London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Abdullah al-Ridi, Yemeni ambassador to the United Kingdom, has said that his country has been the target of an extremely unjust campaign following the dispatch of two suspect parcels from Yemen that were discovered at the Dubai Airport in the UAE and the East Midland Airport in Britain. He said that several states have taken unfair measures regarding shipping and travel from and to Yemen, measures against the Yemeni Airlines, and other measures, which he described as unjust.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat held in his office in the Embassy of Yemen in London, Al-Ridi said that the parcels were discovered based on intelligence information and the explosives detection and scanning machines had nothing to do with uncovering the contents of these parcels. Regarding the American cleric of Yemeni origin, Al-Ridi said he is wanted by the Yemeni security services, a warrant has been issued for his arrest, his trial in absentia has begun in Sanaa, and Yemeni tribes are helping the government to pursue elements of the al-Qaeda Organization. Al-Ridi said that security coordination is taking place between Yemen and Saudi Arabia at the highest levels. He also affirmed that the Yemeni-American cooperation in the war on al-Qaeda is based on security and intelligence coordination and the training of Yemeni anti-terrorism forces. He said there was no truth to reports that American aircraft fly over Yemen searching for elements of al-Qaeda. Ambassador Al-Ridi also talked about measures that Yemen had taken following the increase in al-Qaeda-related operations in Yemen.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the story of the suspect parcels sent from Yemen that disturbed the world in recent weeks? Why the Yemeni security services were unable to discover these parcels before they left its airports?
[Al-Ridi] All I have on this subject is that these parcels were not discovered by explosive-detection instruments or any other devices installed in the airports in which they were seized. Security agents discovered them after receiving intelligence reports from Arab and international intelligence agencies, and these reports prevented a catastrophe from taking place. The reports specified the type of the parcels and their bill of lading number. Despite finding the two parcels, discovering that they contained explosive materials was a difficult process at the Dubai Airport and the East Midland Airport. In Dubai, it was not possible to discover these materials when they were put through a regular scanning machine and through explosives-detection machines. Even when they brought trained police dogs, they were unable to discover or detect them. They discovered them after a manual examination and the dismantling of the toner cartridge. Therefore, it was not because of negligence on the part of the Yemeni security services at the airport that these parcels left Yemen, but because of sophistication in terrorist activity, which no airport security was able to detect. Therefore, intelligence and the speed of communication are essential in combating such cases. The security reports reaching Dubai, Greece, and Britain, as I said, were the factor that contributed to seizing these parcels. If it was a matter of explosives-detection instruments, Yemeni airports are equipped with the most modern detection devices. But these machines could not detect these parcels neither in Yemen nor in the other countries. As we know now, the highly explosive materials were placed in liquids that prevented their discovery by the scanning machines, and this was the reason they passed easily through the airports without being detected.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your explanation to the clamor raised in the world following this incident?
[Al-Ridi] I think that Yemen, in general, has been the target of an extremely unjust campaign on the al-Qaeda issue. Several countries have suspended air cargo from Yemen. The Yemen Airways was punished by preventing its aircraft from landing at British airports. The German government has also banned flights from Yemen. The Lufthansa Airline Company suddenly decided to suspend its flights to Yemen without prior notice as demanded by international air regulations and rules, and justified this suspension by security reasons. We think these measures will help al-Qaeda, which is trying to isolate Yemen internationally to make it possible for it to carry out its plans to undermine peace and stability in the region and the world. Let me give you one example. In the incident involving the Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab who tried to explode an American aircraft over Detroit on Christmas day last year, although Yemeni airports or the national carrier had nothing to do with this incident, although he traveled through other airports and not through Yemeni airports, except several months before that, and although Umar Farouk studied in more than one country and passed through more than one international airport before the incident, the bombing attempt was directly associated with Yemen, despite the fact that the man only spent a few months in Yemen.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The information you talked about was reportedly sent from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. What is the extent of the security coordination between Yemen and Saudi Arabia?
[Al-Ridi] Coordination between the two countries exists on the highest levels. The security coordination between them has produced good results in the war on the al-Qaeda Organization and in other fields, such as smuggling. As for what you said that the brothers in Saudi Arabia had passed the information to some Arab and foreign countries, I think that the Saudi brothers had obtained the information after the parcels had left Yemen. Still, I think that foiling the attempt and saving lives was the objective, and since the objective was achieved, this is what Yemen and the other countries wanted. As for those who are claiming that Yemen was not informed about these parcels, I think they are trying to disrupt the excellent relations between Yemen and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which are historic relations based on coordination on all economic, security, and diplomatic levels.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] We have noticed an increasing British interest in Yemen against the background of the increasing security tensions in the country. What is the significance of this from your standpoint as the ambassador of Yemen to Britain?
[Al-Ridi] The Britons were the subject of many al-Qaeda attacks. The British ambassador and other members of the embassy faced an assassination attempt by this organization. One of the parcels was found in Britain. Britain believes al-Qaeda elements are clearly targeting it. The organization often connects the United States and Britain in many of its threats that appear in recorded tapes from time to time. It is natural for Britain to be concerned and to stand in the forefront of the camp confronting this organization. Since Yemen has been afflicted by the presence of members of this organization on its territory, the Britons are seeking to expand the security cooperation between the two countries, which have been the target of al-Qaeda.
Recently, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London organized a symposium in which the participants discussed the problems facing Yemen and ways to address them. Alan Duncan, British Secretary of State for International Development, attended part of these meetings. In his speech, he talked about some of the fears that the British government has of the al-Qaeda Organization. He also talked about the role Britain is playing to help Yemen in the economic and security fields. Britain is also an active member of “the Friends of Yemen” group. It is providing various forms of aid to Yemen. Britain will play a role in an upcoming meeting in Riyadh in February next year that will be attended by representatives of more than 20 countries, within the framework of “the Friends of Yemen” , to discuss ways to spend the aid allocated to Yemen. The attendees will also discuss the establishment of a fund to support development in the country. Economic development is the key to solving many of the problems facing Yemen, foremost the problem of al-Qaeda. Furthermore, Yemeni-British relations are old and the cultural and social interaction between the two countries is noticeably evident.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about Anwar al-Awlaqi who has called on Muslims to fight the Americans without asking for a fatwa from anyone? How will the government deal with him in the light of American demands to arrest him and hand him over to the Americans or kill him?
[Al-Ridi] Anwar al-Awlaqi is wanted by the Yemeni authorities. A warrant has been issued for his arrest, and his trial in absentia has begun in Sanaa. Al-Awlaqi, as we all know, was born and raised in the United States. He acquired his ideas there. He is an American citizen, and this is why the Americans have demanded that he be turned over to them. There is today a clear position by the members of his tribe, the Al-Awaliq, toward him. They announced their renunciation of all forms of terrorism and those who stand with him, even if they were members of the Al-Awaliq Tribe. I think that this position would greatly weaken al-Qaeda’s dependence on the protection of the tribes.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Recent reports indicated that the United States has deployed drones over Yemen to pursue al-Qaeda fighters on Yemeni territory. What is the Yemeni government’s position on this move?
[Al-Ridi] President Ali Abdullah Saleh underlined Yemen’s position at his recent news conference following the incident of the two parcels discovered in the UAE and Britain. This position is based on rejecting any interference in our internal affairs. There are no piloted or pilot-less aircraft in Yemeni air space. Still, Yemeni-American coordination exists, and American support to Yemen is in the form of intelligence information and the training of Yemeni security forces. The Americans also provide economic and cultural aid to Yemen.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] After all the damage inflicted on Yemen because of al-Qaeda’s actions, what steps would the government take to limit the damage caused to Yemen’s reputation in the region and the world?
[Al-Ridi] The security campaigns against elements of this organization in some areas in the country have not ceased. Cooperation with the tribes and the warning against sheltering these elements has taken place simultaneously with the security campaigns and with instructions to mosque preachers to maintain moderation and call for the renunciation of violence and terrorism. With regard to other measures, postal parcels are now examined completely by hand and using the explosives detection machine after they pass through the scanning device. New conditions have been placed on air cargo agents. Local and international control over them will continue. The license of any agent that does not meet the conditions will be withdrawn. The security measures at the airports on individuals and their luggage will be strengthened. Preparations are underway now to establish a modern unit for airport security attached to the central security authority whose task would be to protect the airports against any acts of sabotage or terrorism. We are in the process of launching an intensive media campaign to clarify the true image of Yemen and the Yemeni people and the tolerant nature of the Yemenis and their love for security and coexistence with others.