Political Analysis

al-Humayqani says he has counterterrorism advice for Washington

National Yemen

Abd al-Wahhab al-Humayqani

The United States is doing more to stoke terrorism, here in the heartland of al-Qaeda’s most active franchise, than to defeat it, he says. What the United States ought to do, he argues, is strengthen Yemen’s state institutions — rather than create enemies by carrying out drone strikes.

“The U.S. can protect itself by cooperating directly with local authorities,” he said in an interview in Yemen’s capital.

Take it from a man who might know.

In December, the U.S. Treasury Department branded Humayqani, 42, a specially designated global terrorist, freezing his assets and sanctioning anyone who does business with him.

Humayqani denies all of it. He said his charities benefit “orphans, mosques and poor families,” not al-Qaeda. “My personal stance is against al-Qaeda operations, because they kill outside the law,” he said.

It may be no surprise that a person who is the subject of sanctions dismisses the charges against him. But what makes Humayqani’s case slightly more puzzling, and potentially awkward for the United States, is that he says he is willing to meet with U.S. officials — he claims to have requested a meeting at the U.S. Embassy; the embassy declined to comment — and even face a court of law.

“I don’t have any objections to going on trial here in Yemen to defend myself against any charges — even if it’s from the American Treasury,” he said, speaking in the lobby of a five-star hotel that is frequented by politicians and diplomats. His life is hardly that of a terrorist, he said.

“I’m the secretary general of a political party, and I live here in Sanaa,” he said, as two politicians from another party stopped to greet him with kisses. “I’m a member of the National Dialogue,” he added, referring to a partially U.S.-sponsored effort to bridge divides among Yemeni political parties, tribes and activists.

Humayqani’s open challenge to the U.S. government highlights an uncomfortable disconnect between Washington and a government that it depends on for local intelligence and cooperation in its global war on terrorism.

In December, the Yemeni government openly took issue with its American allies over Humayqani.

“Yemenis were surprised . . . that a national religious, academic and political figure . . . was, without any basis, placed on a list of terror supporters,” Yemen’s Ministry of Human Rights said in a statement.

“One of our party’s goals is to cooperate with the United States within the framework of justice and forgiveness, mutual interests, benefits, mercy and peace,” he said, beaming.

Whether Humayqani is grandstanding or telling the truth, his words — and very public presence in the Yemeni capital — may leave Washington on awkward footing.

Legal scholars say the Obama administration has not provided a specific definition for a direct and “imminent” threat to U.S. citizens — a label that would qualify a person to become a target for death or capture in Yemen, Pakistan or Somalia.

Legal experts say the category of specially designated global terrorist, as Humayqani is described, is strictly a financial classification. But the Treasury’s depiction of Humayqani’s activities in al-Qaeda — as more than simply a financier — also raises the possibility that he could find himself on a U.S. kill list, said Ashley Deeks, a University of Virginia law professor and former legal adviser to the State Department.