Yemen releases top arms trafficker

Faris Mana'a, Yemen's top arms trafficker, was released from jail last week, according to tribal sources. The Sahwa.Net websitedescribes his release as "astonishing" and says his return home was welcomed by "masses" of sheikhs and citizens in Saada province.

Mana'a served for some time as head of the committee mediating between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels, while allegedly simultaneously supplying the rebels with weapons. His brother was governor of Saada province, where the rebellion originated.

He was named in a list of illegal arms traffickers issued by the Yemeni government last October and was also named in connection with a Chinese weapons ship discovered at Hodeida port around the same time.

In April, his assets were frozen by the US Treasury on the grounds that he "has directly or indirectly supplied, sold or transferred to Somalia arms or related material in violation of the arms embargo".

Last month, his relatives opened fire on a police convoy taking him to court, killing the driver of a passing mini-bus. During the court appearance his detention was extended for a further 25 days. That period elapsed last week – presumably leading to his release.

Meanwhile in southern Yemen, gunmen thought to be connected with al-Qaeda attacked the intelligence headquarters in Aden yesterday, killing at least 10 members of the security forces. An unknown number of suspects held in the building were released – and reportedly left the scene in a bus.

The incident has been widely reported by international media (BBCAFPAPal-JazeeraReuters), so I won't go into detail about it here. Breakouts of this kind are not particularly unusual in Yemen. The BBC notes that in 2003, 10 men escaped from the same building – including one later convicted in connection with the attack on USS Cole.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 20 June 2010.