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Air Strike in Yemen as clerics threaten jihad

A statement by 158 Yemeni religious scholars warned the US that any military intervention will be met by violence.

“If there is any insistence from any foreign party or aggression or invasion against the country … then Islam considers jihad a duty to repel the aggression,” the declaration read.

The global reach of al Qaeda in Yemen was highlighted in December when a Nigerian operative attempted to detonate an explosive device aboard an airliner as it was landing in Detroit.

In outlining its Yemen strategy, the Obama administration ruled out “boots on the ground” and pledged more aid and support for Yemen’s counter-terror operations. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown scheduled a conference January 27 to coordinate efforts among Yemen and her donors.

The clerics’ warning is seen as a rebuff by Yemen’s leadership of the notion of tying US aid to political and economic reforms. The message was reiterated by several Yemeni officials. Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al Qirby said, “The issues of human rights and freedom of the press are all issues that come within the national agenda of reforms” and have no place at the London Conference. A Qirby estimated that Yemen needs four billion dollars in donor aid annually.

Yemen has long been criticized for its revolving door approach to al Qaeda. Dozens of terrorists were granted an early release after a pledge of loyalty to President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh, in power since 1978, recently declared a willingness to negotiate with al Qaeda operatives if they renounce violence.

Long time government insider, Tariq al Fadhli, who defected to the opposition in 2009, said in an interview that Mr. Saleh had offered to free all al-Qaeda prisoners if the group would leave the country. Over one hundred militants were released form prison in February 2009, which Mr. al Fadhli described as a good will gesture by the president to al Qaeda.

In the wake of the airliner plot and facing US pressure, Yemen declared “open war” on al Qaeda. On Friday, Yemen announced an airstrike “probably” killed senior al Qaeda leader, Qasim al Reimi, along with five other operatives. Al Reimi was earlier reported as killed in an airstrike in December.

Experts fear that without political and economic reforms, al Qaeda may find an increasing number of recruits in Yemen, driven by poverty, illiteracy and unemployment. Half the Yemeni population lives on under USD 2 dollars a day. A 2006 development conference garnered over USD 4 billion in pledges for Yemen but had little impact on transforming the national economy.

Yemeni is ranked 154 of 180 states on Transparency International’s corruption index. Entrenched corruption in nearly every governmental office translates into the near absence of basic services in Yemen. Clean water, electricity and medical care are largely nonexistent in rural Yemen where 70 per cent of the population resides.

Yemen, although democratic in name, functions as an oligarchy. Saleh’s regime lacks broad legitimacy and is facing civil unrest on many fronts.

State violence and arbitrary arrests triggered a cycle of increasing instability. The Yemeni government has repeatedly used lethal force against protesters in Southern Yemen, killing dozens, wounding hundreds and arresting thousands. Protests, which began calling for equal rights, have evolved into calls for an independent state. In the northern Sa’ada province, where a brutal war with Shiite rebels raged since 2005, the Yemeni military is indiscriminately bombing cities and villages, hospitals and mosques. The state imposed a blockade on international aid, citing security concerns. Over 200,000 residents are internally displaced according to the latest UN estimates.

The UN also found that torture by Yemeni security forces is widespread and brutal. Political prisoners in Yemen include hundreds of journalists, activists and opposition politicians.

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