Yemen is among the world’s most corrupt and least developed nations, factors that explain a long running war in the north and an exploding independence movement in the south. Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Salih deals with legitimate dissent by jailing journalists, shooting protesters, and bombing civilians on a scale that reaches the level of war crimes. Salih has long been an al-Qa’ida enabler, but the December 25, 2009 Christmas Day terror attack brought new urgency to U.S.-Yemeni relations. However, the United States risks becoming a party to violent repression, as well as enhancing the support system of one of the world’s most ambitious al-Qa’ida affiliates.

The government of Yemen is engaged in three counter-insurgency campaigns. Southern secessionists, northern rebels, and al-Qa’ida are each challenging the state. The calls for independence, revolt, or jihad arose as the state came to exist as the equivalent of a privatized mafia, but only al-Qa’ida in Yemen (AQIY) presents a transnational threat. The lethal jihadi attack on Fort Hood in November 2009 and the December 2009 attempted bombing of an airliner over Detroit were linked to al-Qa’ida terrorists in Yemen.

AQIY’s global ambitions arise in part from its lack of credibility within Yemen, where AQIY is widely perceived as a corrupt entity exploited by the state for political gain. The current interlude of “hunting” notwithstanding, the regime of Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Salih has had a mutually beneficial détente with al-Qa’ida for decades. Since the 1980s, Yemen has been an incubator and exporter of terrorists. Since 1992, substantial al-Qa’ida attacks in Yemen targeted Western interests, embassies, and persons–with only one exception.

Beyond an expansionist al-Qa’ida, Yemen is facing two sustained domestic conflicts: the northern Sa’ada War and the southern secessionist movement. Both these anti-government groups arose from the economic marginalization and political exclusion that impact all non-elite Yemenis. They tap into an indigenous pro-democracy consensus by claiming discrimination and demanding application of the law. Their narratives dilute the draw of al-Qa’ida by verbalizing national grievances tailored to a local context.

In contrast to Yemen’s appeasement of al-Qa’ida, indiscriminate state violence against the northern Huthi fighters and southern demonstrators—and civilians in both conflict areas—triggered escalating cycles of conflict and public frustration. The state’s failure to respect the norms of civilian immunity has become a primary grievance of both movements. Yemen, like al-Qa’ida, legitimizes attacks on civilians as a necessary feature of progress and justified by identity. The state of Yemen, like al-Qa’ida, considers host populations as combatants and endorses jihad.


Through two administrations (George W. Bush and Barack Obama), the United States government had little condemnation as Yemen engaged in bloody warfare against its own citizens. The United States is perceived in Yemen as endorsing random violence or state terrorism against Yemeni civilians. The Obama administration deems the domestic unrest an internal Yemeni affair, a threat to regional stability, and a diversion from counter-terror activities.

U.S. authorities are concerned about citizens returning from Yemen to launch attacks, for good reason. “Underwear” bomber, Nigerian Farouk Abdulmatallab, said he trained in Yemen for December’s operation alongside English speaking non-Yemenis. The FBI has arrested a number of Americans on charges relating to terrorist plots or associations that trace back to Yemen.[1]

Although President Salih has long been a duplicitous and inconsistent ally in the War on Terror, the Obama administration appears confident of his new found sincerity.[2] Current U.S. strategy–like previous U.S. strategy–hopes to strengthen the Yemeni government’s capacity to tackle the al-Qa’ida threat. Since December 2009, the United States boosted levels of intelligence sharing, equipment, and financing to Yemen.

Results are disappointing. Contrary to multiple erroneous Yemeni press releases, AQAP’s (al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula) entire leadership structure remains at large. On December 17, 2009, an errant airstrike killed 43 civilians in Abyan. The deaths inflamed anti-American sentiment, stoked fears of a U.S. invasion, and became a focal point of al-Qa’ida’s propaganda. In June 2010, a prominent pro-government shaykh in Marib, set to meet a surrendering al-Qa’ida operative, was killed in another misdirected airstrike. Marib tribesmen bombed a pipeline, closed roads, and clashed with security forces. The abdication of rural Yemen to tribal proxies means that military forces must negotiate for access, making real-time intelligence difficult to obtain.

As a result, Yemen is also having trouble locating the Yemeni-American jihadi blogger and self-proclaimed cleric, Anwar Awlaki, in Shabwa province. Awlaki mentored Nidal Hassan and Farouk Abdulmutallab and supported several al-Qa’ida operations. Yemeni authorities initially defended Awlaki as a legitimate preacher, but later said they would bring him to trial if captured. Yet Yemeni courts have found that jihad in Iraq is legal and admirable.[3] If Yemeni law supports the murder of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians in Iraq, there is no basis to expect that conspiring to murder U.S. soldiers at Fort Hood is against Yemeni law.[4]

Beyond strengthening Yemen’s counter-terror capacity, the second prong of U.S. strategy focuses on economic development and basic services, a reversal from earlier years when political reform was a key goal. Yet Yemen’s growing terror menace, bloody instability, and grinding poverty are all rooted in “the personalization of the state.”[5]


The United States, as part of its whole of government approach, seeks to “halt and reverse troubling socio-economic dynamics” in Yemen. It is a Herculean task, as these dynamics were entrenched over four decades and form the underpinnings of the criminalized oligarchy in Sana’a. A USAID corruption assessment notes that as the state’s military and security apparatuses have been subverted to personal interests, a tribal parasitic bourgeoisie reliant on state contracts has emerged and further captured state resources for private gain. Documented cases of state corruption and embezzlement in 2007 totaled over YR 72 billion.

Yemen’s per capita income is ranked 166th of 174 countries. Its press freedom ranking is 167th. Unemployment is about 40 percent. A third of adults are malnourished, and half of children are physically stunted from chronic hunger. One third of all under-five deaths occur from vaccine preventable diseases. Donor aid has had little impact. Only 10 percent of the $4.7 billion pledged by donors in 2006 has been disbursed, largely due to the failure to complete necessary paperwork.[6]

Yemen is facing predicted economic crises while long-standing patterns of grand corruption inhibit reform.[7] Diesel subsidies cost four billion dollars, but half of subsidized diesel is smuggled abroad.[8] Oil revenues, accounting for 70 percent of state funds, dipped more than half in 2009. As the patronage system becomes unglued, violence is increasing. In June 2010, soldiers in Mahwit and tribal fighters in Amran demanding overdue pay clashed with military forces.

Yemen is also running out of water. Yemen’s largest city, Ta’iz, gets public water once every 45 days. The cultivation of qat, a stimulant shrub, accounts for 40 percent of water usage–with irrigation costs offset by subsidized diesel. Workable water policies have been on the table for years, but implementation requires coordination among competing ministerial fiefdoms, the loss of somebody’s profit, and political will the executive does not have.[9] The state’s inability to control its geographical periphery is matched by its inability to control the periphery of government, resulting in irrational, contradictory, and half-executed policies.

Ali Abdallah Salih took his post in 1978 as president of the Yemeni Arab Republic (YAR) and in 1990, became president of unified Yemen. For over thirty years, Salih ruled much as Imams before him, relying on personal relationships, tribal muscle, and a patronage system. Salih’s relatives and loyalists head the military, intelligence, and security forces as well as major corporations, media, and social institutions including NGOs–often all at the same time.[10] The expenses of the parliament and presidency consume 20 percent of public spending, the military another quarter. Salih personally funded construction of the al-Salih Mosque at a cost of $120 million.

The Pretense of Democracy

The exercise of real power in Yemen occurs behind the scenes and outside formal institutions. Salih heads the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC), a party of access and advantage that deploys the media, police, civil service employment, and judiciary to overwhelm and punish its opponents.

After the 2006 presidential elections, opposition party workers were jailed, fired, or beaten as retribution for their political participation. Indirect governor’s elections in 2008 were touted as progress toward local governance, but the GPC’s candidate won in all provinces except two, where the results were overturned. The GPC and its opposition, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP),[11] are in contention over the scope of proposed electoral reforms. As a result, parliamentary elections set for 2009 were postponed until 2011. With no progress since 2006, future elections are in doubt.

The GPC-dominated parliament and Shura Council are comprised largely of loyalist shaykhs, military commanders, and businessmen–reinforcing tribal authoritarianism and economic centralization. Other tribal confederations are excluded from power entirely and resort to kidnapping foreigners in order to pressure the state for concessions.

Beyond the military, party and tribal arms of power, and U.S. support, the Sana’a regime is allied with Islamist fundamentalists, further thwarting pluralism and popular empowerment. The death of a 12-year-old in childbirth did not break the hardliners’ opposition to a minimum marriage age. With the independent media under assault, peaceful protests met by bullets and fatwas (religious edicts), and some members of parliament absent for months, the options for Yemenis were starkly described by a United Nations official as “revolt, migrate or die.”[12]


Both the northern Sa’ada War and the southern independence movement are rooted in the state’s corruption and inability to share power. Both conflicts began with citizens demanding enfranchisement, the impartial imposition of law and limits on governmental abuses. Underlying issues including economic marginalization and political exclusion were never addressed or even acknowledged as valid by the state. These issues also underlie tribal discontent and other areas of civil unrest. Human Rights Watch found that in both conflicts, Yemeni authorities violated the requirements of international law regarding civilian protections.[13]

Following the Christmas Day attack, the United States urged Yemen to resolve areas of instability and focus its efforts against al-Qa’ida. The sixth round of the northern Sa’ada War ended in February 2010, although peace is unlikely to hold. During the lull in open warfare, the military intensified its campaign in the south, fortifying military positions and blockading and bombing several areas.

President Salih announced a general amnesty on May 22, 2010, the twentieth anniversary of Yemeni unity. About 3,000 political prisoners were covered under the amnesty including journalists, activists, southern protesters, Huthi rebels, and various children. About 800 were released, reinforcing the state’s lack of credibility and triggering prison riots. It was the fourth time since 2005 that the state promised to release Huthi prisoners.[14]

The Roots of the “The Huthi Rebellion”

War in Sa’ada can be traced back to the 1962 Republican revolution when the northern YAR overthrew the Zaidi theocracy in place for centuries. During the Imamate, the ability to rule was restricted to Hashemites, who trace their lineage to Muhammad. Despite their elite status, many Hashemites joined the struggle to break free from the isolationism, nepotism and tribalism at the core of the twentieth century Imamate. The social inversion following the revolution set the stage for Zaidi revivalism decades later, triggered in part by the infusion of Salafism in the 1990s.[15]

The Believing Youth, a Zaidi study group, was formed in the 1990s, and the group’s literature presented an ideology that discredited the al-Qa’ida strain of Salafism on nearly every point.[16] Hostilities with the state began in 2004 when security forces clashed with members of the Believing Youth chanting “Death to America” in opposition to the Iraq War.[17] The group, numbering in the hundreds, retreated to the northern Sa’ada province and fought under charismatic leader, Husayn al-Huthi, killed in 2004.

Husayn al-Huthi was a member of parliament, as is his brother Yahya, and never disputed the republican nature of the state.[18] The loose organization of fighters now called “the Huthis” has grown to about 7,000 and is headed by al-Huthi’s brother, Abd al-Malik. War efforts in Sa’ada were commanded by General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, the president’s half brother and former recruiter for Usama bin Ladin.

Huthi Grievances and Narrative: Forced Conversions

The Huthis insist they are waging a defensive war and never presented a coherent political platform or, unlike the state, framed the war in sectarian terms. The Huthis also complain of the lack of economic development and institutionalized religious discrimination. The state replaced Zaidi mosque preachers with Salafists beginning in 2005. It forbade the celebration of al-Ghadir day, a mainstream Zaidi holiday, and confiscated books promoting Zaidism, practiced by nearly 40 percent of Yemenis.

The state used tribal volunteers and jihadists as fighters during war and as deniable proxies during periods of ceasefire. Billions spent on the war gave rise to a self perpetuating war economy benefiting weapons dealers, tribal leaders, and government officials who continue to agitate for the war’s resumption.[19]

In a 2010 statement to the National Preparatory Committee, an ad hoc reform-minded grouping, Abd al-Malik al-Huthi signaled the group’s willingness to enter the political system, calling for broader mobilization of the common people in the political system and for greater awareness among the citizenry of their rights.

The RAND Corporation noted that “despite anti-Israel and anti-U.S. rhetoric, the Huthis have not targeted Americans or U.S. facilities and equipment, and share with the United States some of the same enemies in the region, including intolerant, expansionist Wahhabism and authoritarian state systems.”[20]

Counterinsurgency in the Sa’ada War: Bombing Villages, Arresting Children

The state’s methods of counterinsurgency in the six Sa’ada Wars since 2004 designated the 700,000 residents of Sa’ada and the Hashemite population nationally as combatants. The Sa’ada War was characterized by sustained blockades of food and medicine and nationwide arbitrary arrests. Indiscriminate government bombing in the 2005 round displaced over 50,000 residents. In the 2009 “Operation Scorched Earth,” Yemeni and Saudi bombing flattened over 9,000 structures, including mosques, schools, houses, and entire villages. By 2010, internal refugees had swelled to over 300,000. The UN’s appeal for Yemen is only 30 percent funded, and what aid there is cannot get through.

One Yemeni official described the goal of the blockade, “When [the residents] begin to starve and their source of income is interrupted, they will eventually hand over the Huthis in their area.”[21] Human Rights Watch characterized the blockade as collective punishment and “in contravention of international humanitarian law that provides that a civilian population is entitled to receive humanitarian relief essential to its survival.”[22]

Past ceasefires have been a tactic of war–rather than a strategy to end it–and the state repeatedly failed to honor its own terms. In 2007, a governmental fact finding committee was jailed after reporting that the governmental failed to implement several terms of the ceasefire including reconstruction and the freeing of rebel prisoners. A reconstruction committee was arrested after issuing a damage survey that reported losses to property and infrastructure from government bombing exceeded billions of riyals.

Beyond capturing and often torturing rebel fighters, the state also engaged in widespread “preventive arrests” of those suspected of sympathy with the fighters, based on religious identity, geographical location, or family associations.[23] Many children in jail were also subject to routine torture.[24]

Zaidi political leaders complained in March 2010 that the Minister of Endowments was enabling militant preachers in the Great Mosque in Sana’a to engage in “a fierce campaign against Zaidi and Sufi thought,” continuing the provocations that should have ended with the war.[25] Arrests and assassinations are continuing, as is the disinformation campaign, and Huthi prisoners remain in jail, signaling the likelihood of a seventh war.

The Roots of the Southern Movement

The state’s counter-insurgency tactics in the northern Sa’ada War defined combatants by religious identity, location, and lineage. In the south, police targeted peaceful demonstrators with live fire and arrests; a combatant is anyone in the street. The southern secession movement may be the most threatening of the three insurgencies the Yemeni regime is facing. It is the only one that seeks a fundamental change to the nature of the state.

While the northern YAR evolved from a theocracy, southern history is very different. The British colonized the port city of Aden in 1839 and established a protectorate in southern Yemen. Nationalist groups expelled the British in 1967. The British legacy in south Yemen meant that to some degree southerners had replaced tribal norms with civil constraints and developed equal economic and political opportunity between the sexes. The new state was built on impartial bureaucratic structures left behind by the British.

A Marxist-Leninist Soviet satellite state that harbored Carlos the Jackal, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) strove to become a proletarian utopia, but corruption and infighting soon set in. State confiscation of land and targeting of former foes forced many into exile. In 1986, President Ali Nasir Muhammad ordered the assassination of his politburo. After a civil war, Haydar Abu Bakr al-Attas assumed power. The current inability of the southern movement to coalesce into a unified front has its roots in factional rivalry that existed since the 1986 civil war.

In 1990, 12 million citizens of the YAR and the 2 million in the PDRY joined together in the modern state of Yemen under a democratic system of power-sharing, at least in theory. Salih became president of the unified state, and Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) leader Ali Salim al-Baydh, the vice-president.

Tensions were high as northern hegemony took hold. Over 150 YSP officials were assassinated following unity. In 1994, al-Baydh declared secession and civil war broke out. President Salih deployed repatriated Afghan Arabs as a mercenary force and received material support from Usama bin Ladin for the war effort.[26] The United Nations Security Council issued resolutions 928 and 931, urging a ceasefire and return to negotiations.

After three months of fighting, mostly in the south, Salih’s forces achieved an overwhelming victory. Aden was thoroughly looted following the war, and the northern military established ubiquitous camps and checkpoints throughout the south that remain today. Supporters of Ali Nasir Muhammad who fought against the southern secessionists were appointed senior positions following the war, fostering the illusion of political enfranchisement of Salih’s former southern rivals.

Southern Grievances and Narrative: An Occupied Country

In contrast to the limited number of Huthi fighters, the southern independence movement is supported by approximately 70 percent of adults in the former PDRY, one survey found.[27] Many southerners would welcome a reformed and unified state but have lost all confidence in Salih and the political system to deliver it. Similar to the Sa’ada Wars, the southern movement grew largely in reaction to the state’s methods of counterinsurgency.

The southern narrative asserts that unity was re-imposed by force in violation of UN resolutions 928 and 931, and the PDRY is an occupied country. Following the war, hundreds of thousands of southerners were fired from the civil service and military. “Retired” southern soldiers received pensions below sustenance levels and less than northern officers.

Southerners were excluded from state employment and scholarships and subject to wide-spread land confiscations, a leading cause of southern instability. Resurgent tribalism and Islamist fundamentalism added another layer of perceived social oppression. Yemen’s oil, mostly found in the former PDRY, was exploited by the northern elite for personal gain. Southern despair festered unspoken for a decade. Many northerners and Western diplomats were shocked when it exploded onto the streets in 2007.

In 2009, the exiled Ali Salim al-Baydh declared his support for the movement and became its figurehead. The defection of former Salih loyalist Tariq al-Fahdli was also greeted with great joy. However, both men have failed to unify the movement, establish any methods of representation, or articulate a coherent platform. Al-Baydh called for an internationally supervised referendum on unity as well as an investigation into the state’s crimes against its citizens.

Counterinsurgency Against Southern Protesters: Shooting into Crowds

Following the 2006 presidential election, the forcibly retired soldiers led by General Nasir al-Nuba began public protests against unequal treatment of the retirees, dubbed “the stay-at-home party.” As protests swelled, Yemen attempted to co-opt its leaders with an initiative to reinstate southern officers if they refrained from political activity. The offer was refused. Other issues quickly came to the fore, including overt land theft by top regime officials. President Salih periodically established commissions that named his cronies as land thieves, but no further action was taken.

The three year protest movement brought hundreds of thousands to the streets as a vicious cycle of state violence and mass arrests enflamed sentiments. The Yemeni Interior Ministry tallied 445 demonstrations in the southern governorates from January 2009 through June 2010. Hundreds were killed and wounded as police routinely opened fire on unarmed protesters. Others died in jail, allegedly tortured to death. Mass arrests set the rhythm of escalation.[28] Other state abuses include targeted assassinations and denial of medical services. Southern protesters raised U.S. and British flags alongside the flag of the former PDRY and hung effigies of President Salih.

In March 2010, the Obama administration stated that southern unrest was an internal Yemeni affair. Within days, Yemen launched tank assaults, cut phone lines, and rounded up activists. In May 2010, Yemen imposed a blockade on Dhale, a center of anti-state sentiment, and began shelling, destroying 78 homes. In June 2010, a peace convoy from Ta’iz delivered food. As in Sa’ada, the state is having difficulty living up to its pledges; a deal was struck in which protesters would clear the roads in return for a military pull-back. Violence flared again when military commanders failed to vacate their compounds.

In addition to the language of apostasy, the Salih regime also employs the language of racism. In one speech, Salih belittled the southerners as “Somalis, Indonesians, and Indians,”[29] a reference to a darker complexion often found among southerners. Yemeni officials reject federalism as a form of power-sharing with southerners and have said separatist leaders (and Huthis) will be excluded from a long-promised national dialog.

As with the Sa’ada War, Yemen criminalized speech, activity, and journalism that advocated the immunity of Yemeni citizens from attacks by the state. In what can be considered a fourth front of counterinsurgency, the war on journalists and activists includes physical attacks as well as judicial and administrative procedures such as arrests, closing and cloning newspapers, blocking and hacking websites, and levying fines.[30] The closure of the Aden-based al-Ayyam newspaper and the enforced disappearance of journalist Muhammad al-Maqalih triggered significant unrest.


At the same time that Yemen has engaged in disproportionate, indiscriminate violence against civilians, journalists, and these anti-government movements, it has offered al-Qa’ida negotiations, appeasement, and–some say–facilitation. The outward focus of al-Qa’ida in Yemen is an outgrowth of the Salih government’s long history of tactical truces and alliances with the terror group.

The Roots of al-Qa’ida in Yemen

During the 1980s, with U.S. blessings, President Salih’s half brother, Brigadier General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar recruited thousands of Yemenis for Usama bin Ladin and set up training camps in Yemen.[31] These Yemeni fighters formed a trusted inner core around bin Ladin, serving as cooks, drivers, bodyguards, secretaries, and intermediaries. Al-Ahmar remains among the most powerful men in Yemen and commanded the brutal military operations in Sa’ada. AQIY’s long-standing intimate relationships with al-Qa’ida’s central command distinguish it from other regional affiliates.

After the Soviet defeat, President Salih welcomed Yemeni and non-Yemeni jihadi veterans as heroes. He deployed about 5,000 during the 1994 civil war. Usama bin Ladin provided President Salih with weapons, ammunition, and fighters.[32] The Yemeni civil war, like the earlier Afghan war, was promoted as a jihad against immoral Marxist atheists, a description Salih still uses to describe the southern protest movement.

Many jihadists who had fought for Salih were rewarded with military commands, political positions, or civil service posts. The state’s continuing integration of al-Qa’ida operatives since the 1990s is often portrayed as a positive initiative to deradicalize jihadists. Yet the preponderance of their number gives rise to concerns that al-Qa’ida has co-opted elements of the state.

The state continued its use of jihadi mercenaries during the Sa’ada War against the Huthi rebels.[33] The Defense Ministry publicized fatwas against the Shi’a fighters. General Muhsin’s extremist office manager indoctrinated soldiers during Friday prayers, explaining that “Huthi blood is free.”[34] Most recently, opposition party leader Hassan Zaid said the existence of a large al-Qa’ida camp in the Sa’ada governorate is “an obstacle to lasting peace” between the state and the Huthi fighters.[35]

Counterterrorism As a Revolving Door

In 1999, bin Ladin negotiated with Yemen for the release of imprisoned operative Khallad bin Attash. In a deal that set a pattern of diplomacy for a decade, Yemen released Attash and promised not to confront al-Qa’ida. In exchange, bin Ladin pledged not to attack Yemen. Attash went on to participate in the October 2000 al-Qa’ida attack on the USS Cole in Aden harbor, which killed 17 U.S. service members. The attack was directed by bin Ladin from Afghanistan. The bombers used official Yemeni documents in expediting their arrangements.[36]

In 2003, al-Qa’ida offered another truce, praising President Salih as “the only Arab and Muslim leader who is not an agent for the West.”[37] No further attacks were launched within Yemen for several years, attributed by some to the strength of U.S.-Yemeni cooperation. However, it appears that both Yemen and al-Qa’ida complied with most terms of the proposed deal. Yemen has refused to extradite American al-Qa’ida operatives Jaber Elbaneh[38] and Anwar al-Awlaki to the United States, as well as indicted USS Cole plotters Jamal al-Badawi and Fahd al-Quso.

Thousands of Yemenis traveled to Iraq for jihad, comprising about 20 percent of foreign fighters. A substantial number of Saudis and other foreigners used the Yemeni pipeline. A Yemeni paper tallied over 1,800 Yemeni men who traveled to Iraq for jihad in a two-year period ending in 2007.[39] Family members of suicide bombers reported their sons and brothers were trained with the knowledge of security officials and logistical support from top military commanders “known for their jihadist associations.”[40]

Over 360 al-Qa’ida members were released from prison after participating in Yemen’s rehabilitation program. The Dialog Program run by Minister of Islamic Endowments Judge Hamud al-Hittar, discouraged jihad in Yemen but not in Iraq. Graduates described it as a charade. Huthi prisoners were not eligible for rehabilitation. The program was discontinued in 2005 after the United States found graduates fighting in Iraq. Judge al-Hittar hopes to restart the program if the United States returns Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo Bay.[41]

In Yemen, prison escapes are exclusive to al-Qa’ida. Ten awaiting trial for the USS Cole bombing escaped an Aden jail in 2003. Fahd al-Quso surrendered in March 2004 and was sentenced to ten years. He was released in 2007 and by 2010 was threatening the United States in an al-Qa’ida video. In 2006, 23 high-value al-Qa’ida operatives escaped a maximum security prison with some official sanction and facilitation.[42] Those who later surrendered were released after a loyalty pledge to President Salih.

Salih began open negotiations with al-Qa’ida in 2006.[43] Abu al-Fayda, bin Ladin’s matchmaker and former deputy, gained many concessions and praised the Yemeni government’s flexibility.[44] In 2008, the United States intercepted a communication indicating a deal between Ayman al-Zawahiri and President Salih, wherein Zawahiri promised fighters for the Sa’ada War in exchange for prison releases. Early in 2009, local media reported an influx of foreign jihadists to Sa’ada, and Yemen freed over 100 al-Qa’ida prisoners.[45] Former government insider Tariq al-Fadhli said the release was part of the broader negotiation between President Salih and al-Qa’ida.[46] In July 2010, President Salih lamented, “We released a number of detainees of Al-Qaida many times, and they declared their repentance, but they rebel again and go back to do destructive works.”[47]

The Anti-al-Qa’ida Narrative: Collusion and False Flag Operations

The only substantial AQIY attack that targeted the state itself was days prior to Yemen’s 2006 presidential election. Two attacks on oil facilities were thwarted. Opposition party leaders suggested the attacks may have been staged. “The ruling party have fabricated these operations with the aim of accusing the opposition parties of being behind these terrorist acts,” said Sultan al-Atwani, General-Secretary of Nasserite Party.[48]

This level of skepticism is not unusual in Yemen. After years of backroom deals, AQIY is considered by many as a regime creation or, at a minimum, a useful prop in domestic and foreign policy. Former southern president Ali Salim al-Baydh said, “This terror network has built a strong alliance with the regime in Sana’a, engineered and supervised by a leading member of the ruling regime. This is known by regional states, Egypt and the United States. I don’t exaggerate when I say that some leaders of Al Qaida are in fact officers in the Republican Guard.”[49] The Republican Guard is headed by Salih’s son Ahmad, who is set to inherit the presidency.

Members of parliament from both the ruling GPC and the opposition were unable to restrain their criticism following an attack on South Korean officials in March 2009. MPs charged the government had provided “aid for terrorist groups to carry out attacks” and that the government’s support for jihadi and terrorist networks in the country was politically-motivated, the Yemen Post reported. One MP said the government itself was involved in many terrorist acts in the past years.[50] Officials denied the state perpetrated terror attacks but acknowledged al-Qa’ida’s subversion of the security forces as a mechanism of corruption not ideology.[51] In 2010, after a failed attack on the British ambassador, the paramount shaykh of President Salih’s Hashid tribe, Sadiq al-Ahmar, warned authorities against playing the terror card to pressure Western countries, sarcastically saying that Yemeni labs produced DNA results in two hours.[52]

Al-Qa’ida operatives also raised allegations of false flag attacks. Hamza al-Dhayani, named in several al-Qa’ida operations, said, “I am ready to prove the reality that some attacks were planned in co-ordination and agreement of the Political Security and its agents to gain foreign support and to confirm to America that they launch war against terrorism.”[53] Abu al-Fayda said lethal suicide attacks on tourists were a result of “security congestion together with dissatisfaction with the performance of Arab regimes and their hastening to please America. I am certain that it was not waged by Al-Qaeda as a movement but could of [sic] been implemented by people claiming to be Al-Qaeda affiliates.”[54]

One editorial suggested the government was linked to the July 2010 al-Qa’ida attacks on police in southern Yemen in order to convince the West that “the south would become an al-Qa’ida safe haven if secession takes place.”[55] In July 2010, Yemen’s announcement that terrorists relocated to Sa’ada and Aden was seen by many as a pretext to target anti-government activists in those cities. The Huthis organized a public awareness campaign harshly criticizing AQIY as a “U.S. intelligence tool used by Washington to occupy any Arab or Islamic country under the pretext of combating terrorism.”[56] This and other indigenous narratives delegitimizing al-Qa’ida as a tool of one state power or another weaken its appeal.

The al-Qa’ida Narrative: No Such Thing As Civilians

Al-Qa’ida in Yemen launched a complex and deadly attack in September 2008 on the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a but failed to breach its perimeter. In January 2009, AQIY renamed itself al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) after merging with its Saudi counterpart. Nearly half of AQAP’s estimated 300 members are Saudi.[57] Its public face is limited to a few publicity hounds. AQAP relies on Saudi funding as well as the proceeds of drug and weapons trafficking.[58] In August 2009, an AQAP operative feigning surrender targeted Saudi counter-terror chief Prince Muhammad bin Nayif. The failed attack heralded the innovation of concealing explosives in the rectum.

AQAP benefits from a weak state more than it would from a failed state.[59] One of AQAP’s goals is to establish an area of Taliban style rule in Yemen. Ayman al-Zawahiri and AQAP have both pleaded with Yemeni tribes for support. However, al-Qa’ida’s goal of establishing an international caliphate, propensity for extreme violence against civilians, and hard-line religious ideology conflict with local norms and weaken al-Qa’ida’s appeal to the Yemeni people, including the tribes.[60] One al-Qa’ida screed laments, “Where are you, O people of reinforcement?”[61]

AQAP asserts that non-Muslims in Yemen are legitimate targets, “We warn all the unbelievers who enter the Arabian Peninsula that [targeting] their money and their blood are religiously right for us.”[62] Traditional Yemeni culture includes the concept of honor, the obligation to avoid bloodshed, to defend women and children, and protect the weak. Deadly attacks on tourists in Yemen drew national condemnation, and the slaughter of three Western nurses in 2009 brought Yemenis into the street in sorrow and fury.

The supremacist, takfiri al-Qa’ida narrative holds little attraction in pluralistic Yemen. Northern Shi’a Zaids and southern Sunni Shafi’is are both moderate, tolerant, non-proselytizing sects, similar in doctrine, and traditionally had little sectarian conflict. Peaceful coexistence among Muslims is centuries-long Yemeni value and practice.

AQAP’s ideological challengers are identical to the state’s and include a significant portion of Yemenis including democracy advocates, intellectuals, “secular media writers,” women, southern socialists, and Zaidi Shi’a. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the regime’s rhetoric and AQAP’s. The Yemeni government has long derided the Huthis as Satanic, backwards, deviant, and blasphemous while AQAP disparaged the “heresies, polytheist abominations and tomb-worship fabricated by the rafidites.”[63] (From rafid, meaning to reject, rafidites is a disparaging term applied to Shi’a, meaning rejectionists of Islam.)

AQAP’s strategy may be to draw American military forces into Yemen, which would mobilize significant public opposition.[64] AQAP defines its primary enemy as the United States, a stance endorsed by al-Qa’ida’s number three, Abu Yahya al-Libi, who asked AQAP to remain dedicated to bringing the war to U.S. soil. To that end, AQAP also asserts that all American citizens are legitimate targets. Anwar al-Awlaki encourages mass murder by ruling that American citizens are combatants because they pay taxes and vote. AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahishi said the United States is a cancer that needs to be wiped off the map completely. At the same time, AQAP evokes the concept of civilian immunity for Muslims as the basis for its violence.


Unrest in Yemen is a symptom of the criminalization of the state. The Salih regime is at war with the Huthi fighters, southern protesters, and elements of the citizenry and civil society, all of whom define themselves as fighting for democracy. Popular demands for equal rights vastly overshadow AQAP’s supremacist narrative and its vision of a foreign, authoritarian, and fundamentalist government.

In a tone-deaf remark, President Obama “applauded Yemen’s determination to address the terrorist threat the Yemeni people face.”[65] The overwhelming threat Yemenis face is from their government. The clout of the United States is its narrative of human rights and equality, a narrative shared with Yemenis and sorely undermined by current U.S. policy. The natural right of civilian immunity—the concept al-Qa’ida finds so threatening—is an area of agreement. Both Yemenis and Americans agree civilians should be spared from lethal attacks by their own governments, foreign governments, and non-state actors intent on domination through terrorism. This synergy is undermined when the only threat the U.S. government recognizes in Yemen is terrorism, despite the Yemeni government’s war crimes.

U.S. acquiescence to Yemen’s atrocities in return for its hunting al-Qa’ida is a tactic that failed before and carries many risks. A new front of civilian slaughter and arbitrary arrests will generate sympathy for AQAP, bolster its narrative, and generate tribal and civil unrest. The United States also faces the risk that its counter-terror assistance will be diverted to operations against Salih’s domestic opposition. Additional risk lies in the Yemeni government’s continuing exploitation of the terror threat for political and economic gain.

U.S. intelligence sharing and capacity building in Yemen can incrementally disrupt AQAP but not destroy it. The Salih regime is founded on corruption and corrupted by al-Qa’ida. Only limited rehabilitation is possible without a more equitable alignment of political power. Fears that an unhappy Salih will unleash al-Qa’ida and fears of chaos ensuing in his absence are reasonable concerns. By design, there is no easy alternative to the long reigning tyrant. U.S. boots on the ground is not an option, but neither is building a better dictatorship.

The threats Yemenis face are the blight of the region: static executive power, massive state corruption, and authoritarian repression. The inclusion of the public in the political system would undermine the government. In 50 years of political turmoil, however, Yemenis have narrowed the political spectrum considerably by overthrowing an autocratic theocracy, rejecting Soviet style communism and building a national consensus for democracy.[66] To that end, Yemenis are engaged in nation-building through a broad spectrum of initiatives.

AQAP often references a hadith predicting 12,000 warriors will arise from Yemen in defense of Islam. Although the dozens of wild-eyed al-Qa’ida fanatics in Yemen claim this legacy as their own, the army is already here. It is Yemen’s reformers and they are being slaughtered on the streets, tortured in jail, and starved of food and education. Nonetheless, this is the winning side. And they deserve U.S. recognition on both moral and tactical grounds. The key to the productive political engagement of Yemeni youth is the internet and print media. Media repression inhibits expression of the national consensus, splinters reformers, and short-circuits accountability. It is imperative that the United States robustly support the civil and human rights of Yemenis and especially the right of journalists to perform their jobs without retribution. The structural remedy to corruption, violence against civilians, and extremist thinking is a free press. The shortcut to a Yemen that performs in the best interests of its citizens is an unfettered independent media.

*Jane Novak is a freelance journalist and long time Yemen analyst, well known in Yemen and the Middle East. Her website http://www.armiesofliberation.com has been banned by the Yemeni government since 2007.


[1] After spending two years in Yemen, Abdulhakim Muhammad, born Carlos Bledso, opened fire at an Arkansas recruiting station in June 2008, killing one U.S. soldier and wounding another. Tarek Mehanna and Ahmad Abousamra were arrested in October 2009. The pair had traveled to Yemen in hopes of joining up with al-Qa’ida in Yemen (AQIY). New Jersey nuclear worker Sharif Mobley was arrested in Yemen on terror charges in March 2010. In April 2010, New Yorkers Wesam El-Hanafi and Sabirhan Hasanoff were charged with conspiring “to provide al Qaeda (in Yemen) with, among other things, computer advice and assistance, services, and currency.” Hanafy traveled to Yemen in 2008. In May 2010, there was Faisal Shahzad, Times Square bomber, inspired to action by the teachings of Yemeni-American jihadi blogger Anwar Awlaki. In Texas, Barry Walter Bujol was arrested in June 2010. Bujol had been in communication with Awlaki since 2008 and made numerous attempts to deliver items to AQIY. In July 2010, Paul Rockwood Jr. and his wife, Nadia Rockwood, of Alaska pled guilty to lying about creating a hit list of targets of assassination. Zach Chesser, arrested in July 2010 after attempting to travel to Somalia to join al-Shabab, was also in contact with Awlaki via email.

[2] Barbara Starr, “U.S. Official Gives Details of Assistance to Yemen in Fight Against al Qaeda,” CNN, December 29, 2010, http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/12/29/yemen.al.qaeda/index.html.

[3] Yemen’s law does not criminalize jihad abroad in defense of occupied Muslim lands. In a terror trial in July 2006, the defendants admitted to fighting in Iraq against coalition forces as well as training suicide bombers. “This does not violate [Yemeni] law,” the judge found. “Islamic Sharia law permits jihad against occupiers,” he said. CNN’s article is no longer available online, for a copy see: “Judge Acquits 19 Suspected al Qaeda in Yemen, Says Jihad OK Against Occupiers,” Jihad Watch, July 10, 2006, http://www.jihadwatch.org/2006/07/judge-acquits-19-suspected-al-qaeda-in-yemen-says-jihad-ok-against-occupiers.html.

[4] Another legislative shortcoming is the near absence of controls on terror financing, because such legislation would inhibit donations to “legitimate resistance” groups endorsed by the state. Yemeni officials host Hamas, Hizballah, and Iraqi terror leaders. President Salih on repeated occasions urged states to open their borders for a Muslim army to travel to Gaza and Lebanon for jihad against Israel.

[5] The National Dialog Committee, a bipartisan initiative to create a national blueprint for reform, diagnosed the root of all Yemen’s ills as the personalization of the state. See their website at: http://yemenvision.wordpress.com/.

[6] Nadia Al-Sakkaf, “New Progress in State Reform Plans,” Yemen Times, July 8, 2010, http://yementimes.com/defaultdet.aspx?SUB_ID=34357.

[7] Yemen was also battered by external shocks that it was ill prepared to weather. Incidents of piracy off Yemen’s coast increased dramatically beginning in 2008. The global financial melt-down in 2007 led to increased food costs, and renewed war in Somalia drove hundreds of thousands of refugees to Yemen’s shores. A major flood in 2008 in Hadramout disrupted Yemen’s emerging non-oil economy and impacted tens of thousands, most of whom are still awaiting promised aid that was stolen and resold in 2008.

[8] “Raising Oil Prices Would Make Awful Yemeni Situation Even Worse, Economists,” Yemen Post, April 10, 2010,http://www.yemenpost.net/Detail123456789.aspx?ID=3&SubID=940; and “Qubati: Government Intends not to Raise Oil Derivatives & Local Governance Constitutes Best Solution to Problems in South Yemen,” Yemen Post, April 10, 2010, http://www.yemenpost.net/Detail123456789.aspx?ID=3&SubID=939.

[9] Demographics are another concern. Half of Yemenis are under 20 years old. Yemen leads the world in gender inequality. In Yemen’s segregated society, most girls are illiterate, marry before the age of 15, and spend much of their day hauling water. High birth rates mean that Yemen’s population of 22 million is estimated to rise to 61 million by 2035.

[10] For example, Brigadier General Yahya Salih, the president’s nephew and son-in-law, heads the Central Security forces and the MAZ Corporation, a large conglomerate closely tied to the state. General Salih is also the chairman of the Yemeni tourism association and several NGO’s including the Ka’nan Association for support of the Palestinian resistance. He is associated with Naba News, a pro-regime mouthpiece. General Salih hosted a symposium at al-Iman University of leading figures of the Iraqi resistance and praised their attacks against U.S. troops.

[11] Outside the election cycle, the opposition parties maintain a careful state of détente required for self-preservation and hold countless seminars that diagnose the national crisis as the absence of any transition of power. Meanwhile the opposition leadership plays musical chairs just as enthusiastically as the regime itself. The JMP mobilizes its base only as a temporary tactic to pressure the GPC and usually in the midst of a back-room deal. While the electoral system is heavily weighted in favor of the ruling party, there is nothing preventing the opposition from modeling democratic practices internally by respecting term limits, demonstrating fiscal transparency, and creating egalitarian routes to leadership.

[12] “Hunger in Yemen Could Spark Unrest, Exodus-UN,” Reuters, May 4, 2010, http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LDE64310O.htm.

[13] “Yemen/UN: Allies Should Press Yemen on Human Rights Violations,” Human Rights Watch, January 22, 2010, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/01/22/yemenun-allies-should-press-yemen-human-rights-violations.

[14] Yemen’s information operations are Stalinist in scope and include elaborate propaganda ploys, news blackouts, defamations, and takfirism, repetitive attacks on journalists, and cloning newspapers.

[15] Approximately 27,000 well-indoctrinated Yemeni jihadists returned home following the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. In 1990, 800,000 Yemeni workers were expelled from Saudi Arabia following Yemen’s abstention from a UN Security Council resolution condemning Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Many had adopted Wahhabism during their years in Saudi Arabia. Saudi “aid” also financed mosques and learning centers in Yemen, which promoted a fundamentalist, takfiri, and supremacist interpretation of Salafi Islam.

[16] Unlike Salafism, Zaidism rejects automatic allegiance to a Muslim ruler and requires action against a ruler who is unjust. Zaidism encourages interaction with others and reinterpretation of Islamic scripture to meet current realities. Zaidi beliefs are moderate compared to other Shi’a sects. The Zaidis do not believe Imams are infallible or receive divine guidance. Zaidis believe that the Imamate can be held by any descendant of Ali, but theologians in recent decades asserted that qualified non-Hashites can be Imams. Zaidis also reject the Twelver notion of a hidden Imam. In matters of law or fiqh, the Zaidis are closest to the Sunni Shafi’i school.

[17] Yahya al-Huthi, brother of Abd al-Malik and Husayn, said in a 2005 interview that President Salih had asked the Believing Youth to go fight in Iraq, and hostilities with the state began when they refused.
[18] Disinformation campaigns by the state frame the Huthis as an insurgency seeking to overthrow the government, as a Hizballah-type arm of Iran or–although a contradictory concept–as seeking to reinstall the Hashemite Imamate. The Huthis’ weapons are procured in Yemen from the Yemeni military itself or at local weapons markets, not from Iran as the state claims. The group has not adopted a strategy of targeting civilians or U.S. interests, and do not fit the description “terrorists” the official media so often applies to them. For a complete treatment on these and other issues, see Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 2010), http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG962/.

[19] “Defusing the Saada Time Bomb,” Middle East Report, No. 86 (May 2009), http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/middle-east-north-africa/iran-gulf/yemen.aspx.

[20] RAND Corporation, “Conflict in Yemen Fueled by Tribalism, Religious Conflicts,” News Release, May 3, 2010, http://www.rand.org/news/press/2010/05/03/.

[21] “Bani Hushaish Residents’ Lives Deteriorate as Security Measures Escalate,” Relief Web, June 15, 2008, http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/MUMA-7FR7N6?OpenDocument&rc=3&cc=yem.

[22] “Invisible Civilians,” Human Rights Watch, November 19, 2008, http://www.hrw.org/en/node/76086/section/3.

[23] The Yemen Times reported in May 2005, “Government and security forces would assault villages looking for Houthi suspects and demanded that all males are to come out and give themselves up… The prisons are packed in Sa’ada with hundreds – some say thousands of suspected Houthis, most of whom do not have any clear charges against them or even have any links with the Houthis.” The pattern continued through 2010.

[24] In 2007, Ahmad Saif Hashid, an independent member of parliament, conducted a survey of prisons and found children were arbitrarily arrested in connection to the Sa’ada War. In one interview, 12-year-old Nabil old said he was taken from his classroom to prison. “We have been beaten by the soldiers and officers, we have been beaten with sticks while we were handcuffed. They beat us and lay us faces down.” Hussein, 13, told Mr. Hashid, “We have been beaten, handcuffed. They beat us as soon as we arrived before even interrogating us. I saw Qasem fainted while his head was bleeding. Some of us have been made naked and they took off all our clothes.” See “Witness Testimony: from the Dungeons of Yemeni Prison,” Armies of Liberation, November 14, 2007, http://armiesofliberation.com/archives/2007/11/14/witness-testimony-yemeni-prison-conditions/.

[25] “The Right Party Condemns the Targeting at the Great Mosque in Sana’a, and the Minister of Awqaf Carries the Responsibility of Creating Sectarian Conflicts,” News Yemen, July 3, 2010, http://newsyemen.net/view_news.asp?sub_no=1_2010_03_07_42036.

[26] Robert F. Worth, “Is Yemen the Next Afghanistan?” New York Times, July 6, 2010,


[27] Jane Novak, “Southern Yemen, 70% Favor Secession Poll Shows,” Examiner.com, January 29, 2010, http://www.examiner.com/yemen-headlines-in-national/southern-yemen-70-favor-secession-poll-shows.

[28] “In the Name of Unity,” Human Rights Watch, December 15, 2009, http://www.hrw.org/en/node/87085/section/2.

[29] “The Yemen President Swears at the Race of Indians, Indonesians and Somali’s,” YouTube, June 8, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pseGaMSZfkM.

[30] Jane Novak, “Corruption Triggers Media Repression,” Yemen Times, September 11, 2008, http://yementimes.com/defaultdet.aspx?SUB_ID=29059.

[31] Steven Erlanger, “At Yemen College, Scholarship and Jihadist Ideas,” New York Times, January 18, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/19/world/middleeast/19yemen.html?pagewanted=1.

[32] Robert F. Worth, “Ex-Jihaddist Defies Yemen’s Leader, and Easy Labels,” New York Times, February 26, 2010,


[33] Sudarsan Raghavan, “Yemen’s Alliance with Radical Sunnis in Internal War Poses Complication for U.S.,” Washington Post, February 11, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/10/AR2010021003557_2.html.

[34] One fatwa justifying the shedding of Huthi blood was issued by senior state Mufti Isma’il al-Amrani in March 2007. Tribal sources reported to the Yemen Times that Askar Zuail, a radical administrative assistant to General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar had indoctrinated soldiers during Friday prayers. For a copy of the Yemen Times article see, “Ali Mohsen’s Extremist Office Manager Fatwas Houthis and Other Sa’ada Updates,” Armies of Liberation, January 8, 2008, http://armiesofliberation.com/archives/2008/01/08/ali-mohsens-extremist-cleric-office-manager-fatwas-houthis-and-other-saada-updates/.

[35] The al-Qa’ida camp is located in an abandoned military compound in the Abu Jaraba Wadi. Estimates are that about 500 jihadists rotate through the compound. The truce agreement requires the rebels to hand in their weapons; Mr. Zaid suggests the al-Qa’ida terrorists be disarmed as well.

[36] One document admitted at the 2003 trial of five accused Cole plotters was an official letter from Yemen’s then interior minister, Husayn Arab, which instructed Yemeni security forces to give safe passage and cooperation to Abd al-Rahman al-Nashiri, a primary planner, from April to December 2000. Other documents used by the bombers included arms permits normally issued by the Ministry of the Interior, which were said to be a forgery.

[37] In return for an end to attacks within Yemen, al-Qa’ida advanced eight conditions including “stop hunting down for suspected al-Qaeda militants as well releasing their fellow colleagues in jails.” The prohibition of extradition of any Muslim to the United States, limiting the number of foreign visitors, and the termination of military cooperation with the United States were other conditions. Minister of Islamic Endowments Judge al-Hittar noted at the time, “Some of these conditions cannot be negotiated at all.” For all eight conditions see, “Al-Qaeda Praises Yemeni President Saleh,” Armies of Liberation, May 22, 2005, http://armiesofliberation.com/archives/2005/05/22/al-qaeda-praises-yemeni-president-saleh/.

[38] Another American that Yemen refuses to extradite is Jaber Elbaneh, member of the Lackwanna Seven, an al-Qa’ida cell from Buffalo, New York. Elbaneh is currently on the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list. Elbaneh escaped jail in 2006 and later surrendered. He was then convicted in absentia of the 2006 oil attacks, showed up at his court appeal in 2008, announced that he had struck a deal with the Yemeni president, and left the court again. He was reportedly returned to prison.

[39] Tensions with Iraq remain high. Iraqi politicians allege Yemen is harboring wanted Ba’thists and facilitating the flow of fighters to Iraq. President Salih was a close ally of Saddam Hussein and recipient of his largess, including a palace in Baghdad. Prior to the 2003 Iraq War, Salih was smuggling Yemeni military weapons to Hussein. At the outset of the war, thousands of Iraqis including top Ba’thists made their way to Yemen. Many were incorporated into the Yemeni military as trainers and influenced the Sa’ada Wars. In 2005, Ayatollah al-Sistani spoke of “a pact of evil from Baghdad to Sana’a,” in reference to Ba’thist involvement in the Sa’ada War.

[40] On November 23, 2005, the Yemen Times published a translation of an article at the Aden-based Attagammua, affiliated with the Unitary Congregation Party. A copy of the article can be accessed at, “Training Yemenis for Iraq Suicide Bombings Supported by Military Commanders,” Armies of Liberation, November 28, 2005, http://armiesofliberation.com/archives/2005/11/28/training-yemenis-for-iraq-suicide-bombings-supported-by-military-commanders/.

[41] Gwen Ifil, “Yemen Lacks Counter-terrorism Resources to Halt Jihaddists,” PBS Newshour, March 24, 2010, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/terrorism/jan-june10/yemen_03-24.html.

[42] Sudarsan Raghavan, “Yemen Security Agency Prone to Inside Threats, Officials Say,” Washington Post, February 10, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/10/AR2010021004285_pf.html.

[43] President Salih and Ghalib al-Qamish, head of the Political Security Organization, met al-Fayda as the representative of former al-Qa’ida prisoners. For al-Fayda’s interview in the Gulf News see, “Saleh and PSO Negotiate with al-Qaeda Suspects,” Armies of Liberation, June 18, 2006, http://armiesofliberation.com/archives/2006/06/18/saleh-and-pso-negotiate-with-al-qaeda-suspects/.

[44] “Leading al Qaeda: Yemen Will Not Confront the Mujahiadden,” Armies of Liberation, October 20, 2006, http://armiesofliberation.com/archives/2006/10/20/leading-al-qaeda-yemen-will-not-confront-the-mujahiadden/.

[45] Jane Novak, “Yemen Strikes Multifaceted Deals with al Qaeda,” Long War Journal, February 11, 2009, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2009/02/yemens_multifaceted.php.

[46] Adrian Blomfield, “Yemen Offered to Free al-Qaeda Leaders,” The Telegraph, January 11, 2010, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/yemen/6968873/Yemen-offered-to-free-al-Qaeda-leaders.html.

[47] “JMP: Between Saleh and al-Qaida,” Yemen Post, July 12, 2010, http://www.yemenpost.net/Detail123456789.aspx?ID=3&SubID=2400&MainCat=5.

[48] The Yemen Observer article can be accessed at “Four Arrested After Attacks Announced,” Armies of Liberation, September 22, 2006,


[49] Hussam Kanafani, “Yemen Top Brass Dragged Saudis into Conflict,” Gulf News, November 29, 2009, http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/yemen/yemeni-top-brass-dragged-saudis-into-conflict-39-1.533543.

[50] Fuad Rajeh, “MPs Say Government Aided Terrorists,” Yemen Post, April 10, 2010, http://yemenpost.net/Detail123456789.aspx?ID=3&SubID=435&MainCat=3.

[51]“A Senior Government Official Admits al Qaeda Broke Into Yemen’s Security Forces,” al- Eshteraki, March 24, 2009, http://www.aleshteraki.net/news_details.php?sid=5640.

[52] “He Warned of the Outbreak of the Seventh War. Leader of the Largest Tribe in Yemen: Suppression of the Movement a Big Mistake and the Attempt to Assassinate British Ambassador Political,” al-Tagheer, April 28, 2010, http://www.al-tagheer.com/news17254.html.

[53] Jane Novak, “Yemeni al Qaeda Leader: State Conducts Terror Attacks,” Long War Journal, December 3, 2008, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2008/12/yemeni_al_qaeda_lead_2.php.

[54] Moneer al-Omari, “An al Qaeda Leader in Yemen, Rashad Mohammed Saeed Ismail,” Yemen Post, February 4, 2008, http://www.yemenpost.net/15/InvestigationAndInterview/1.htm.

[55] Hakim Almasmari, “Government Hoping for More Qaeda Attacks in South,” Yemen Post, July 26, 2010, http://yemenpost.net/Detail123456789.aspx?ID=3&SubID=2453&MainCat=2.

[56] Shuaib M. al-Mosawa, “Al-Houthis Criticize US, al-Qaeda,” Yemen Observer, June 30, 2010, http://www.yobserver.com/front-page/10019032.html.

[57] Saudi national and former Guantanamo detainee Said al-Shihiri is among AQAP’s leadership along with Yemenis Nasir al-Wahishi and Qasim al-Raymi, the only two of the 2006 escapees who did not surrender. See Alistair Harris, “Exploiting Grievances, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, No. 111 (May 2010), http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/exploiting_grievances.pdf.

[58] Zaid al-Alaya’a, “Al-Qaeda in Yemen, A Real Threat or Media Exaggeration?,” Yemen Today, July 20, 2010, http://www.yemen-today.com/go/special_reports/5327.html.

[59] Sarah Philips, “What Comes Next in Yemen? Al-Qaeda, the Tribes and State Building,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, No. 107 (March 2010), http://carnegieendowment.org/files/yemen_tribes.pdf.

[60] Ibid.

[61] In February 2010, AQAP released the 12th edition of Sada al-Malahim, an internet magazine. In an editorial entitled, “Universality of Islam and the Massacre of Abyan,” the author encourages Muslims to follow in the footsteps of Major Nidal Hassan and Yemeni tribes to rise up against the government.

[62] “Al-Qaida in Yemen: Target Airports/Airplanes with Small Explosives,” NEFA Foundation, October 29, 2010, http://www.nefafoundation.org/miscellaneous/nefaAQIYTGTAirports1209.pdf.

[63] “Issue #12 of al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’s Magazine, Sada al Malahem: ‘The Huthis, Rafidites with a Zaidi Mask’,” Flashpoint Partners, February 14, 2010, http://www.globalterroralert.com/images/documents/pdf/0310/flashpoint_huthisrafiditeszaidimask.pdf.

[64] Michael W. S. Ryan, “Al-Qaeda’s Purpose in Yemen Described in Works of Jihad Strategists,” Jamestown Organization, January 28, 2010,


[65] “Barak Obama Praises Yemen’s Fight Against al-Qaeda,” The Telegraph, July 16, 2010, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/yemen/7893628/Barack-Obama-praises-Yemens-fight-against-al-Qaeda.html.

[66] Yemen’s opposition political parties present a collection of mostly stale ideologies including Nasserism, Ba’thism, and socialism. The ruling GPC’s has a pragmatic lack of any ideology at all. Islamist parties including Islah and al-Haqq contain a broad range of political formulations including some of the most progressive in the region. Yemen’s largest opposition party, Islah, incorporates tribal elements, reformists, a range of Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood adherents, and Salih loyalists, rendering it more middle of the road than most of its component wings. The Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) is a democracy-minded vestige of the PDRY. In 2002, these diverse parties created the opposition coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties under the stewardship of the YSP’s Jarallah Omar, who was later assassinated. Also on the political landscape are numerous government-cloned opposition parties, created and funded to appear as if the opposition supports the GPC’s various proposals and projects.


MERIA Journal Staff
Publisher and Editor: Prof. Barry Rubin
Assistant Editor: Yeru Aharoni.
MERIA is a project of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary University.
Site: http://www.gloria-center.org/ – Email: info@gloria-center.org

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