by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East
International, 3 May, 2002
THE American embassy under siege, the secret police under attack
and demonstrators on the streets, Yemen appears to be suffering
from the backlash that many feared the "war against
terrorism" would produce.
Public anger at Israeli assaults on Palestinian towns is
fuelling calls for the Yemeni government to end its security
co-operation with the United States.
Large demonstrations encouraged by Islamists have tried
several times to reach the heavily-guarded US embassy, though they
have so far been kept back and dispersed by police.
A previously unheard-of group called the "Sympathisers of
al-Qaeda" has claimed responsibility for several attacks on
the Political Security Organisation - Yemen's secret police.
A statement - sent from an e-mail address in the name of Salem
al-Rabeei, a Yemeni held by the US in Guantanamo Bay - threatened
suicide attacks against intelligence premises and "senior
political figures" unless 173 al-Qa'eda suspects allegedly
held at PSO headquarters are freed by May 10.
The statement advised people living near PSO properties to
move out until the "war is over", but politely offered
to compensate them for any collateral damage to their homes.
A bomb on April 4 damaged the east wall of the PSO
headquarters in Sana'a as well as the Turkish embassy nearby. The
homes of two PSO officials have also been targeted - one of them
On April 16, another bomb exploded near Bab al-Yemen, the main
entrance to the old city. It damaged the civil aviation
headquarters and other property but its apparent target was a
branch office of the PSO.
The US embassy closed its doors to the public on April 23
after a warning of "possible terrorist activities" and
did not re-opened them until five days later. According to the
Yemen Times, other western embassies have received threats by
telephone and explosive devices have been found near various
embassies as well as diplomatic residences.
Some Yemeni officials have taken a dislike to the new American
ambassador, Edmond Hull, who arrived last September. An article in
al-Mithaq weekly - which is published by the ruling General
People's Congress - accused him of haughtiness and interfering in
domestic affairs. It said his behaviour was "like a high
commissioner, not like a diplomat".
Meanwhile, security co-operation continues apace. The US is
helping to install a system of computers and cameras at airports
and border crossings which will provide centralised monitoring of
everyone who enters or leaves the country - at least by the normal
According to President Ali Abdullah Salih, team of 40 American
"military experts" is currently in Yemen providing
anti-terrorism training to the security forces.
Yemen and the US are also understood to have agreed new terms
for refuelling US warships in Aden. Refuelling was suspended
following the suicide attack on USS Cole in October 2000, which
has been linked to al-Qaeda.
Under the new agreement US marines would help to provide
security at the port, though American officials say they have no
immediate plans to resume refuelling there.
Britain and the US have finally taken action against Abu Hamza
al-Masri, the London-based cleric who is wanted in Yemen on
Abu Hamza acted as spokesman for the Islamic Army of
Aden-Abyan, a group with al-Qaeda connections, which kidnapped 16
western tourists in southern Yemen in 1998. The Yemeni authorities
say Abu Hamza also sent 10 young men from Britain - including his
son and stepson - to attack British and American interests in
Last week the British Charity Commission banned Abu Hamza from
the preaching at Finsbury Park mosque in London. The commission
has the power to do this because the mosque is a registered
charity. It says the ban is temporary, "pending consideration
of the permanent removal of Mr Hamza from his role within the
In addition, the US Treasury has ordered a freeze Abu Hamza's