Tight with the US
by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East
International, 8 February, 2001
investigators headed for Cuba in early February to help in the
questioning of al-Qa’ida suspects. Up to 21 Yemenis are detained
there, forming the second largest national group after the Saudis.
Yemen stressed that its investigators would be checking on
living conditions in the camp as well as taking part in
interrogations. Although the official reason for this arrangement
is that it may yield more information about the bombing of USS Cole
in Aden 18 months ago, the move shows how far Yemen’s
relations with the US have improved since the early days of the
"war on terrorism", when Yemen was spoken of as a
possible target for an American attack.
Meanwhile, a dozen US military experts are due to arrive in the
country. According to the Yemen Times, their role is to
help set up a maritime police force to keep unwanted visitors from
Yemen’s shores. For many years Yemen has been one of the easiest
countries to enter and live in illegally - which made it an ideal
refuge for Islamist militants. The 1,200-mile coastline, which is
largely unguarded, is only part of the problem.
The Americans will initially be looking for suitable places
along the coast where patrol boats can be stationed. The US is
also expected to provide 15 boats - about a tenth of what is
needed to do the job effectively.
Yemen’s main airport, in San’a, is also attempting to dean
up its act. Fifteen passport officers have been sacked for
providing "illegal facilities" to passengers and other
misdemeanours. The airport director, Colonel Ahmad Me’yad, told
the Yemen Observer "Other security officers and
employees of various authorities at San’a airport, including
political security, police, passports and customs, have also been
interrogated and punished for not performing their duties
The effort to deport undesirable foreigners is also gathering
pace. At the end of January, Muhammad Mustafa Kamil, the
20-year-old son of militant cleric Abu Hamza alMasri, was deported
to Britain. He had been released from jail in Yemen after
completing a three-year sentence for terrorism offences. The youth
was one of ten young men sent to Yemen by Abu Hamza in 1998,
according to the authorities, to attack British and American
interests in Aden.
After arriving in Yemen, the group were in contact with the
Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan, which Yemen describes as part of the
al-Qa’ida network. Yemen is still demanding the extradition of
Abu Hamza - a British citizen.
So far this month, four British Muslims have been deported from
Yemen, and two more are in detention. They are among 115
foreigners who have been studying or teaching at religious
institutes associated with extremist politics. The foreigners have
been arrested for relatively trivial immigration offences but are
being questioned about links to militant groups.
Although there is evidence that some students from these
institutions have drifted into al-Qa’ida circles, the colleges
provide an easy target for high-profile "anti-terrorism"
activity by the government.
The government says it now knows exactly where the pair are and
will take them by force if necessary. But, rather than risk
another military fiasco, it is allowing time for a negotiated
The men have apparently offered to surrender on condition they
are not handed over to the Americans - a demand that the
government will find difficult to accept. At least three prominent
shaykhs are involved in the mediation.