Tag Archive: Arabian Peninsula


Yemen opposition warns bloodshed may derail deal

A wounded anti-government protestor is brought to a field hospital during clashes with Yemeni security forces in the capital Sanaahttp://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110428/wl_nm/us_yemen

By Mohammed Ghobari and Mohamed Sudam Mohammed Ghobari And Mohamed Sudam Thu Apr 28, 2:45 pm ET

SANAA (Reuters) – Yemen’s opposition warned the government on Thursday that violence against street protesters demanding the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh could derail a deal aimed at ending the political standoff.

Plainclothes gunmen killed 12 people and wounded dozens more in Yemen’s capital on Wednesday when they opened fire on anti-government marchers just days before a Gulf-mediated deal to end the crisis was due to be sealed. “In the event of your inability to protect protesters, we will find ourselves unable to pursue an agreement that the regime seeks to use to shed more blood,” the opposition coalition said in a statement.

A deal to end the crisis by easing Saleh out within a month was expected to be signed on Sunday in Riyadh, three months after Yemenis took to the streets, inspired by revolts that toppled autocratic rulers in Egypt and Tunisia.

But on Thursday Saleh appeared to raise a potential problem when he told Russia’s Arabic language Russia Today channel that he objected to the presence of Qatari representatives.

“We will have reservations about signing if representatives of Qatar are present among the Gulf foreign ministers,” Saleh said. “(Qatar) is involved in a conspiracy not just against Yemen but against all Arab countries.”

He singled out Qatar’s pan-Arab television channel Al Jazeera, which Saleh has accused in the past of provoking the protests. He also accused Qatar, a tiny but gas-rich Gulf state, of funding the opposition in Yemen.

The balance of power has tipped against Saleh, long a key ally of the West against al Qaeda, after weeks of violence, military defections and political reversals.

Wednesday’s killings capped a day of demonstrations by tens of thousands of Yemenis, many protesting against a plan supported by the government and the main opposition group which would give Saleh a month-long window to resign.

The protesters in Sanaa demanding Saleh resign immediately were shot at while attempting to reach an area beyond the district where they have been camped out since February, witnesses said. Ten died on the spot, while two more died of wounds on Thursday, doctors said.

In addition to the 12 killed in Sanaa, a protester and a soldier also died in clashes during protests in the southern port city of Aden on Wednesday.

On Thursday night armed men opened fire on state security offices in Zinjibar in south Yemen killing one soldier, and gunmen exchanged fire with guards outside the central bank in the port city of Aden.

The large turnout at protests against the Gulf deal showed the ability of the largely young protesters, from students to tribesmen to activists, to act as potential spoilers. They have vowed to stay in the streets until their demands are met.

It was also not clear that opposition parties, comprised of Islamists, Arab nationalists and leftists who have been in and out of government in past years, could halt the protests even if required to by the transition agreement.

SALEH TO SIGN DEAL ON SATURDAY

Washington and neighboring oil producer Saudi Arabia want the standoff resolved to avert a descent into more bloodshed in the Arabian Peninsula state that would offer more room for a Yemen-based al Qaeda wing to operate.

A government official said that Saleh, who has ruled for 32 years, would sign the agreement on Saturday in Sanaa, a day ahead of the official signing ceremony in the Saudi capital, which Saleh was not expected to attend.

On Sunday, the ruling party’s vice president and a former prime minister, Abdel-Karim el-Eryani, would sign in Riyadh on behalf of the party, the official said. The opposition would also sign on Sunday.

Both sides were expected to host large rallies in Sanaa on Friday ahead of the signing. The government planned a “Friday of Constitutional Legitimacy,” while the opposition planned a “Friday of Honouring Martyrs.”

The deal, brokered by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, would give Saleh and his family and aides immunity from prosecution.

It provides for Saleh to appoint a prime minister from the opposition, who would then form a transition government ahead of a presidential election two months after his resignation. But the one-month window for Saleh to resign has sparked fears it may offer time for potential sabotage.

Whoever leads Yemen’s transitional government will not only struggle to quash an aggressive al Qaeda branch, which has tried to hit U.S. and Saudi targets, but also inherit simmering rebellions in the north and south of the country.

Around 142 protesters have been killed as unrest has swept Yemen, where some 40 percent of its 23 million people live on $2 a day or less, and a third face chronic hunger.

The Interior Ministry said on Thursday that more than 21 policemen had died and 1,000 had been wounded since February 3.

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Libya rebels raise concern about Islamic extremism

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/ml_libya_islamic_warrior

By SEBASTIAN ABBOT, Associated Press Sebastian Abbot, Associated Press Tue Apr 19, 6:18 am ET

AJDABIYA, Libya – Abdel-Moneim Mokhtar was ambushed and killed by Moammar Gadhafi’s troops last week on a dusty road in eastern Libya — the end of a journey that saw him fight as a jihadi in Afghanistan and then return home where he died alongside NATO-backed rebels trying to oust the longtime authoritarian leader.

In describing Mokhtar’s death on Friday, Gadhafi’s government said he was a member of al-Qaida — part of an ongoing attempt to link the rebels to Osama bin Laden’s group. Four years ago, al-Qaida said it had allied itself with the Libyan Islamic Fighters Group — of which Mokhtar was a top military commander.

Two days before he was killed, Mokhtar denied any connection between his group and al-Qaida, telling The Associated Press in an interview: “We only fought to free Libya.”

“We realized that Gadhafi is a killer and imprisoned people, so we had to fight him,” said Mokhtar, one of a handful of rebel battalion commanders who led more than 150 rebels in eastern Libya.

The question of Islamic fundamentalists among the rebels is one of the murkier issues for Western nations who are aiding the anti-Gadhafi forces with airstrikes and must decide how deeply to get involved in the fight. Some countries, including the U.S., have been wary — partly out of concern over possible extremists among the rebels.

NATO’s top commander, U.S. Navy Adm. James Stavridis, told Congress last month that officials had seen “flickers” of possible al-Qaida and Hezbollah involvement with rebel forces. But he said there was no evidence of significant numbers within the opposition leadership.

Spokesman Mustafa Gheriani of the opposition council in Benghazi said any extremists among the fighters are exceptions and that ensuring democracy is the only way to combat them.

Mokhtar, 41, of the northwestern town of Sabratha, arrived in Afghanistan at age 20 in 1990 when the mujahedeen were fighting the puppet regime installed by the Soviets before they withdrew after a decade-long war.

He fought for three years in the fields and mountains of Khost and Kandahar provinces under Jalaluddin Haqqani — a prominent commander who was backed by the U.S. during the Soviet war but has now become one of its fiercest enemies in Afghanistan.

At least 500 Libyans went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, according to The Jamestown Foundation, a U.S.-based think tank, but Mokhtar said there aren’t many fighting with the rebels now. Many like Mokhtar who returned home were arrested or killed by Gadhafi when they announced the creation of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in the mid-1990s to challenge his rule.

Mokhtar became one of the LIFG’s top three military commanders, said Anes Sharif, another member of the group who has known him for almost two decades.

Mokhtar was in charge in southern Libya and planned several assassination attempts on Gadhafi, including one in 1996 when a militant threw a grenade at the ruler near the southern desert town of Brak that failed to explode, Sharif said.

“Abdel-Moneim was the man who organized, prepared and mastered all those kinds of operations,” said Sharif, who is from the northeastern town of Darna, which has been a hotbed of Islamist activity.

The LIFG also waged attacks against Gadhafi’s security forces. But the Libyan leader cracked down on the group, especially in Darna and what is now the rebel-held capital of Benghazi.

“The worst fight was against Gadhafi in the 1990s,” Mokhtar said. “If he captured us, he would not only torture us but our families as well.”

The response forced many members of the group, including Mokhtar, to flee abroad, Sharif said. Mokhtar left in the late 1990s and only returned after the current uprising began, Sharif said.

“We don’t have many experienced commanders in the battlefield. That’s why I’m out here,” said Mokhtar, his full black beard peppered with gray as he stood outside Ajdabiya surrounded by rebel pickup trucks bristling with rocket launchers and heavy machine guns.

Al-Qaida announced in 2007 that it had allied with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and the group was put on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Both Mokhtar and Sharif denied the connection, saying it was never endorsed by the group’s leadership.

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group publicly renounced violence in 2009 following about three years of negotiations with Libyan authorities — including with Gadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam. In a statement at the time, the group insisted it had “no link to the al-Qaida organization in the past and has none now.”

The Libyan government released more than 100 members of the LIFG in recent years as part of the negotiations. Sharif said the group changed its name to the Libyan Islamic Movement for Change before the current uprising.

British authorities believe the LIFG has stood by its pledge of nonviolence, and has no ties to al-Qaida — though acknowledge that other Libyans command senior positions in the terror group’s hierarchy, including Abu Yahia al-Libi, al-Qaida’s Afghanistan commander.

“They clearly are still committed to an Islamist world view, but don’t subscribe to terrorist tactics any more,” said Ghaffar Hussain, who works on deradicalization projects for the Quilliam Foundation, a British anti-extremism think tank.

“Some former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group figures have decided to join the rebels, mainly because they remain opposed to Gadhafi’s regime — but there is no sign of them reforming as a jihadist organization,” he said.

However, Hussain said there was clear evidence that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — the al-Qaida offshoot which U.S. officials believe poses the most immediate terror threat to America — was trying to join the fighting against Gadhafi’s forces.

“The rebels are being very careful to keep a distance from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, knowing the damage that any associated with them would do to their cause,” Hussain said.

Since the uprising began in February, Gadhafi has played up fears that the rebels include fighters from al-Qaida, but no evidence has surfaced to support the accusations.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters Sunday night that Mokhtar “has been an al-Qaida member since the ’80s,” although he offered no evidence. He called him by his tribal name, al-Madhouni, and said he “fought in many countries, including Afghanistan, Yemen, Algeria and Libya” and was wanted by “international authorities.”

A U.S. intelligence official said that Mokhtar has been involved in extremist activities in Afghanistan and Libya since the 1990s. He may not have been in lockstep with al-Qaida at the time of his death, but he’s been “a fellow traveler in the past,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.

The official concluded that it’s too early to know whether Mokhtar and other members of his group have abandoned their previous extremist tendencies.

Mokhtar said in the interview that he, Sharif and other members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group still have the same passion to oust Gadhafi, but added they no longer aspire to set up an Islamic state.

Instead, they say their goal is the same as the rebels’ National Transitional Council: a democratic government that respects human rights and the rule of law.

“We are here only to fight for freedom, and that is our only goal,” Mokhtar said.

“We want a free Libya and a government for all Libyans — a government that doesn’t distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims, that is run by a constitution and respects Islam,” he added.

Sharif, who was part of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’s political division and has been working with the rebels as well, said years of experience have convinced them that most Libyans don’t want to live under a strict Islamic regime. But he did believe that politicians with conservative Islamic views will attract the most support in Libya.

“The West needs to understand that there is a difference between Islamic culture and radicalization,” Sharif said.

Another area of concern for the West has been the relatively high number of Libyans who have gone to fight against U.S.-led forces in Iraq. One study done by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2008 found that Libyans represented the second largest group of foreign fighters and ranked first per capita.

Sharif said a small number of radical Islamists do exist in Libya, but he said the best way to deal with them is to get rid of Gadhafi, whose repressive policies have exacerbated extremism in the country.

“In an environment where everybody is respected and is allowed to carry out their religion without fear of being tortured, arrested or killed, there is no extremism,” said Sharif.

He also said that the rebels are committed to keeping foreign fighters out of Libya — a sentiment echoed by others on the battlefield.

“The rebels are determined not to allow al-Qaida or any other non-Libyans to have a base here,” Sharif said. “We don’t want the country to be a battlefield for other groups to finish their wars. We don’t want to see Libya as another Iraq or Afghanistan.”

___

Associated Press writers Danica Kirka in London and Kimberly Dozier in Washington contributed to this report.

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