Monday, January 11, 2010

Yemen Willing to Talk to Al Qaeda

SANAA, Jan 10: Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he was open to dialogue with Al Qaeda militants, as a top official warned that dozens of foreign militants were grouping in a remote part of the impoverished country.

“If Al Qaeda (militants) lay down their arms, renounce violence and terrorism and return to wisdom, we are prepared to deal with them,” Saleh told Abu Dhabi TV in an interview carried by Yemen’s Saba news agency on Sunday.

“We are prepared to deal with anyone who renounces violence and terrorism,” he said.Washington has urged Yemen to crack down on Al Qaeda after the local chapter of Osama bin Laden’s network said it was behind a Christmas Day botched bombing on board a US airliner.

Saleh, who also faces a Shiite rebellion in the north and a movement for autonomy in the south, stressed the government will crack down heavily on those who resort to violence.

“They are a threat not only to Yemen but also to international peace and security, particularly Al Qaeda. They are ignorants, drug dealers and illiterate. They have no relation with Islam,” he said.

The governor of southern Shabwa province, Ali Hasan al-Ahmadi, meanwhile, was quoted on Sunday as saying Al Qaeda fighters, among them Saudis and Egyptians, have streamed in from Afghanistan to join local members of the network on the rugged Kour mountain.

“There are dozens of Saudi and Egyptian Al Qaeda militants who came to the province,” Ahmadi told the London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily.

“This is in addition to Yemenis who came from Maarib and Abyan (provinces) and a number of militants from Shabwa province itself,” he added.

Among them, he added, are the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Nasser al-Wahishi, his number two Saeed Ali al-Shehri, a Saudi, and radical US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi.

AQAP has claimed it was behind the botched Christmas Day bomb attack aboard a US airliner, while Yemeni officials have said the would-be bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had been in contact with Awlaqi.

The United States has accused the Al Qaeda branch in Yemen of training Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight before it landed in Detroit, but was overpowered by passengers.

It has also accused Awlaqi of instigating “terrorism” and said he had links with the man suspected of shooting dead 13 people at a Texas military base in November, Major Nidal Hasan.

Saudi analyst Anwar Eshki said Al Qaeda militants have been fleeing to Yemen after coming under tremendous pressure in Afghanistan and Pakistan and because of a crackdown in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

“The network is trying to establish itself in Yemen,” Eshki, head of the Jeddah-based Middle East Strategic Studies Centre, told AFP.

Eshki believes Al Qaeda in Yemen “will be far more dangerous than in Afghanistan because of its proximity to Gulf oil resources and transportation lines”. The oil-rich Gulf region provides just under one-fifth of the world’s crude oil supplies.

Mohammad al-Muthaimi, economy professor at Sanaa University, blamed the faltering economy for the rise of extremism.

“Sixty-five per cent of young people are without job opportunities, and extremist organisations are exploiting the chance to recruit them by handing out much-needed money,” he said.—AFP

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