Yemen's president open to dialogue with al-Qaida

Yemen's president open to dialogue with al-Qaida

Yemen's president said he is ready to talk to al-Qaida members who renounce violence, suggesting he could show them the same kind of leniency he has granted militants in the past despite U.S. pressure to crack down on the terror group, AP reported.

Yemen is moving cautiously in the fight against al-Qaida, worried over a potential backlash in a country where anger at the U.S. and extremism are widespread. Thousands of Yemenis are battle-hardened veterans of past "holy wars" in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya and Iraq, and though most are not engaged in violence now they preserve a die-hard al-Qaida ideology.

"Any movement against al-Qaida will lead to the fall of the Yemeni regime," warned Ali Mohammed Omar, a Yemeni who fought in Afghanistan from 1990-1992 and says he met Osama bin Laden twice during that time.

If the U.S. or its allies become directly involved, "the whole (Yemeni) people will become al-Qaida. Instead of 30 or 40 people, it would become millions," he told The Associated Press in an interview.

Yemeni forces recently launched their heaviest strikes and raids against al-Qaida in years, and Washington has praised San'a for showing a new determination against al-Qaida's offshoot in the country.

The United States has increased money and training for Yemen's counterterror forces, calling al-Qaida in Yemen a global threat after it allegedly plotted a failed attempt to bomb a U.S. passenger jetliner on Christmas Day.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh's comments raised the possibility he could continue a policy that has frustrated U.S. officials in the past - releasing al-Qaida militants on promises they will not engage in terrorism again.

Several have since broken those promises and are believed to have returned to al-Qaida's ranks.

"Dialogue is the best way ... even with al-Qaida, if they set aside their weapons and return to reason," Saleh said in an interview with Abu Dhabi TV aired Saturday.

He said Yemen would pursue those who continued violence, but "we are ready to reach an understanding with anyone who renounces violence and terrorism."

In the past, Yemeni officials have defended the reconciliation policy as a necessity, saying force alone cannot stop al-Qaida.

Saleh's government has been weakened by multiple wars and crises. It has little authority outside a region around the capital, and tribes dominate large areas of the impoverished mountainous nation - many of them bitter at the central government for failing to develop their regions.

Hundreds of al-Qaida fighters, foreigners and Yemenis, are believed to be sheltered in mountainous areas. Al-Qaida Yemenis get help from relatives, sometimes out of tribal loyalty more than ideology - and when the government kills or arrests militants or their relatives, it risks angering the heavily armed tribes.

Another factor is the regime's alliances with hardline Islamists, such as Sheik Abdul-Majid al-Zindani, one of Yemen's most prominent clerics. The U.S. has labeled him a terrorist for alleged links to al-Qaida. But the government relies on his tacit support and denies he is a member of the terror group.

In a prayer sermon Friday, al-Zindani railed against U.S. pressure to fight al-Qaida, accusing Washington and the United Nations of seeking to "impose an international occupation of Yemen."

In Yemen, "it is difficult to draw the line between who is a fundamentalist and who is al-Qaida. It's a spectrum," said Ali Saif Hassan, who runs a Yemeni group that mediates between the government and opposition.

But those with extremist thought "are everywhere, in the government, in the military, among the tribes and the wealthy," he said, and some could oppose cooperation with the U.S. against al-Qaida.

The regime has also used Islamic radicals to fight a war against Shiite rebels in the north and to oppose secessionists in the south - two threats that many feel the government sees as more dangerous than al-Qaida.

Omar, the Afghan veteran, is a case in point. He heads an organization in the southern city of Aden mobilizing against the secession movement.

The 42-year-old Omar recalled meeting bin Laden twice in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. He said they discussed the situation in Yemen, the al-Qaida chief's ancestral homeland.

Bin Laden told him al-Qaida bought thousands of weapons sold off illicitly by the former independent government in south Yemen when it unified with the north in 1990, arms that remain in Yemen, Omar said.

After returning to Yemen in 1992, Omar - who says he is not in al-Qaida - was imprisoned twice, including a yearlong stint in 2005 on charges he helped send militants to fight American troops in Iraq. He was acquitted and released.

He estimated Yemen has some 20,000 veterans from the Afghan war in the 1980s and 1990s as well as other Islamic extremist fronts like Chechnya and Bosnia. A smaller number have returned home from more recent jihads, like the war in Iraq, he said.

They and younger generations form a bedrock of sympathy for al-Qaida that could turn to outright support. "If the government draws them into a fight, they will fight the government."

San'a points to successes in its reconciliation programs, saying they have turned some 600 former mujahedeen into "good citizens."

But there have been security lapses.

The leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Naser al-Wahishi, and other senior figures escaped from a San'a prison in 2006 - with help, it is believed, from sympathizers in the security services.

Hazem al-Mujali, accused in the 2002 bombing of a French oil tanker off Yemen, was recently released from prison. Last month, he escaped a government raid outside the capital on an al-Qaida cell suspected of plotting attacks.

Another released militant is Fahd al-Quso, wanted by the United States for his role in the 2000 USS Cole bombing, which killed 17 American sailors. He served three years of a 10-year sentence before being freed in 2008.

Now he is on the run with other al-Qaida fighters in the mountains of Shabwa province, said Ali Hassan al-Ahmar, the province's governor.

Al-Quso long reassured authorities he was staying peacefully at home in Aden, but it became "clear he was meeting with al-Qaida elements," al-Ahmar said in an interview with the Sharq al-Awsat newspaper.

Iran reveals COVID-19 data for January 21
Iran reveals COVID-19 data for January 21
Iran reveals COVID-19 data for January 20
Iran reveals COVID-19 data for January 20
Iran, Cuba joint COVID-19 vaccine to begin new phase of testing in Havana
Iran, Cuba joint COVID-19 vaccine to begin new phase of testing in Havana
Loading Bars
Latest
Kazakhstan welcomes entry into force of Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
Fitch downgrades three Georgian Banks' support ratings
Tax authorities of Kyrgyzstan, Russia discuss launch of joint project
Chinese Mission to EU condemns European Parliament for interfering in Hong Kong affairs
Dev't of "green" energy potential in Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region to attract investments
Denmark halts UAE flights for five days over COVID-19
UK business activity suffers steep slump in January amid fresh lockdown
Kazakhstan boosts exports volume to Canada amid COVID-19
Kenya Airways suspends flights to France, Netherlands due to COVID-19
Italy tells TikTok to block users after death of young girl
UK records another 40,261 coronavirus cases, 1,401 deaths
Canada's Trudeau presses Pfizer CEO on vaccine shortage, hints at travel crackdown
Swiss court finds Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz guilty of corruption
Georgian ski resorts remain closed
Kazakhstan increases volume of petroleum oil exported to Germany
Four men jailed for manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese migrants in UK
Reports that Azerbaijani Minister of Sports fell into coma - not true
Turkey registers more than 5 967 new coronavirus cases
Iran has increased oil export - Minister
UAE confirms it inked $23 billion deal to buy F-35 jets, drones from U.S.
Georgian President meets EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement
Azerbaijan discloses trade surplus with Romania
East Kazakhstan prolongs restrictions
Azerbaijani State Customs Committee exceeds forecast of budget receipts in 2020
‘Bibiheybat’ Ship Repair Yard completes overhaul of ‘Ramiz Hajiyev’ floating crane
Azerbaijan’s export of precious stones and natural pearls up
State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan unveils budget revenues and expenditures
Azerbaijan's Central Bank talks images of new manat banknotes appearing on social media
Azerbaijan discloses area of liberated lands sown with wheat in Aghdam
Azerbaijan confirms 632 more COVID-19 recoveries
Azerbaijani, Georgian FMs exchange views on latest situation in region
Period of revival of previously occupied Azerbaijani lands already began - ambassador
Denim production to be launched at textile enterprise in Uzbek Bukhara region
Azerbaijani expert talks future plans for import of hydrogen vehicles
Georgia - one of largest beneficiaries of EBRD investments per capita
USAID provides comprehensive support to entrepreneurship dev’t in Turkmenistan
French Proparco provides Georgian hospitals with grant to support COVID-19 battle
Uzbekistan to make strengthening relations with states of Central Asia priority
Georgia to establish blackberry plantation via state program
India’s role in combating COVID-19 through vaccine development and manufacturing
Russian Gazprombank expecting Azerbaijani sovereign rating's return to 'stable' outlook
Support for revival of Nagorno-Karabakh must become way of life – Azerbaijani minister
Tesla Israel headquarters nears completion
Armenian soldiers demanding compensation for participation in Karabakh war
Azerbaijan shows footage from Yukhari Abdurrakhmanli village of Fuzuli (VIDEO)
Azercell is always leading with its exemplary service quality
Uzbekistan may consider temporary suspension of yarn exports
Georgia reveals volume of domestic debt
Walmart expands vaccinations in boost to U.S. COVID-19 program
Israeli company eyes creating lavender plantations in Uzbek Namangan region
Georgia reveals volume of imported oil bitumen
European standard bakery to open with support of Bank of Georgia
Kazakhstan investing in Georgia across wide range of economy spheres
Georgia sees decrease in import of aviation fuel
Azerbaijani president declared Karabakh status issue - thing of the past, MFA says
Dagestan starts exporting ceramic products to Azerbaijan
Georgian RMG Gold company's total sales increase
Demand for notes of Central Bank of Azerbaijan exceeds supply
Assessment of damage caused by Armenia to Azerbaijani civilian objects continues
Volume of cargo passing through Astara terminal increasing from year to year
Criminal case opened against more terrorists used by Armenia against Azerbaijan
National Bank of Kazakhstan determines strategic initiatives for 2021
Bukhara oil refinery produces floating pontoons to eliminate loss of light hydrocarbons
Azerbaijan establishes Agency for Development of Economic Zones
Azerbaijan developing employment programs for future residents of liberated lands
Georgia decides to increase subsidies for flour
UK can help Azerbaijan to demine liberated lands - ambassador
Azerbaijan, UK discuss issues of development of co-op in area of defense
EU, FAO supporting agriculture and rural development in Georgia
Automated warehouse system introduced at Uzbekneftegaz JSC
Projected volume of trade turnover between Turkmenistan, US for 2021 named
Kazakhstan's monetary base surges in value in Dec. 2020
Uzbekneftegaz manages to reduce imports of materials, technical resources
Elon Musk to offer $100 million prize for 'best' carbon capture tech
Kazakhstan boosts petroleum oil exports to Spain despite COVID-19
Georgia to restore operations of municipal transport, schools and stores
Application of TRACECA single transit permit digitalizes transport and logistics sector
Azerbaijani gymnasts to take part in European Championships in Switzerland
Kazakhstan deregulates tanker call-in services for oil crude, products export
Azerbaijan's energy company building new substation in liberated Shusha (PHOTO/VIDEO)
Regular flights to resume from February 1 in Georgia
PASHA Bank's branch in liberated Shusha to help implement territories' restoration initiatives
Nar offers special discounts for Karabagh war veterans
Austrian Enhanced Resource Company talks about work plans in Azerbaijan for 2021
Azerbaijani banking community eyeing dev't of entrepreneurial ecosystem in liberated territories
German government sees 2021 GDP growth of 3%
Kazatomprom completes COVID-19 testing at its JV with French Orano
Introduction of Euro-5 diesel standard postponed in Georgia
Azerbaijan studying Turkey's experience to create liberal electricity market
Baku Higher Oil School holds discussions on ‘Natural resources of Karabakh’ (PHOTO)
Volume of vegetable oil imported by Turkmenistan from EAEU revealed
Major foreign companies to support logistics and fulfillment center creation in Kazakhstan
Volkswagen operating profit drops by half in 2020
Azerbaijan discloses commercial banks' total share in GDP
Azerbaijan-Turkmenistan co-op development serves economic well-being of region - MP
Georgian government's action plan has direct, clear priorities - PM
Demand for dairy products of EAEU countries increases in Turkmenistan
Cotton fiber production increases in Uzbekistan
All preventive measures to be taken in connection with COVID-19 at Azerbaijani schools
Public Council under Azerbaijani Ministry of Ecology to assess damage in liberated lands
All news