Sanaa, Asharq Al-Awsat- Yemeni security forces arrested four men suspected of belonging to the Al Qaeda organization yesterday evening. A security source revealed that the four men were arrested in the southern Yemeni province of Shabwa after Yemeni security forces raided their hideout. It was also reported that Al Qaeda kingpin Abdullah Mehdar was killed by Yemeni security forces. Abdullah Mehdar was the leader of the Al Qaeda cell operating in this area. The source also revealed that the Yemeni security forces seized small and medium arms in their raid on the hideout.
Informed Yemeni sources revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the Al Qaeda organization has established three training camps in the Shabwa province.
During a press conference held yesterday by Yemeni Foreign Minister Dr. Abu Bakr al-Kurbi at the Foreign Ministry in Sanna, al-Kurbi told reporters that the Yemeni government is conducting negotiations with the kidnappers of western hostages in order to secure their release. He said that these hostages were being held somewhere in the Saada province, but refused to disclose any further details.
Al-Kurbi said that Yemen will reject any London conference resolutions that impinge Yemeni sovereignty. The London conference is scheduled to be held later this month, and it will deal with ways to combat Al Qaeda. Al-Kurbi also said that the Huthi insurgency is an internal issue, indicating that this will not be discussed at the conference.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh recently called for dialogue with the Huthis and Al Qaeda; al-Kurbi confirmed that this aims to influence the Yemeni youth and their families away from the Al Qaeda organization. Al-Kurbi confirmed that there was an offer to engage with Al Qaeda loyalists provided that they lay down their arms; however he also warned that should they reject this, the government would hunt them down.
The Yemeni Foreign Minister also renewed his countries rejection of the presence of any foreign troops on its soil. Answering journalists’ questions, al-Kurbi confirmed that the Americans are convinced of the non-viability of sending US troops to Yemen, and that the solution to this crisis lies in Yemeni forces confronting Al Qaeda elements.
Al-Kurbi expressed his concern at the presence of any communication between fundamentalist organizations in Somalia and the Al Qaeda organization [in Yemen]. As for the Somali fundamentalist Shabaab movement’s declaration that it would send fighters to support “our brothers in Yemen” al-Kurbi said that the Yemeni government is taking these statements seriously, and will take the “appropriate action” to deal with this.
Answering a question put to him by Asharq Al-Awsat regarding his upcoming visit to the US and the issues that he will discuss with the US administration, al-Kurbi confirmed that the issue of terrorism and security and military cooperation will be on the top of the agenda. He also said that he would discuss related issues, such as US aid to Yemen, and the issue of economic cooperation.
Al-Kurbi refused to answer questions on national security however he did confirm that Yemen is currently facing problems in its fight against the terrorists, and on issues related to identifying terrorists. This statement came in response to a question about Yemeni cleric Sheikh Abdel-Majid al-Zindani and his refusal to condemn Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden. Al-Kurbi added that Sheikh al-Zindani’s position does not represent the official position of the state of Yemen. He also said that Yemen has previously called for a conference to be held in order to discuss the definition of terrorism and a terrorist.
In the southern Yemeni province of Shabwa, informed Yemeni sources revealed that the Al Qaeda organization has established 3 camps in the Jabul Kur mountainside. These 3 camps previously belonged to the Aden Abyan Islamic Army. The leader of this Islamist organization, Zein al-Abideen al-Mehdar, was arrested and sentenced to death in 1998, after his group kidnapped and executed a number of western tourists.
Sources confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the previous three months has seen Al Qaeda reopening these training camps in the Jabul Kur mountain range that links Shabwa and al-Jour province with al-Bayda governorate and the Marib governorate.
The source added that Al Qaeda is active in the above regions. The source also spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about air strikes carried out on 24 December 2009, against Al Qaeda cells. The source said that an air strike carried out against the al-Majalah region of the Abyan governorate “was a mistake.” The source said that a second strike against the Rafd region of the Shabwa governorate “was a proper hit, because there were members [of Al Qaeda] present at this location…and it was correct.”
Yemeni officials claimed that 30 Al Qaeda members were killed in this strike, including mid-level Al Qaeda figure
According to private sources, this strike against the Rafd region resulted in the death of Al Qaeda fugitive Mohammed Ahmed Saleh Omair, as well as members of Yemeni tribes who had joined the terrorist organization.
Sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that two days prior to these air strikes, aircrafts were observed performing reconnaissance operations in the area. The source said “these airplanes pinpointed the target that they were aiming for where Al Qaeda members were present.” The source also said that a day prior to these attacks, a MiG jet was seen bombing targets in the mountainous regions, and “the Al Qaeda organizations must have realized [as a result of this] that there was an impending strike targeting them, for they cannot be ignorant to this degree?”
As for the presence of the Al Qaeda organization in Shabwa, sources said that Al Qaeda has been present in this area for a period of time, and that “the people in the region know the location of these groups” and that the Al Qaeda organization established the training camps in Jabul Kur three months ago. The source clarified the locations of these camps, saying there were camps located in Hatit, al-Said, and Haban. The Yemeni source also told Asharq Al-Awsat that during the recent period Al Qaeda elements have “attracted many young people” and “they pay them in foreign currency” and that “they have new cars.” The source also stressed that the Jabul Kur region, which is located between Shabwa and Abyan, “is a mountainous region that is difficult to reach.”