemous," "backward," and "deviant."  In ongoing mass arrests of Shia, the "arrested" are held incommunicado and without trial. No one is sure of the exact number; it may be thousands. Shia sermons are banned. Shia libraries are being trashed and religious literature confiscated.


And then there is Sa'ada, a Shia region of Yemen that has become a place of blood and tragedy. One mother describes the conditions: "Sa’ada now is being subjected to ethnic cleansing without any reason. We are starving and thirsty because we cannot get out of our houses.  Every one who gets out of the house will be killed. Our neighbor’s house was demolished by a missile. Two families were in the house. All of them were killed."


"I am in the ninth grade" a girl relates. "I was in school when they started shooting. I saw the girls of 7 to 15 years . . . were crying because they were frightened, scared. The teachers called the fathers to come and get their daughters from the school, but they could not because of fire shooting. Even the school was targeted by tanks."


As in the Sudan, the Yemeni government appears to be targeting its civilian population as it claims to be fighting a group of rebels. Villages are bombed indiscriminately and residents claim that 65,000 people were made homeless. Food, water, and medicine are extremely scarce.  Iraqi religious leaders have labeled it "genocide."

Jane Novak is an American journalist and political analyst. Her columns are widely published in the Middle East, Gulf, South Asia and the US.

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