US intelligence and Arabia experts are busy arguing over whether or not Yemen has become a new al-Qaeda base – “Yemen is reemerging as a potential regional base of operations for al Qaeda to plan internal and external attacks, train terrorists, and facilitate the movement of operatives,” said Director of National Intelligence Adm. (ret.) Dennis Blair recently.
But King Abdullah has decided that he has had enough of Yemen president Abdullah Salah's ongoing flirtation with some of al-Qaeda's leaders in Yemen.
Among them is Nasir al-Wuhayshi, who is reputed to be al-Qaeda's commander in Yemen and was promoted in February to be Al Qaeda chief for the entire Arabian Peninsula.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly counter-terrorism sources point to differences in Saudi and US intelligence accounts of the situation in Yemen and al-Qaeda's role there because of their diverse sources. The Americans rely on agents' reports and impressions, whereas the Saudis draw their information from interrogations of Saudi recruits to al Qaeda in Yemen and their families. These recruits are picked up when they cross back into the kingdom for family visits.
The information they have yielded up to Saudi interrogators shows that Yemeni president Salah or his men are in league with various al Qaeda factions. Captured jihadis are usually set free and may be used as hit-men for liquidating the president's political foes. They are often supplied with weapons and funds.
The Saudi king has tried repeatedly to warn Salah off his dealings with al Qaeda. Some weeks ago, our Gulf sources report, he decided he was fed up and ordered the head of Saudi General Intelligence, Prince Muqrin Abdelaziz to start supplying the secessionist Yemeni “Southern Engine” movement with arms and funds.
Breakaway South Yemen would control strategic Aden
This movement, led by Muhammad Attas,is fighting to reconstitute the South Yemen republic which existed independently before the country was reunified in 1990. Its capital was the important port city of Aden on the strategic tip of Southern Yemen, which controls the southern entrance to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, the key to major shipping and oil routes to and from the Persian Gulf.
Yemen's president Salah now faces three threats to his rule:
1. The Huthi rebels concentrated around the northern Yemen town of Saada near the Saudi border, who are succored by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' intelligence, terrorism and offshore operative arm, the dread
al Qods Brigades.
2. Al-Qaeda's double game. Its cells also collaborate ad hoc with the Huthi rebels for securing the routes for men and munitions to infiltrate Yemen from Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaeda pays for the service by passing some of the smuggled weapons to the Huthis.
3. The “Southern Engine” movement, now strengthened by an influx of Saudi cash and arms.
Beset on all hands, the central government is fast losing control of one region after another, confined almost entirely to the capital Sanaa in the north and the surrounding countryside.
Who murdered the medical workers?
With Yemen in a state of disintegration, the true strength of al Qaeda is hard to gauge.
The jihadi organization is believed to be constrained by the lack of a charismatic leader with organizational skills.
The incumbent Nasir al-Wuhayshi, an al-Qaeda veteran who fought in the 1990's alongside Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan, is unpopular among the fighting men. The two al Qaeda leaders, his former comrades, do not trust his operational capabilities.
As a result, al-Qaeda in Yemen, which has pretensions to be “al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” is an ill-assorted amalgam of armed factions, which defer to their respective warlords and whose coordination is haphazard.
Amid this hazy situation, nine medical workers were kidnapped on June 12 while on a picnic in the remote northern province of Saada. They were employed by the Worldwide Services, a Christian relief organization based in the Netherlands which has aided a hospital in northwest Yemen for years.
Two German women and a South Korean woman were found shot dead on June 15. The other six, a British man, a German man and his wife and three children, are still missing.
Although the authorities in Sanaa blame Huthi rebels for the abductions, the way in which the three women were killed indicates that it was the work of an al Qaeda faction in Yemen. Later it was claimed by “Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”
The question is which al-Qaeda faction took the hostages and for what purpose.
Our counter-terrorism sources note that until a ransom note is released listing the kidnappers' demands, their identity cannot be determined. The worst outcome in such cases is the non-publication of a note.