October 1, 2002
Action in Yemen- With more and more Yemenis being arrested around the globe on charges of terrorism, the country's leadership is trying to shed it's image as a haven for Al-Qaeda and it's allies. Typical of their efforts, on 23 September Yemen's Ambassador in Moscow described Yemen as an active participant in the international anti-terrorist coalition. But in order to not appear to be an American puppet government, Yemen announced on the 19th that it would use its own troops to track down suspects on its territory - without help from the United States or anyone else. Yemeni parliament deputy Muhammad Naji Alawi accused the United States of "exercising extortion" while other, anonymous officials claimed that America had no right to intrude into Yemeni territory.
Several chieftains of Yemen's "Wa'ilah" tribe (which lives in the areas adjoining the borders with Saudi Arabia) sent a written ultimatum to President Ali Abdallah Salih, stating that they would not allow any foreign soldiers to enter its territory and would not hesitate to defend itself, with all the means at its disposal. However, Yemen has vast tribal areas beyond government control where Al-Qaeida members are believed to be hiding and American intelligence has identified the Wa'ilah tribe as one of those hosts. Pentagon officials confirmed on the 18th that U.S. commando units and naval assault forces had assembled near Yemen, in preparation for a stepped-up hunt for terrorists operatives in the region. A state-owned newspaper quoted an unnamed government source, that there was no connection between massing of American troops and events in Yemen.
Actions speak louder than words and, to Yemen's credit, this declaration of independent action was followed by several incidents of "rounding up the usual suspects". At the beginning of September, Saleh deployed the first units of a planned 2,000 troops to the troublesome northern provinces of Shabwa, Jawf and Marib (all suspected Moslim militant strongholds). On 18 or 20 September, Yemeni security forces arrested four French nationals and after finding false Yemeni visas, held them in Aden. The four were almost stereotypical profiles of Al-Qaeda operatives: of Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian origin, between the ages of 20 and 25, and arrested after arriving at a mosque for Islamic studies. The French foreign ministry said that four French citizens suspected of involvement in the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, although a spokesman said the four were yet to be officially charged.
On 20 September, Yemeni forces killed two alleged Al-Qaeda members and arrested three others who had barricaded themselves into a home, after a two-hour battle in a northern suburb of the capital San'a. Police launched search operations for other members of the group who managed to escape into the surrounding fields.
On 25 September, Yemeni authorities rounded up 12 men suspected of links to the Al-Qaeda network, after their names came up during investigations of other terror suspects.
In May, Yemen had admitted holding 85 people suspected of links to Al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad (a militant group operating in several Middle Eastern countries). A Yemeni lawmaker said the country was holding 104 people suspected of belonging to Al-Qaeda or of involvement in terrorist activities by 22 September. However, on the 26th President Saleh vowed that his country would not hand over any Yemenis suspected of links to terrorism to the United States. Yemeni intelligence authorities have a brutal reputation, accused of subjecting detainees to physical and psychological torture. Blindfolded detainees and their families were also said to be threatened with physical harm unless they confessed to charges. - Adam Geibel