Cross-posted at the blue site – European Tribune – across the big pond.
In Yemen lies the roots of Al Qaeda, the Base, and a long history of militancy and Saudi Arabia intervention. BBC reporter Yalda Hakim in an Our World documentary: Yemen, America’s New Front Line. She went undercover in an AQ invested region inside Yemen. With a local team she talked to the Yemeni people living under constant fear of a helicopter or drone strike. The area was extremely dangerous and she had to move swiftly without staying in one location for more than ten minutes. Her story in a BBC article …
(BBC News) – US drone strikes have been effective in killing senior al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen but innocent civilians have also died, raising tensions in the impoverished and fragile country.
The streets of the coastal town of Zinjibar in southern Yemen are reduced to rubble. Buildings are bombed out. This town was on the front line of a battle between the Yemeni army and al-Qaeda in June 2012.
Government forces prevailed and one of al-Qaeda’s most dangerous offshoots – al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – slunk into the shadows. But it remains dangerous. Al-Qaeda cells still operate here and there is also the risk of bandits who rob and kidnap.
Drones don’t differentiate, they kill people
In a safe house with guards stationed outside, Mohammed Ahmad Bagash, a mechanic from the nearby town of Jaar, tells me his story.
During the fighting, al Qaeda fighters stored ammunition in the local hospital against the wishes of the doctors. After the hospital was hit by a missile strike, Mohammed and his two children ran to a school and hid in the basement. But then the school was hit in a suspected drone strike …
And then another man joins the conversation. I ask him who he blames for the destruction of his town. “Al-Qaeda are responsible for this and the nations that fund them.”
“But also the drones, they are killing our people, killing our children and destroying our homes. The drones don’t differentiate between people. They kill people.”
There is little public support for al-Qaeda on the streets of Zinjibar, but plenty of anger over the strategy used to fight them.
“Show the world. Show the world what the government has done. They bomb here but they’re trying to hit a ghost.”
Questions of legitimacy
And a young Yemeni democracy campaigner has a worrying message for Washington. Farea al-Muslimi said:
“The US thinks it understands Yemen but the drones have been one of the most effective tools for AQAP to succeed in Yemen. A big part of al-Qaeda power at the moment is convincing Yemenis that they are in a war with America, (that) America is attacking the sovereignty of Yemen and this government is non-legitimate.”
Farea al-Muslimi is one of the most pro-American voices in Yemen. He testified in front of a US Senate committee in a personal capacity after his own village was struck by a drone. He thinks the US is wrong to stay silent when civilians are being killed in targeted strikes.
“You’re killing civilians for no reason,” said Mr al-Muslimi. “And you’re not even going to say sorry after that or admit it, or issue an apology, or pay compensation?”
Back in January, when the Arab Spring didn’t even have a name, Yemeni authorities threw Tawakkol Karman in jail for two days for helping stage a rally in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital.
When I called Karman after her release to ask what happened, she replied in her usual, breathless fashion. “We’re organizing a peaceful revolution to topple the president, just like in Tunisia,” she said, as if it were the easiest plan in the world. An impossible quest, I thought. A few hundred students and activists would be no match for Yemen’s wily and repressive President Ali Abdullah Saleh. But Yemen’s protest movement quickly swelled to hundreds of thousands.
Obama has deplored the attacks in Yemen and called for Saleh’s immediate resignation. But like other world leaders, he has been reluctant to seek sanctions against Saleh, who has been a fickle yet close partner in combating Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Indeed, Yemeni officials have decried Obama’s continued insistence that Saleh must go following Yemen’s cooperation in a controversial U.S. drone strike last month that killed the Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Obama describes Awlaki as an al-Qaeda leader. [see my diary of US cruise missile attack in late 2009 killing 120 people]
Like many Yemeni women who have joined the protests, Karman has been beaten, harassed and threatened with jambiyas, the traditional Yemeni daggers that many men carry in their belts. She and her relatives have received death threats. She expects the threats against her will subside now that she is in the spotlight.
Child brides and forced marriages are widespread — judges are not even required to ensure girls’ free consent before notarizing marriage contracts. In August, a 12-year-old bride required emergency medical treatment after being drugged and raped by her 50-year-old husband. When women are murdered in Yemen, their families receive half the sum allotted for men who are killed.
In this climate, women’s participation in protests in Yemen is an act of exceptional bravery. In April, President Saleh himself admonished women for joining the protests, saying “divine law does not allow” public mingling of the sexes. Women responded with further protests. With Karman as a Nobel laureate, perhaps even more Yemeni women will come out of the shadows.
See my diary – Yemen: Birthplace of Osama and Roots of Al Qaeda.