A Yemeni woman walks past UPS office in Sanaa, Yemen. The glaring weakness of the cargo shipping system has been laid bare by the Yemen-based mail bomb plot
It is true that graduates of the Saudi-financed Salafi schools spread throughout the poverty-stricken country can be recruited easily by extremist groups. “Graduates of these schools are almost ready to be Al-Qaeda members,” Said Obaid, chairman of the Al-Jemhi Centre for Researches and Studies, a think tank specialised in Al-Qaeda affairs, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Obaid mentioned in particular the first ever Dammaj Centre in Saada which was founded by the late Salafi cleric Mukbel Al-Wadi who graduated from the Saudi Wahabi schools. Nearly 4,000 schools now are offspring of Dammaj which was founded in late 1980s.
“The top leader of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, Nasser Al-Wahaishi, graduated from such a school,” said Obaid, who studied for a while in Dammaj before he became a researcher and the author of the book Al-Qaeda in Yemen. “The leader of Al-Qaeda in Mudia Jamil Al-Ambori, who was killed in a security operation last March and other prominent members are alumni.”
Yemen is once again under the spotlight after two parcel bombs on their way to the US from Yemen were discovered last week in two airplanes — one in Dubai and the other in London. Yemen was under a similar global spotlight earlier this year after the Nigerian terrorist Omar Farouk failed to detonate a bomb on an airplane over the US.
Another reason why Yemen has become bastion is the presence of Anwar Al-Awlaki, the charismatic Yemen-American cleric who is wanted “dead or alive” by the CIA for his supposed involvement in terrorist plots, although Al-Awlaki has not declared himself a member of Al-Qaeda, and Al-Qaeda has not confirmed that he is a member. Assuming that he is a secret member of Al-Qaeda, “he is very smart not to declare himself,” Obaid Said told the Weekly. “It’s like a person calling himself a peacemaker while he’s killing and fighting.”
“What’s happening now in the world is a real war with all that implies, and Yemen is one of the fields of this war,” said Ali Saif Hassan, chairman of the Political Forum for Development, a local NGO. Hassan sees Al-Qaeda implementing this war on two levels:
The level of the original Al-Qaeda which focuses on the major international projects and strategies, and the second level is the newly recruited members of Al-Qaeda who implement local operations like killing security and military soldiers. In the past Al-Qaeda would send its young men to volatile places like Afghanistan and Iraq, but today Yemen itself has become one of the fields of battle, so they do not need to send them away anymore.”
But the matter does not end with the Saudi influence and a lone US citizen resident in Yemen with only accusations justifying US plans to assassinate him, an American citizen.
The stronger Al-Qaeda becomes in Yemen, the more worried the world gets, especially the West. Donors who promise to support Yemen’s development keep procrastinating because of lack of confidence in the capabilities of the government to spend the money. Al-Qaeda gets stronger and the government is unable to fight alone, and needs “help”.
So, according to some observers, the incident of the parcel bombs of last week could well be a provocation to justify the US and its allies moving in to “help” the government and strike Al-Qaeda (and Al-Awlaki) directly. “This is something being done to justify American strikes against Yemen,” accuses Nabil Al-Bukairi, a researcher specialised in Al-Qaeda. “Why was Saudi Arabia the first to tell the world about the packages? Does this mean Al-Qaeda is infiltrated by the Saudi intelligence,” he wondered.
The accused is Hanan Al-Samawi, a female student in Sanaa University, arrested by Yemeni security when a copy of her ID was found in the parcels. The 24-year-old was attending classes at the time and 24 hours later she appeared on TV and claimed her innocence. Yemeni security forces and investigators from the US, UK and UAE are searching for the veiled person who approached the Sanaa FedEx office impersonating her.
When Al-Samawi was arrested she was with her mother and two other younger sisters in her home in Shamlan in the northern outskirts of Sanaa. Military vehicles and counter-terrorism forces including women soldiers surrounded the whole neighbourhood.
“Security men forced a friend of hers to call on her, and when she opened the door, the men charged in, where the women were unveiled,” said human rights activist Abdel-Rahman Barman, Al-Samawi’s lawyer, who has yet to speak with her since she was arrested.
Her 45-year-old mother insisted on going with her daughter, and security took both of them to an unknown place, probably the headquarters of the National Security Agency. “I don’t know the fate of my daughter and my wife,” the shocked father, Mohamed Ahmed Al-Samawi, said Sunday after coming back from the eastern province of Hudhrmout where he works for an oil company. “My daughter always comes directly home from college,” he said.
“Hanan was always quiet and nice with everyone. There must have been a mistake,” her classmate Sumiyah told the Weekly. Her friends say she likes to play the piano. “She is not overly religious. She listens to music and dances. She is smart and very interested in her studies,” classmate Rasha said .
Hundreds of students from the Faculty of Engineering demonstrated in front of their college demanding her release.
Parliament discussed the issue and supported President Saleh’s vow to continue fighting terrorism without external interference. Some MPs said what many people are thinking that it was an international intelligence operation to justify targeting Yemen.
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