By Adnan Shihab
A security checkpoint recently prevented an arms shipment of pistols from entering the southern city of Aden. A senior officer on the national Military Committee said around 21,000 guns with silencers, as well as other arms, were seized. The smuggled weapons reportedly arrived in Yemen from Turkey and China.
Witnesses reported that the amount of seized arms was in fact much larger than the announced figure; others said that security forces have shown themselves to be unable to effectively control the Yemeni coastline.
Senior Central Security officers have been accused of having relations with arms dealers. In October 2009, a shipment full of weapons from China was seized in Hodeida Governorate. When it was discovered that fake documents had been signed by Defense Ministry officials, the case caused a stir in both the public and political spheres.
A committee was formed to investigate the situation, yet it in the end it failed to submit a report to parliament. Yet worse, the illegal shipment itself disappeared, with reports that the ship had departed from Yemen; there were no further updates as to the ship’s location. At the time, the government faced a great deal of pressure and was, for the first time, forced to release the names of arms dealers; however, none of those names were linked none of them to the case of the weapons shipment.
A government report listed seven arms dealers, including the most prominent inside Yemen, Sheikh Fares Mana’a. Mana’a was recently appointed governor of Sa’ada governorate, an area which witnessed six successive wars between Houthi rebels and the national army.
Three of the arms dealers announced by the government were from Sa’ada. Both sides in the six wars were accused of gaining advantages via illegal arms trading. In the last wars they had with the army, Houthi rebels used a number of advanced weapons, including rocket launchers and sniper rifles. It was reported that when soldiers fought in Sa’ada, they would sell half of their ammunition and use the rest in battles. Reliable sources reported that Houthis themselves purchased weapons from the soldiers.
A Turkish shipment of arms – 6,000 guns equipped with silencers – had also been discovered on a ship heading to Yemen by Dubai police in late March of 2011. At the time, Yemen was witnessing a revolution. The shipment was discovered a week after the infamous Juma’at Al-Karama incident, when armed supporters of ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh killed upwards of 50 protesters near Sana’a’s Change Square.
Over the past two years, Yemen has seen in an upswing in illegal weapons trading, assassinations, and terrorist operations in various governorates, including Sana’a, Taiz, Aden and Abyan.
A second shipment of smuggled arms from Turkey was discovered by workers at Aden Port; authorities reported that the shipment contained around 2,625 guns. A barber named Rashed Saleh Al-Ba’adani was reported to be involved. However, the Interior Ministry never officially charged Al-Ba’adani and no further facts regarding further suspects were released.
Of late, Yemen borders have seemed to amount to open gates for the import of smuggled weapons. In last August, soldiers at a checkpoint in Hodeida prevented a container filled with light weapons which had arrived from Al-Makha Port from passing through. Initial reports were that the shipment had been heading towards Sa’ada, but no further information was released.
The majority of Yemeni arms dealers are sheikhs who are linked to influential government figures. Massive arms stores are located in the capital; last month, there was an explosion at one such location, not far from President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s residence. According to eyewitnesses, security forces were unable to enter the grounds of Sheikh Jarman Mohammed Jarman’s residence, where the explosion took place.
An Interior Ministry representative announced that the explosion had emanated from where cooking gas cylinders were stored. A great many citizens stated that they found the explanation highly unlikely.
When police attempted to enter the grounds of Jarman’s residence and investigate, armed men from Sa’ada turned up and prevented their passage. As weapons continue to flood into Yemen, assassination operations have also increased. Last Tuesday, a military intelligence officer was assassinated in Hadhramout. Reports have stated that most such assassination attempts are carried out with guns equipped with silencers.