Storing up credit
by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East
International, 23 November, 2001
THE END of the Afghan war against the Soviet Union,
unemployed mujahideen flocked to Yemen - one of the few countries
where they could keep alive the spirit of jihad without too much
harassment from the authorities.
Since 1996, more than 14,000 of
these "Arab Afghans" are said to have been expelled and
now, as the Taliban regime collapses, Yemen is taking steps to
prevent a second influx of undesirables.
Conveniently, these efforts are
also helping to store up credit in Washington ahead of President
Ali Abdullah Salih’s scheduled meeting with George Bush at the
White House on November 27.
If all goes well, the US is
expected to offer Yemen a $130 million aid package to combat both
poverty and terrorism.
Among other measures, Yemen has
already stopped issuing visas on arrival at Sana’a airport to
American and European passport holders. In future, these visitors
will have to obtain them in advance at embassies abroad.
"This decision is intended to
stop infiltration of suspect elements into the country, notably
from Afghanistan," a security source told the army newspaper,
"26 September". A number of al-Qaeda supporters are
believed to carry US or European passports - either forged or
Yemen’s "instant visa"
system - originally intended to encourage western tourists - has
been widely abused in the past and, although the new restriction
is described as temporary, there would be benefits in making it
The authorities are understood to
be still holding about 20 people from among those rounded up in
the wake of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
According to the Saudi daily,
al-Watan, Yemen has also extradited 21 people who crossed the
border from Saudi Arabia after September 11 and took refuge with
Yemeni tribes. The 21 are believed to come from south-western
Saudi Arabia, which was also home to some of the suspected
Internal security has been stepped
up, too. The Yemen Times reported the visit of a Jordanian
military team to help with "advanced schemes" to crack
down on "terrorists and other outlaws" by monitoring the
The government has also been
actively pursuing its plan, announced last May, to take over
religious schools which are organised (and used as a recruiting
ground) by the opposition Islah party.
On November 8, police seized the
al-Baihani school in Aden and shut it down, on the grounds that it
was teaching religious extremism. People living nearby said its
classes began at 5 am after morning prayers and included exercises
which resembled military training.
The private al-Iman university,
run by Sheikh Abd al-Majid al-Zindani, a leader of the Islah party’s
radical wing, has been closed as a "precautionary"
measure and the 350 foreigners who were studying there have been
Meanwhile, the Sana'a branch of
al-Barakat Exchanger and Honey Stores has shut down - though this
may be due to the forcible closure of its parent company abroad,
rather than action by the Yemeni authorities. The US Treasury has
ordered the assets of several honey companies in Yemen to be
frozen, on suspicion of laundering money for al-Qaeda.
One collateral casualty of the
anti-terrorism effort was Joel Soler, a French documentary
film-maker, who was arrested on November 4 for trying to interview
Usama bin Laden’s father-in-law in southern Yemen. He was
promptly expelled on the grounds that he had entered the country
on a tourist visa after being refused a journalist's visa at the
Yemeni embassy in Paris.
In other developments, a
27-year-old man named as Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed, who is
suspected of involvement in the USS Cole bombing in Aden last
year, has been arrested in Pakistan and handed over to the United
The FBI has also begun a hunt for
a Yemeni man known as Ramzi Omar or Ramsi Binalshibh. It is
thought that he intended to take part in the September 11
hijackings but failed to gain admission into the United States.