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Yemen’s al Qaeda threatens to execute 73 hostages

Al Qaeda in Yemen threatened to execute 73 captured Yemeni soldiers unless the terror group’s imprisoned comrades are released.

“Executing prisoners is a serious violation of the laws of war and a war crime,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement today. “It is also a war crime to use detainees as hostages by threatening to kill or otherwise harm them to compel another party to do or abstain from any act.”

The rights group is calling on the militants to end the threat to kill their prisoners.

The ultimatum came on April 23, 2012 in posters distributed by “Ansar al Sharia” (Supporters of Sharia) in Abyan, Southern Yemen where al Qaeda has occupied several towns for nearly a year.

The hostages will be executed in groups of ten beginning April 30 unless the state agrees to swap al Qaeda prisoners for the soldiers.

The Yemeni soldiers were captured in early March as government forces battled the insurgents for control of Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan. The terror group subsequently displayed the hostages in several propaganda videos.

Yemeni al Qaeda operatives rebranded themselves as Ansar al Sharia in order to distance themselves from their reputation as mercenaries for the former regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh. Last week, a member of the Yemeni military was suspended for arming the al Qaeda group with hundreds of artillery shells.

Military commanders loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh have been accused of colluding with al Qaeda since the group overran Zinjibar in May 2010. On Friday, a military commander was suspended on suspicion of providing 410 artillery shells to the Ansar al Sharia group for use against the Yemeni army.

The Yemen Times reports the commander’s goal in supporting al Qaeda is, “terrorizing the West, so it would see Saleh’s departure as synonymous with insecurity in Yemen.”

Ansar al Sharia imposed a strict and often brutal interpretation of Sharia law during the Yemeni revolution while Yemen’s counter-terror forces focused their efforts against Yemeni protesters demanding regime change, civil rights and accountability.

In February, after a year of protests, Vice President Abdo Mansour Hadi was sworn in as president, after a single candidate election, ending Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33 year dictatorship.

Al Qaeda in Yemen committed a vast array of crimes against Yemeni citizens during its brutal occupation of Zinjibar, Jarr and other towns in Abyan. The terror group executed several citizens including a female traditional healer who was condemned as a witch. Several of these summary executions were videotaped and uploaded to Youtube.

Three suspected Saudi spies were also executed; their corpses were crucified and hung with signs warning against cooperation with Yemeni authorities. Al Qaeda in Yemen also banned satellite television and newspapers that promote human rights, reform and political participation.

Human Rights Watch documentation of abuses by the militants in areas they control includes floggings, amputations, and other harsh enforcement of Sharia law.

Over 100,000 Yemeni citizens fled their homes as al Qaeda used civilians in Abyan as human shields. Many too poor to flee are caught between al Qaeda’s tyranny and US drone strikes.

Ali Abdullah Saleh was coaxed from office after 33 years in power with a guarantee of immunity for war crimes and corruption spanning decades. US officials had hoped to retain Saleh’s relatives in key positions in the counter-terror units.

Yemen’s current president Abo Mansour Hadi is facing difficulty purging Saleh’s relatives from leadership positions. Saleh’s half brother refused to relinquish control of the Air Force for two weeks after he was officially replaced as commander.

FBI director Robert Mueller was in Yemen this week and pledged continuing US support for Yemeni efforts against al Qaeda.

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