Al-Qaeda Prisoners Escape in Yemen

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mohamed Sudam

SANAA (Reuters) – A senior U.S. official pressed the Yemeni government on Wednesday to implement a Gulf Arab initiative calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down to end months of protest, Yemeni officials said.

The United States and ally Saudi Arabia fear that a power vacuum and tribal warfare in Yemen will be exploited by the local wing of al Qaeda to launch attacks in the region and beyond.

On Wednesday, dozens of al Qaeda militants escaped from a prison in the city of al-Mukalla in southern Yemen, the latest in a series of increasingly deadly clashes between security forces and militants in the south of the country.

A Yemeni government source said Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, met Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi and Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is acting president.

“The American side insisted on implementing the Gulf initiative and then removing features of tension (protests), while the Yemeni side demanded that features of tension be removed first and then implementing the initiative,” a Yemeni government source told Reuters.

Saleh has exasperated his rich Gulf Arab neighbors by three times agreeing to step down, only to pull out of a transition plan at the last minute and cling on to power.
Saleh is in Saudi Arabia recovering from injuries sustained in an attack on his palace in Sanaa nearly three weeks ago.

Feltman also held talks with Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, once widely seen to be next in line for the presidency until protests broke out earlier this year. No details emerged from the meeting.

As commander of the Republican Guards, the main strike force in Yemen, Ahmed Ali holds sway in the country of 23 million, which sits on the southern border of Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter.

Saleh has defied calls from global leaders, elements in his own military and tens of thousands of protesters to end his 33 year rule, which has brought Yemen close to financial ruin.

In an early bid to placate protesters demanding his ouster, Saleh guaranteed he would not hand power down to his son, but many Yemenis say key members of Saleh’s family including Ahmed Ali remain firmly in control of key levers of power, blocking any political transition without Saleh’s consent.

Opposition parties allied with youth activists have also insisted that Saleh formally hand over power to Hadi as a step toward a new government and democracy.

An aide to Saleh said on Wednesday his health was on the mend and that he had been receiving guests and giving instructions on day-to-day affairs in Yemen, including a power cut and fuel shortages.
“The president has rejected a request from several members of his family to come to Riyadh to visit him, and stressed that he will return home soon,” said Ahmed al-Sufi, the president’s media secretary told Reuters.

Dozens of al Qaeda militants escaped from a jail in southern Yemen on Wednesday following an attack on the compound.

One soldier was killed and two were wounded when militants opened fire on al-Munawara prison in al-Mukalla, a security official said.

“The militants opened fire on the prison gates and exchanged fire with the guards, injuring two and killing one,” the security official said, adding that 62 prisoners had fled.
All the prisoners were Yemeni and most of them had been jailed after returning from Iraq where they fought in militant ranks, he said.

(Writing by Sami Aboudi; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Hundreds of Yemeni Troops Defect to Rebels

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mohammed Mokhashaf and Mohamed Sudam

2011-06-28T165143Z_1312527772_GM1E76T02HG01_RTRMADP_3_YEMEN

An anti-government protester with his face painted in the colours of Yemen’s flag shouts as others chew qat during a rally to demand the ouster of Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa June 28, 2011. The words painted on the protester’s chest read as “Uncover chests”.

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

ADEN/SANAA (Reuters) – At least 26 Yemeni government soldiers and 17 militants linked to al Qaeda were killed on Wednesday in heavy fighting for control of a stadium near the southern city of Zinjibar, officials said.

The military setback, following reports that 300 of his soldiers had defected to the opposition, was another blow to President Ali Abdullah Saleh as recovers in Saudi Arabia from injuries sustained in an attack on his palace in early June.

Yemen, the poorest Arab state and a neighbor of the world’s largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, has been shaken by months of protests against Saleh’s three-decade rule, a resurgent wing of al Qaeda and a separatist rebellion in the south.

The United States and Saudi Arabia fear that al Qaeda may use the chaos to launch attacks in the region and beyond.

Yemeni officials said the militants seized control of the stadium from government forces, who have been using the facility — built recently to host a regional football tournament — to support troops fighting to dislodge the militants from Zinjibar.

An official said losing the stadium, located near a military base from which government forces had been launching attacks on Zinjibar, exposed a military base that had been used to launch attacks on the militants in Zinjibar. A counter offensive to retake the position was in progress, he said.

“The militant control of the field will leave the back of the camp from the east exposed,” the official said.

Yemeni officials had been reporting successes against the estimated 300 militants who seized control of Zinjibar in May in the midst of a groundswell of popular protests against the nearly 33-year autocratic rule of Saleh.

His opponents say his forces handed over the city to the militants to bolster his argument that his departure would lead to an Islamist takeover of the Arabian Peninsula state.

Yemeni air force planes had killed at least 10 gunmen in attacks on Zinjibar earlier on Wednesday, a local Yemeni official said. One strike mistakenly hit a bus traveling from Zinjibar to Aden, the official added, killing five passengers and wounding 12 other people.

Defection

Earlier in the day, opposition officials reported that more than 300 members of Yemeni security forces, including 150 from the Republican Guards led by Saleh’s son Ahmed, had defected to rebels.

“From the podium of the Square of Change in Sanaa, an announcement has been issued that 150 soldiers from the Republican Guards, 130 Central Security soldiers and 60 policemen have joined the revolt,” an opposition message said.

No government officials were immediately available to comment on the report.

If confirmed, the mutinies would be a serious reverse for Saleh, who has spent the past three weeks receiving medical treatment in Riyadh for wounds suffered in the June 3 attack.

The defections are the latest in a series by security forces since the anti-Saleh uprising began in February. Most prominent was the defection in March of Brigadier General Ali Mohsen, who has since sent in his troops to guard protesters in Sanaa.

The protests have culminated in battles between Saleh loyalists and gunmen from the powerful Hashed tribal federation in Sanaa that brought the country to the verge of civil war.

Months of unrest have cost Yemen $4 billion, a senior Yemeni official said on Wednesday, adding the Arab state was in talks with potential donors to help plug a gap of $1.5 billion in government commitments for projects funded by Sanaa.

“We are talking with the IMF, the World Bank and donor countries, whether Gulf Arab states or others. There may be some discussions next week with the IMF,” Abdulla al-Shater, deputy planning and international cooperation minister, told reporters on the sidelines of a financial conference in Saudi Arabia.

Yemen has been largely quiet with a ceasefire in place since Saleh was injured in the attack, which investigators say was caused by explosives planted in the palace mosque where he and several senior government officials were praying

Saleh, 69, who has not been seen in public since the attack, has resisted pressure from the United States and Saudi Arabia to hand over power to his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, under a Gulf nations’ initiative to end the crisis.

Hadi has been running the country in Saleh’s absence, but the opposition wants the president to officially hand over power to him to pave the way for new elections.

Officials have said the president will soon make his first public appearance since the attack with a recorded message to be broadcast on Yemeni state television.

Officer Killed

In further violence, a bomb killed a colonel when it exploded in his car on Tuesday night in the port city of Aden, a security source said on Wednesday.

The source said that Colonel Khaled al-Yafi’i was the commander of a military outpost guarding the Aden Free Zone business park’s entrance.

The outpost was targeted by a car bomb on Friday that killed four soldiers and a civilian and injured 16 other people.

No one has claimed responsibility for the colonel’s killing, but Islamist militants affiliated with al Qaeda are active in southern Yemen.

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