Yemen: The Shia Rebels Close In On The Capital


February 13, 2014: In the north the Shia tribes have moved from feud (with Sunni tribes) to outright rebellion and marched south to within 35 kilometers of the capital. The Shia do not like the new proposal that divides the country into six autonomous regions. This is all part of tribal disputes that have gone on for decades, ever since the government took away the autonomy that the dominant Shia Bakil tribe long enjoyed up there. Now the government is backing the smaller Sunni (and pro-government) Hashid tribe and that has led to increasing violence with the dominant Bakil. The current round of fighting began with a battle over the town of Damaj and a Sunni religious school there. This violence has left over 400 dead and more than 900 wounded since it began on October 30 th . Nearly half the casualties have occurred in parts of the north besides Damaj. The Sunni tribes in the north have been fighting the Shia tribes for generations but it has rarely been this bad. Damaj is about 40 kilometers south of the Saudi border and the Sunni religious school has been there since the late 1970s and now has thousands of students, many of them foreign. According to the Shia tribes the school is now producing Sunni Islamic radicals who seek to kill Shia (as Sunni religious conservatives consider Shia heretics.) Damaj has become a battlefield in the struggle over leadership of Islam by Sunni Saudi Arabia (which backs the Islamic conservatives in Damaj) and Shia Iran (which supports the Shia tribesmen of northern Yemen). Since November the fighting has spread beyond Damaj to two other areas up there.

Both the northern Shia and the southern separatists complain that the proposed autonomy plan does not go far enough in granting powers, or a share of government income, to the six new regions. The northern Shia complain that their region has no natural resources or access to the sea. The southerners still want to establish an independent state down there, and keep all the oil for themselves. In the last two weeks the Shia tribesmen have taken a major base belonging to their Sunni rivals and threaten the national capital.

Yemen is becoming a failed state, although some locals insist modern Yemen has always been a failed state. The problems of tribalism, religious radicalism and corruption make it impossible for Yemen to function as a country.

Al Qaeda is trying to raise cash via ransom. This began in June 2013 when al Qaeda revealed that it was holding a South African couple kidnapped on May 27th by tribesmen trying to settle a land dispute. Taking hostages is considered a good way to get the government to agree with you. But sometimes the tribesmen sell the captives to Islamic terrorists, who will demand more for the release of the hostages. The terrorists, unlike the tribesmen, will often kill their captives if demands are not met. Ever since last June al Qaeda has been trying get $3 million for their captives. To help things along they released the wife in January but are now accusing intermediaries of stealing the ransom, which friends of the couple insist has not been raised. The government discourages the payment of ransom, because experience has shown that giving the terrorists more money just results in more people getting killed by increased terrorist activity.

February 12, 2014: In the south (Aden) a suicide bomber tried to get into a police station but failed and detonated his explosives outside, killing himself and wounding two policemen guarding the main gate.

In the capital a British man who teaches English at a local university was kidnapped. A British oil worker was taken on the 3rd and a German on January 31st. These kidnappings are often by tribesmen trying to persuade the government to release a kinsman held in prison for some crime or another. However, al Qaeda sometimes grabs foreigners for big ransoms or to get Islamic terrorists out of jail. This the government resists, even though Al Qaeda sometimes murders captives. Sometimes the tribesmen do it for money, which means the hostage will spend a lot of time in captivity.

February 11, 2014: Over the last few days at least 28 Saudi Islamic terrorists, captured over the last few years, were extradited to Saudi Arabia for imprisonment or further prosecution. Most of these Islamic terrorists are also wanted in Saudi Arabia and most of them are Saudi citizens.

February 9, 2014:  In a capital a senior intelligence was killed, and his bodyguard wounded, when a bomb planted in the victim’s car went off.

February 7, 2014: In the south (Hadramout) an army convoy was ambushed by rebel tribesmen and four soldiers were killed. The troops were escorting workers who were repairing parts of the oil pipeline blown up by the tribesmen, who are seeking a larger share of the oil revenue.

February 6, 2014: The Shia tribal rebels agreed to resume the ceasefire and stop fighting their Sunni rivals. The government is threatening massive retaliation if the Shia rebels do not retreat. The Shia tribal leaders are willing to discuss the matter with the government.

February 5, 2014: The Shia tribal rebels broke the ceasefire and resumed attacking their Sunni rivals. The Shia accused the Sunnis of breaking the ceasefire first by firing on Shia delegates to peace talks.

In the south (Aden) gunmen killed an intelligence officer. Al Qaeda is suspected.

February 4, 2014: In the capital two soldiers were killed and 14 injured when a bomb went off under the bus they were in. Al Qaeda is suspected.

February 3, 2014: In the north the Shia rebels agreed to a ceasefire. In the last week fighting between Shia and rival Sunni tribesmen has left over 150 dead. The ceasefire is mainly to aid the families of the fighters because all the violence has kept commercial traffic off many roads up north and many families are running low on food.

February 2, 2014: Up north Shia rebels advanced south and captured a major town (Huth) and a village (Khamri) that was the headquarters of a major Sunni tribe (the Hashid). The Sunni tribesmen were in retreat.

In the capital three explosions and some gunfire were heard. One explosion was near the defense ministry, another near the central bank and the third near the compound of former president Saleh.

February 1, 2014: For the first time since December the oil pipeline was bombed. The last pipeline attack was on December 25th, which was the seventh attack in December. Tribesmen frequently damage the oil pipeline (that goes to a Red Sea terminal) when they want something from the government. The pipeline had been bombed regularly over the last year. Each attack takes anywhere from a day to a week to repair. These bombings interrupt export of 125,000 barrels a day. Exporting this oil supplies 70 percent of the government budget. Tribes living near the pipeline want to be paid more to “protect” (not attack) it but often attack the pipeline instead to force the government to give them more cash or release one of their members from prison.

January 31, 2014: In the north fighting broke out again between Shia and Sunni tribesmen. There were over 200 casualties and at least 60 dead.

In the south (Hadramout) al Qaeda attacked a checkpoint and killed 15 soldiers. The Islamic terrorists timed their attack so they hit while most of the troops were eating lunch.

January 30, 2014: In the south (Daleh province) tribal rebels ambushed army vehicles killing two soldiers and losing two of their own to the return fire.

January 29, 2014: About 40 kilometers north of the capital Shia tribal rebels battled pro-government tribesmen. There were over a hundred casualties and at least 38 dead.

January 28, 2014:  The government appointed a committee to determine the best solution to the calls for autonomy by northern and southern tribes.

January 27, 2014: In the north a two-week old truce collapsed as Shia tribal rebels battled pro-government Sunni tribesmen. Both sides accused the other of starting the fighting.

January 26, 2014: In the south (Hadramout) al Qaeda gunmen killed a police detective.





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