Local News

Yemen tries to mobilise radical cleric’s tribe against Qaeda

By: Fawaz al-Haidari (AFP)

Yemen, which charged radical US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi this week with incitement to kill foreigners and with links to Al-Qaeda, is trying to mobilise his Awaliq tribe in Shabwa province.

Tribal dignitaries who are close to the government met Awaliq leaders in October to convince them to combat the local arm of Osama bin Laden’s extremist network, a tribal source told AFP.

“We concluded an agreement with the leaders of the tribe by which they would support the government against Al-Qaeda,” said Mahdi Abdessalam al-Awlaqi, a member of parliament with the ruling General People’s Congress, who was part of the delegation from Sanaa.

The central government supplied ammunition to a 1,000-man force from the tribe and in October gave them their first mission — to sweep an arid mountain region in the tribe’s home area of Shabwa for Al-Qaeda elements.

In reaction, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the local Al-Qaeda franchise, called in a communique on Islamist websites for the tribe’s members to refuse to “cooperate with the Yemeni government.”

“We were deeply saddened to see the leaders, chiefs and dignitaries of our community go personally to meet with the government envoy,” said the statement by “your brothers and cousins in Al-Qaeda organisation amongst the children (of) Al-Awaliq” and made available by SITE Intelligence Group on Tuesday.

“My brothers and cousins… support us in the fight against the enemies of Allah amongst the Americans and their agents, and save yourselves from taking a position that pleases the cross-worshippers amongst the rulers of the White House,” it said.

Mahdi Abdessalam said “this communique is a reaction to the initiative, but the members of the tribe will not be frightened” by threats.

One member of the Awaliq unit, Saleh Abdullah Abdel Salam, told AFP: “We received 3,500 rounds of ammunition each, as we have our own weapons, and we scoured the mountain area of Al-Kur for Al-Qaeda elements.”

They did not find any, but did discover traces showing that they had set up a camp in the area a few days earlier, Abdel Salam said.

Opposition MP Sheikh Saleh bin Farid al-Awlaqi described the search operation as “a ridiculous comedy.”

Shabwa and adjacent Abyan province have become major fields of operation for Al-Qaeda as the central government in Sanaa struggles to impose its control on the region’s heavily armed tribes, who are the law in their own regions.

Anwar al-Awlaqi, a member of the tribe, was charged in absentia on Tuesday with “incitement to kill foreigners and members of security services,” and with being linked to Al-Qaeda.

Awlaqi, whose assassination has been approved by the United States, is hiding out in Shabwa, security sources say.

He has been linked to a US army major charged with shooting dead 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas last November and to a Nigerian student accused of trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on December 25.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that YouTube has removed videos featuring calls by Awlaqi for holy war.

The charges against Awlaqi come amid growing Western pressure on Sanaa to crack down on jihadists, after packages of explosives posted to the United States from the impoverished country were discovered on October 28 in Dubai and Britain.

Awlaqi himself has not immediately been linked to the parcel bombs, but US officials have long accused him of instigating “terrorism.”

Washington believes the parcel bombs were the work of Saudi militant Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, a suspected Al-Qaeda bombmaker who is believed to be hiding out in Yemen.