Political Analysis

Yemen Ambassador says West needs to remain “level-headed”

By Jennifer Campbell, Postmedia News

OTTAWA — Yemen›s ambassador to Canada is calling the government›s move to ban air cargo from his country an overreaction.

«The banning of all air traffic and mail originating from Yemen is an example of overreaction to the problem as opposed to seeking a logical solution,» Ambassador Khaled Bahah told Postmedia News. «Those individuals intent on sending explosive devices will only seek a new departure site. Decisions like this cause global upset and give impetus to and hearten terrorists worldwide.»

Bahah said that since Sunday, when two U.S.-bound parcel bombs from Yemen were intercepted in the United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates, the public has «been bombarded by a plethora of media frenzy resulting in confusion and some degree of hysteria.»

«It is at times like this that we must remain level-headed and pursue a course of action that is both rational and effective,» Bahah said. «We must cure the disease rather than kill the patient.»

But Carleton University security expert Jez Littlewood thinks the government›s reaction is sensible.

«Clearly, there is an issue with things coming out of Yemen and given that moving away from passenger planes to perhaps air cargo represents a new direction, it›s understandable that people want to be extremely cautious,» said Littlewood, who is the director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton.

Littlewood expects the government will take the next few weeks to examine the data in greater detail. He said officials will consult with allies and friends and then do a complete review of the policy.

The security expert also noted that tightening air transport security — and air cargo in particular — was one of the recommendations coming out of the Air India Inquiry report.

«At the time, the government›s response was that they were aware of it and looking at investing in security, so there is a wider context than Yemen itself,» he said.

From a national security perspective, the initial response — that it›s better to ban cargo than risk having a plane blow up in the air, at least until we have greater surety about how this is playing out — makes sense, he added. «I err on the side of caution and I would (be) hard-pressed to criticize the government›s initial reaction in terms of ‹better to be safe than sorry.›»

Littlewood›s predecessor, Martin Rudner, said Yemen is an extremely complicated society and «a very dangerous country.» He said he agrees with the ambassador that while no one wants to have planes blown up, the core issue for Canada isn›t air cargo but rather young people who are being influenced over the Internet by the preaching of people such as Yemen›s Anwar Al-Awlaki who has, among other things, penned a document that gives extremists 44 things they can do to support jihad.

That was the case, he said, with the Toronto 18. He also noted that the largest oil company in Yemen, Nexen Inc., is Canadian.

«To my mind, a printer cartridge coming to Canada is not the threat, I would worry more about the targeting of Nexen interests,» Rudner said.