Fahd al-Quso, a leading figure in al-Qaeda in Yemen, was killed by a CIA drone strike according to US officials. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2003 for his suspected role in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 US sailors and injured 39 others in the port of Aden in Yemen. He was being held in a Yemeni prison but escaped. He was captured again but only served 3 years and could not be extradited to the US for lack of extradition treaty.
Quso’s co-defendant in the Cole indictment, Jamal al-Badawi, allegedly bought the boat and a truck to tow it to Aden harbor and rented a safe house to store it. One of Quso’s jobs in the plot, according to the indictment, was to retrieve and hide the car and trailer used to tow the attack boat into position.
On Oct. 12, 2000, the day on which two al Qaeda suicide bombers struck the Cole, Quso was meant to videotape the attack in the hills above the Port of Aden for use in al Qaeda propaganda. Quso failed to do so, later telling an FBI agent who interrogated him in Yemen that he had overslept.
Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh has signed an agreement put forward by the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) to step down and transfer power to his vice president within 30 days. A unity government will be formed consisting of the opposition and two months after his resignation there will be a presidential election. The controversy behind the deal was immunity from Yemeni prosecution, something the opposition has repeatedly rejected. Al-Jazeera English reports from Sana’a, Yemen’s capital.
Saleh, the fourth leader ousted from power due to the Arab Spring revolts, is now in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. His resignation has put an end to the nine-month long uprising that has paralyzed the country and killed scores of demonstrators.
Yemen is a poor country that sits in a strategically important maritime crossing and is home to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). President Barack Obama has described AQAP as “al-Qaeda’s most active operational affiliate,” echoing an acknowledgment from U.S. counterterrorism officials that the threat from AQAP has supplanted that of the al-Qaeda core (NYT).
The worse violence since March in Yemen has left at least 50 people dead from two days of fighting. Government security forces are pitted against antigovernment protesters against the return of President Ali Abdullah Salah. The Yemeni president has been recuperating from injuries sustained during an assassination attempt more than three months ago. He has vowed to return to Yemen which has enraged his opponents who are looking for a transfer of power. This round of fighting pushes Yemen ever closer to a civil war. It is a country of growing liabilities and declining assets. From the LA Times:
“I am upset and angry. My friend has been severely injured. I curse Ahmar’s soldiers and I curse the troops of the regime,” said Ahmed Zurqah, a protester. “The demonstrators wanted this revolution to be peaceful, but the soldiers on both sides want this to turn into a civil war.”
The president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has refused to sign an agreement brokered by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, to resign from the presidency. He stated he would not sign the agreement without the opposition party signing the document in his presence at his palace. With the collapse of the talks, Salah’s supporters and the opposition took to the streets. It was the deadliest clash yet between the government and its political rivals since the start of the street protests in January. Al Jazeera’s Iain Bruce reports.
On his second day in office, President Obama signed three executive orders. The first was an order to shut down the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay; the second and third focused on the review of the use of military trials for suspected terrorists and the use of harsh interrogation techniques, like waterboarding. This week, more than two years after vowing to close the facility, Mr. Obama said that he would allow the facility to remain open. On Monday, the President signed an executive order that gives legal permission to resume military trials at the prison and allows some detainees to be held indefinitely without trial.
“I strongly believe that the American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against Al Qaeda and its affiliates,” Obama said. “And we will continue to draw on all aspects of our justice system … to ensure that our security and our values are strengthened.”
Debate swirled around the announcement. “With the stroke of a pen, President Obama extinguished any lingering hope that his administration would return the United States to the rule of law by referring detainee cases from Guantanamo Bay to federal courts rather than the widely discredited military commissions,” Tom Parker of Amnesty International said, the Los Angeles Times reported. Conservatives argue that Guantanamo is still open because Obama recognizes the prison’s usefulness. Republicans see it as a “vindication” of Bush-era policies.
New military tribunals are expected to begin again soon. The first trial will be for Abd Al Rahim al-Nashiri, the man accused of engineering the bombing of the USS Cole, an American warship, in 2000. He has been in custody at Guantanamo since 2006. For background on the October 12, 2000 attack on the USS Cole, listen to America Abroad’s Remembering the Cole.
The biggest gathering of anti-government protesters amassed at the university in Sana’a, the focal point of the pro-democracy movement. Many are mourning the deaths of two protesters killed on Tuesday night. Eight members of the ruling party have resigned in protest to the violent response to anti-government protesters. Protesters are calling for President Saleh to step down after over three decades of rule. Excerpt from AlJazeeraEnglish:
“It’s the first time people here in Yemen from all the parties, all the institutions – they are coming here to say to this man, ‘Go out, nobody wants you here and we want to live our freedom. We want to be free like others… 33 years are enough.’”
The protesters blame the government for corruption, lack of political freedom and high unemployment. Yemen has one of the highest unemployment rates in the Arab world. It is estimated that 45 percent of the people are jobless and nearly half of all Yemenis live in poverty. Listen to America Abroad‘s Yemen in Focus for background on this troubled country.
Yemen is once again in the headlines with the recent news of explosive devices found on cargo planes en route to the US, believed to be the work of al-Qaeda. This latest terrorism plot raises concerns about how the US should react to the growing threat coming from the Arabian Peninsula. In Yemen, al-Qaeda militants have also become bolder, staging deadly attacks against security offices, police and army personnel.
As recently as last week, government forces began a new effort against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) by launching a military assault against extremists hiding in the mountainous southern region of the country. Today brings news that the Yemeni government is bringing Yemeni-American preacher Anwar al-Awlaki to trial in absentia for plotting to murder foreigners. Pressure from Washington is forcing the Yemeni government to become more proactive in its fight against the militants. The Yemeni government is not seeking direct US intervention to combat the militants but Americans are increasingly concerned by AQAP activities in the region. From the Christian Science Monitor:
“For the Americans, it’s difficult not to overreact,” says Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “I think the knee-jerk reaction would be a military response, which will not improve security and instability in Yemen.”
Yemen is the poorest Arab nation. Its security and economic woes are great: staggering unemployment, rampant corruption, declining oil revenues, soaring population growth, water drying up, a rebellion in the north, secessionists in the south, and al-Qaeda setting up shop in the tribal hinterlands. The foiled plot has prompted the international community to ask tough questions about Yemen’s future and its role in fueling Islamic extremism.
Earlier this year, America Abroad headed to Yemen to explore conditions on the ground and investigate how it became such a fragile state. Listen to Yemen in Focus, a one-hour public radio documentary.
Approximately 20 militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni branch of the terrorist group, are still on the run in the mountainous southern region of Yemen after a weekend offensive by the central government to rid the country of extremists. Hundreds of Yemenis have been evacuated from the area as security forces mount their assault. American forces are assisting in the fight against the militants by openly training Yemeni troops as the Yemeni government has stepped up the fight against AQAP. This is only one in a string of skirmishes between soldiers and AQAP. From the Christian Science Monitor:
“The battle in Abyan and Shabwa is growing; this, after all, is the home region of AQAP’s commander, Nasir al-Wihayshi,” says Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen specialist at Princeton University, in an email. “AQAP is trying to convince – through both intimidation and persuasion – members of Yemen’s security services and military to come over to its side. For its part, the Yemeni government is striking back both through military strikes and by attempting to turn the tribes against al-Qaeda.”
Yemen faces enormous challenges on the horizon. Poor economic prospects, lack of employment opportunities, a violent rebellion in the north of the country, and a growing secessionist movement in the south contribute to its current crisis. This combination creates a breeding ground for terrorists, which came to the forefront with the attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day 2009 by 23-year-old Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who received training and the explosives in Yemen. Al Qaeda is camping out in the country’s remote tribal lands, and given the massive unemployed and undereducated youth population, terrorists have plenty of potential recruits.
America Abroad‘s Sean Carberry traveled to Yemen to explore the challenging economic, political, and social conditions facing the country’s large and growing population of young people. Listen to Yemen in Crisis.
“Thousands protest military crackdown in Yemen”
Thousands of people in Yemen are protesting the military crackdown in the south even while President Ali Abdullah Saleh has offered to hold talks with Southern separatists to hear their grievances. Demonstrations have been held in multiple cities which only adds to the country’s considerable problems including the fact that Al-Qaeda maybe exploiting this instability. From Al Arabiya News >
“Study abroad with Al-Qaeda”
A Vermont native, with a Ph.D. in literature, goes to Yemen and converts to Islam. In the process, he is both physically and mentally transformed. While he did not truly convert and take the religion to heart, he did learn the alarming reasoning why it’s so easy to recruit many of these young men into Al-Qaeda and terrorist networks. From Global Post >
“The Myth of Excluding Moderate Islamists in the Arab World”
This paper discusses how moderate Islamic groups that believe in peaceful co-existence with the west and respect the sovereignty of the state are being pushed out of the political arena by the US. What will happen to these groups if they continue to be excluded and become radicalized as a result? How should the US be dealing with these groups? From Brookings >
Yesterday, the U.S. government warned ships sailing off Yemen’s coast of the risk of al Qaeda attacks similar to a suicide bombing of the U.S. warship Cole in 2000.
“Information suggests that al Qaeda remains interested in maritime attacks in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden along the coast of Yemen,” the office said in a statement, citing an advisory by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Yemen has been a focus of international concern since December, when al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the failed attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner, showing the group based in an impoverished and unstable corner of the Middle East had global reach.
Conditions in Yemen in the 1990s helped create fertile ground for young jihadis. While the country was off the radar screen of most in the U.S., it was about to become front page news.
On the morning of October 12, 2000, two al-Qaeda recruits launched a small 20-foot boat in the port of Aden, Yemen and steered it into the hull of the USS Cole, killing 17 soldiers and injuring 39 others.
Listen to firsthand accounts from retired U.S. Navy Commander Kirk Lippold, Lieutenant Elroy Newton, and retired Master Chief James Parlier.