The Obama administration recently allocated several million dollars to help Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh obtain a ceasefire with the Shiite rebel Houthis in northern Yemen and continue to battle Al Qaida forces.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror sources, who monitored this development, report that a large part of the US allocation reached Al Qaeda hands. On April 7, a dozen representatives of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) from Yemen showed up in Somalia scouting for real estate and waving large sums of money.
According to the Somali Al Shebab rebels, who control parts of the capital Mogadishu and most of central and southern Somalia, the visitors from Yemen came to offer military advice to their Somali affiliates on how to withstand the impending Somali Transition Federal Govern all-out offensive against them – nothing more. But our counterterrorism sources report that the Yemeni Al Qaida group appears to have been sounding out the possibility of acquiring property in Al Shebab-controlled territory for future bases, should they decide to relocate from Yemen or add to their assets.
They are described as offering sums ranging from several hundred thousand to one-and-a-half million dollars for sites in Marka, Baraawl, Jililb and Kissmaoyo on the southern Somali Indian Ocean coast.
Instead of fighting, Yemeni president pays al Qaeda to go
However, nothing was settled. In fact the Yemen Post jumped the gun on April 5, two days before the Yemeni Al Qaida delegation left for Somalia, when it quoted "official sources in Sana" as reporting that the AQAP had relocated its center of operations from Yemen to Somalia, in retreat from President Saleh's heavy security crackdown on their strongholds.
This report was meant to show the Yemeni president's firm hand and determination to liquidate al Qaeda bastions in his country. But it also offered a glimpse of Ali Salah's complicated maneuvers among his enemies and friends.
In March, the Yemen and Saudi governments achieved a ceasefire with the Houthi rebels of the northern Yemen province of Sadaa, a deal well-oiled by half a billion Saudi and American dollars for rehabilitating the devastated province as a semi-autonomous region.
Riyadh guaranteed $250 million as compensation of the destruction caused by the Saudi Army, while the Obama administration pledged a like amount to President Saleh to help him bolster his war-shocked regime and get to grips with al Qaeda.
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror sources discovered he had other uses for American largesse.
He summoned the Yemeni tribal chieftains granting sanctuary to Al Qaida, told them he was under heavy American pressure to fight the jihadis to the finish, and asked them to hand al Qaeda enough funds to relocate in new bases in Somalia.
The tribal chiefs passed the offer on to Al Qaida leaders, they accepted the deal, and from early April began receiving liberal wads of American cash from the Yemeni president, estimated by our Persian Gulf sources as around $15-25 million.
Instead of being finished, Al Qaeda-Yemen goes for a new base
Washington had designated the funds for pacifying the Houthis and intensifying the war on al Qaeda – certainly not for Ali Salah to pay them to re-establish themselves with American funding in another trouble spot, war-torn Somalia.
Kenyan Finance Minister Abdirahman Oman Osman, who is also head of counter-terrorism, said he had been told by the TFG intelligence service in Somalia that the 12 "visitors" from Yemen were indeed shopping around Somalia for places to establish a new headquarters because, they complained, they were facing a lot of pressure in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But this did not mean they would necessarily abandon operations in Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula.
When he saw that Washington was on to his game, Salah engineered a diversion: He ordered the arrest of four Houthis as spies, a move which threatened to re-ignite the Houthi revolt.
He can't have believed that the Americans would not notice that his initiative for getting rid of al Qaeda would most likely result in a vibrant new operational coalition rising between three al Qaeda arms, the AQAP, Al Qaida in the Horn of Africa and the Somali Al Shebab in Somalia to terrorize East Africa.
Our sources disclose that Tuesday, April 13, as President Barack Obama opened his Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, the 12 Yemeni al Qaeda emissaries met secretly in Kissmaoyo with the long-sought Al Qaida Horn of Africa commander, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed.
This mastermind of the terror attacks on US embassies in East Africa in 1998, the USS Cole in 2000 and the Mombasa bombings in Mombasa in 2002 has been living in hiding in Tanzania.