by Brian Whitaker

Originally published in Middle East International,3 May, 2002

WITH 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 twice.

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 routes.

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 terrorism charges.

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 Yemen.

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 charity".

In addition, the US Treasury has ordered a freeze Abu Hamza's personal assets.