Yemen: Death Squads Gone Wild


May 18, 2013: The government believes al Qaeda is increasing its use of assassinations and kidnappings to help rebuild. The killings, usually of police or intelligence officials, are meant to discourage the security forces from coming after al Qaeda members, especially those known to be hiding out in certain villages up in the hills (and protected by local tribesmen). The kidnappings are necessary to raise money to provide “gifts” to the tribesmen who are risking their lives to protect the terrorists. Many southern tribes still want to form a separate nation in the south and believe al Qaeda can help with that. Al Qaeda is currently playing down its ultimate goal of establishing a religious dictatorship that would rule all of Arabia and strictly control the lives of all its subjects. Meanwhile, the many captured terrorists and documents indicate that three al Qaeda men were involved with the attack in Libya last September that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. The intel from Yemen apparently also revealed details of many other al Qaeda operations outside Yemen.

As desperate as Yemen is for foreign aid, delivering it is made much more difficult because of the local custom of kidnapping foreigners to use as a bargaining chip with the government. The dispute is usually over the government arresting a tribesman for a crime and his kin insisting they are in the right, the government is not, and any measures are justified to right this slight. This “tribe above all” attitude is common in many parts of the world and is reinforced in places like Yemen, where what passes for government is very corrupt. But these attitudes make it very difficult to do business in Yemen, be it aid programs or simply tourism. It’s another reason why Yemen is so poor and unpleasant a place to live.

May 16, 2013: Three kidnapped Red Cross workers (two foreigners and one local) were freed after negotiations with the tribe that held them. Red Cross has 200 staff in Yemen, a quarter of them foreigners. Threats to stop aid shipments often persuade tribal elders to get involved and get aid workers freed.

May 15, 2013: Near the southern port city of Aden, secessionist tribesmen clashed with police, leaving two dead and three wounded.

May 13, 2013: Near the southern port city of Aden, armed tribesmen kidnapped three Red Cross aid workers in an attempt to get a fellow tribesman freed from jail (where he has been held on murder charges for a year).

One of the air force’s elderly Russian ground attack jets (an Su-22) crashed near the capital. The pilot died, mainly because the aircraft exploded in the air before crashing. Su-22s are useful for ground attack but they are elderly aircraft, difficult to maintain, and unreliable. Since they are cheap and Yemen is broke, the Yemeni air force has about 30 of them.

May 12, 2013: Police raided a house in the southern port city of Aden and found four al Qaeda terrorists. There was resistance and one of the terrorists was killed before the other three surrendered. The police found weapons and documents indicating the four were planning attacks in the area.

Outside the capital police found a roadside bomb and disabled it.

May 10, 2013: Tribesmen kidnapped a Turkish man some 300 kilometers east of the capital. This was to pressure the police to release several vehicles they had seized.

May 9, 2013: In the south al Qaeda assassins killed a policeman near his home, using a silenced pistol. The dead policeman belonged to a special security unit.

May 8, 2013: Al Qaeda released three captives (a Finn and two Austrians) after a million dollar ransom was paid. The government has been trying to free these three for months. Back in February the military believed it had located the three and launched a major operation to rescue them. That failed and the weeks of fighting left more than a hundred dead. Al Qaeda put up some major resistance but reduced their ransom demands from $50 million to $4 million. The Finnish government was willing to pay, but the Austrians were not. The U.S. and Britain have always refused to pay ransom to terrorists, knowing that this just encouraged more kidnappings and made possible more terrorist activity. More and more European nations are joining the “no ransom” camp but are doing so in the face of continuing popular willingness to pay. These kidnapping victims become major local news stories and that puts pressure on politicians to pay, no matter what the consequences. Al Qaeda says it paid $150,000 (to the tribal kidnappers) for the three captives (taken in December) and would kill them if the rescue force got too close. Hundreds of al Qaeda and pro-terrorist tribesmen joined the fight to stop the rescue effort. The Yemenis got tired of the losses (including at least 30 dead among the rescuers) and urged that some ransom payment be made. The three captives were taken from an Arab language school, of which there are several in Yemen and these depend on foreign students to survive. The tribes don’t care about anyone else and many tribesmen are willing to die to preserve their right to kidnap foreigners. The matter was finally settled when Omani negotiators got everyone to agree to a million dollar ransom and end the bloodshed. This was a rather tainted victory for the terrorists and the tribes, given the high death toll and other losses. This apparently persuaded the Austrians (who are very much in the “no-ransom” camp these days) to go along.

In the south (Shabwa province) an al Qaeda death squad killed three senior air force officers near an airbase.

May 7, 2013: In the south two Egyptians were kidnapped by tribesmen trying to get one of their kinsmen freed from prison (where he has been for several years, after being convicted of murder).

May 4, 2013: North of the capital rival tribesmen fought, leaving four dead and six wounded.

May 3, 2013: The army has a mutiny on its hands, as soldiers of the 3rd brigade, stationed in the north, have gone vigilante in an effort to find and kill tribesmen believed responsible for killing four soldiers last month. The soldiers got upset at what they considered inadequate government response to those deaths.

May 2, 2013: In the southern city of Taiz, police attempted to arrest the crew of a recently arrived ship that was carrying 20,000 illegal weapons (believed to be from Turkey) and ammunition. The ship was taken but all the smugglers got away except for the captain of the ship. Some of the smugglers were picked up in the next few days. This was the fourth illegal Turkish arms shipment to be seized in the last six months.


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