Detectives "told to quit
Yemen on next flight"
by Brian Whitaker and Vikram Dodd
Originally published in The Guardian, 6 January 1999
TWO Scotland Yard detectives investigating the
deaths of four Western hostages kidnapped in Yemen have been told to leave the country, it
was reported last night.
In what is likely to be seen as a snub to Britain, a
representative of the head of security in the south Yeman city of Aden told British
officials that the anti-terrorist officers should leave 'on the first available flight'.
Scotland Yard sent four detectives to Yemen at the request
of the Foreign Office. The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation has also sent
Scotland Yard and the Foreign Office said last night that
they did not know whether the reports were true.
Meanwhile it emerged that the Jihad organisation that
kidnapped the 16 Western tourists last week was to have been absorbed into the Yemeni army
to curb its activities. Sources say the kidnapping occurred when the agreement collapsed.
Jihad has been causing trouble in southern Yemen for more
than six years. It runs a military training camp at Huttat, in the Maraqisha mountains of
Abyan province, which has links with Osama bin Laden and other extremist groups.
The Yemeni authorities have been trying to close the camp.
Last May they attacked it with heavy artillery and helicopter gunships, without success.
After the US embassy bombings last summer they came under
increased pressure from Washington to eradicate Islamist elements and decided to try to
close the camp by negotiation.
Two starkly opposed views of the kidnapping have emerged
in Yemen. One, encouraged by the government, links it strongly to Mr Bin Laden and sees it
as a reprisal for the US and British bombing of Iraq last month. But non-governmental
sources insist that it was primarily the result of a local quarrel with the Yemeni
authorities over the closure of the Huttat camp.
The plan to absorb Jihad terrorists into the armed forces
followed a common Yemeni tactic for controlling opposition elements: incorporating them
into the system. The Jihad leader of the early 1990s, Tariq al-Fadli, was appointed to the
upper house of parliament and joined the ruling party. He was also allowed to resume his
tribal role as Sultan of Abyan.
In November, according to the Yemeni weekly al-Umma, Jihad
issued a list of 28 demands in return for evacuating the camp. These included the
provision of basic services such as water and electricity in the surrounding region.
More controversially, they also demanded that Arab
veterans of the Afghan war living in Yemen should be granted political asylum. This would
have been difficult for the government to accept because many are wanted for terrorist
One of Mr Bin Laden's assistants visited the camp in early
December. A Yemeni press report said he had gone there to resolve a dispute, which may
have been about the terms for the camp's surrender.
Shortly afterwards there seemed to be an agreement to
vacate the camp and integrate Jihad into the army. But this broke down almost immediately,
resulting in a clash between Jihad and the security forces on December 18.
Among those arrested was Salih Haidara al-Atawi, a sheikh
from al-Husnin, Lower Abyan, whose release was demanded by the kidnappers.
On December 23, according to the interior minister,
General Hussein al-Arab, a Jihad vehicle packed with weapons was stopped in Aden. The
occupants allegedly intended to attack the British consulate, a United Nations office and
the homes of American officers working to clear landmines from southern Yemen.
The latest information about the kidnappers, who numbered
at least 19, indicates that they were a mixture of local tribal elements and foreigners.
One of those killed was a taxi driver from a nearby
village, another was a Yemeni veteran of the Afghan war, and the third was an Egyptian
terrorist sought by the authorities in Cairo.