Honey and jihad
by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East
International, 26 October, 2001
HAMZA al-Masri, the militant imam of Finsbury Park
Mosque in North London, once told a young Briton: "After
Afghanistan, Yemen is the most suitable country for training
The young man followed his advice
and ended up in a Yemeni jail, along with Abu Hamza’s son,
stepson and seven others.
But Abu Hamza was not alone in
regarding Yemen as a cradle of jihad. Veterans of the
Afghan war against the Soviet Union took refuge there and training
camps flourished for much of the 1990s. A surfeit of weaponry, a
lack of law enforcement, porous borders and false identity papers
supplied by corrupt officials also played their part in a process
that many regarded as serving God.
The Yemeni government blames
outsiders - "Yemen itself has been suffering greatly from
terrorism," Vice-President Abed Rabbu Mansur Hadi said in
mid-October. To illustrate the point, Yemen has renewed its demand
for Abu Hamza to be extradited from London - a call that is
unlikely to be heeded.
This has not obviated a need to
demonstrate, to the US in particular, that the authorities are
seriously trying to combat terrorism. Dozens of the usual suspects
have been rounded up, including Usama bin Laden’s father-in-law.
There has also been a clamp-down on travel to Pakistan, intended
to prevent Islamists from responding to calls to help defend Bin
Laden and the Taliban.
This has even extended to
restrictions on the movement of fishing boats. A US-imposed freeze
on the assets of two Yemeni honey businesses, a confectioner and
an individual associated with them has been met with widespread
scepticism inside the country. The US says honey is used to
smuggle cash and drugs because customs officials often find it too
messy to examine properly. In mid-October two men were arrested in
New York on their way to Yemen with boxes of honey containing
$140,000 in cash, but they are not thought to be connected with
Yemenis have also been nervously
asking the Americans if they are likely to be targeted in the
second phase of the "war on terrorism . The answer given is
no, but the real question is whether the measures being taken by
the Yemenis will prove effective or satisfy the US. If not, the
Americans may offer to help - an offer that Yemen would refuse at
its peril. But accepting it could be equally perilous, provoking a
backlash from the public.
On 20 October, some 30,000
Yemenis, some of them armed, marched in Amran - the home patch of
Islah party leader Shaykh Abdullah al-Ahmar - to call for
"opening the way for jihad against Crusader
forces". In southern Yemen, three small bombs exploded in
Meanwhile, investigations continue
into the bombing of USS Cole in Aden harbour last year, and
the circumstantial evidence linking the attack to Bin Laden’s
network is growing. The prime suspect, Muhammad Umar al-Harazi,
who has still not been caught, is a cousin of the suicide bomber
who blew up the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998, according to the
US. Yemeni sources say Harazi was also the organizer of a Bin
Laden plot to blow up the US embassy in India, which was foiled
The man in charge of training for
the Cole attack, according to the US, was Raed Hijazi, a
former Boston taxi driver, who Jordanian security officials say is
a close associate of Muhammad Abu Zubayda, a member of Bin Laden’s
inner circle. Hijazi is currently on trial in Jordan for
involvement in Bin Laden’s alleged "millennium plot",
which included targets in Jordan and the US.
The FBI says that Khaled alMidhar,
a hijacker aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on 11
September had earlier been spotted on a surveillance video in
Malaysia meeting a man suspected of involvement in the Cole attack.
Yemeni sources go further and say that Midhar was actually in
Yemen helping to prepare the attack and left the country shortly
after the explosion.