Yemen: Rooting out Al-Qaeda or securing financial well-being?
Last month’s raid of an Al-Qaeda hideout was deemed by the Yemeni government as an attempt to root out Bin Laden supporters. Upon further inspection, however, it appears as though the attack was largely motivated by economic factors, and in the future Yemen will be relatively powerless to deny Al-Qaeda sanctuary in the country.
Late last month, Yemeni security forces attacked an alleged Al-Qaeda hideout in the Al-Husoun village in Marib province, 125 miles east of the capital, Sanaa. Tanks and helicopters were deployed in the attack, which involved heavy exchanges of gunfire.
Members of the Abida tribe refused to hand over the Al-Qaeda members and fired on the government troops from mountain villages in the region. The resistance led to heavy fighting that included tanks, artillery and machine guns. 22 people were killed in the episode. Three suspects escaped and are presently being hunted in the region along the border with Saudi Arabia.
Prior to the operation, Yemen had been cooperating with American officials in hunting down Bin Laden’s military operation. Yemeni forces, aided by covert US Green Beret commando teams, were probing the eastern Shabwa, Maraib and Al-Jouf provinces. The teams were searching for Al-Qaeda training camps in remote areas of Yemen, which operate under the protection of local tribal leaders.
Ties between Bin Laden and Yemen are strong; the country is the ancestral home of the Al-Qaeda leader. Bin Laden’s father was born in the country’s Hadramout region before moving to Saudi Arabia, and the clan still has relatives there. Moreover, the United States contends that Al-Qaeda was behind the October 2000 attack on the American destroyer USS Cole, in Yemen’s southern port of Aden that killed 17 American sailors.
While Yemeni officials characterized the raid as an attempt to root out Al-Qaeda fighters, the crackdown was more likely directed at combating troublesome tribes in the central provinces, as part of a government attempt to exert control over the economically vital region.
The Marib province is home to one of Yemen’s largest oilfields and is a main locus of operations for the US-based Hunt Oil Co. The Yemeni government is currently considering offering more incentives to investors in the country’s oil sector.
In addition, Marib Province, home to four powerful tribes with more than 70 branches, has earned a reputation for lawlessness. Since 1990, tribesmen have kidnapped and ransomed more than 100 foreigners who ventured into their territory. Tourists on extreme adventure holidays have been captured and exchanged for government aid, effectively destroying the country’s tourism industry.
Today, such lost tourism revenues would be extremely valuable. Yemen’s budget deficit is expected to triple to $298 million in 2002, with government expenditures rising by six percent and revenues falling by one percent. This projected deficit represents three percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Despite what the Yemeni government would like the United States to believe, the country remains an accessible sanctuary for Al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, the image of cooperating in the fight against terror is crucial to Yemen’s financial well-being. The country is due to receive $1.8 billion in grants from the IMF and World Bank to support development projects, and Yemen must avoid at all costs being branded a “terror-sponsoring state.” — (menareport.com)
© 2002 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)