2. Yemen’s Revolving Door
American counter-terror forces and operatives backing Saudi and Yemeni operations to root out al Qaeda terrorists from their lands often find their hosts operating on two levels. With one hand they fight the insidious enemy within, while with the other, they try and draw him into deals.
The Yemeni way, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources, is to detain suspects and then let them escape through a “revolving door.” The Saudi way is appeasement, to try and negotiate or buy a ceasefire – a Saudi version of hudna.
Our Yemen experts explain that President Abdullah Salah wants to appear even-handed. “To achieve this,” they say, “he arranges for parity between the numbers of al Qaeda terrorists killed in battle and the number who somehow ‘escape’ after capture. Since Salah’s decisions are totally unpredictable, US forces in action can never tell what al Qaeda cells will confront them. They may find themselves fighting the second time round terrorists whom they were assured were out of action and incarcerated in the central Aden prison.”
Last July, US forces with helicopter backing went into action against a large group of some 1,500 al Qaeda fighters. Some of the men captured were discovered to have taken part in the triple attacks on Riyadh compounds on May 12 five weeks earlier. They were known to have fled to Yemen and been captured there. Yet here they were, turning up again on the battlefield.
Another ten captured accomplices from the 2000 USS Cole suicide attack were believed to be safe in jail in Aden. However a few days after the big battle, the birds had flown their prison cells.
Yemeni security officers informed their American counterparts, who asked how this vanishing act came about, that the fugitives had dug a tunnel from the prison shower rooms. It had connected a second tunnel dug by accomplices outside the prison walls.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, the tunnels shown to the American visitors looked pretty makeshift. The Americans were not convinced and decided that someone in authority had ordered the warders to unlock the gate and let the terrorists go free.
The Americans therefore only half-believe Yemeni President Abdullah Salah is sincere in fighting terror. Their suspicions have been fueled by certain recent events, revealed here by our sources.
Salah boasts repeatedly to the CIA and FBI agents he meets several times a week that since the attack on the French tanker the Limburg, al Qaeda has not managed to bring off a single strike in his country because of the efficiency of his forces. His listeners take this with a pinch of salt. They know from their intelligence sources that the Yemeni president has held off terrorist attacks by means of undercover deals with the Islamist terrorists, which stipulate than whenever the number of al Qaeda detainees in Yemeni prisoners reaches 100, he will let some go. These deals assure local al Qaeda leaders of a steady supply of freshly rested reinforcements.
The Yemeni president also likes to brag about his success in destroying the better part of the Islamic Army of Aden, Al Qaeda’s primary operational arm in Yemen. The Americans take his word for this, after participating in many of the clandestine operations against this terrorist force. However, Salah said that in order to stabilize the IAA’s tribal region, he needed to release 60 members against their pledge not to revert to terrorism. Washington was consulted and approved the deal.
After receiving US approval, Salah ordered the release at the beginning of Ramadan of not 60 but 92 detainees. Now US intelligence has discovered that the release of another 130 al Qaeda members is under preparation. The President claims Washington did understand him; he said he needed to free 160 not 60 prisoners! In the end he will free around 200 and that may not be all!