On Sunday the president of Yemen said on an Arab TV channel that Al-Qaeda fighters had a "last chance" to "put down their weapons and come to an accommodation," the Times of London reported.[1]  --  Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden's former bodyguard told the press the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is not following bin Laden's orders and has "formulated their own ideology," the Globe and Mail (Canada) reported Sunday.[2]  --  “There is a huge difference” between al-Qaeda and AQAP, he said:  "Sheik Osama never took a serious step against anybody until he heard the views of religious authorities," whereas AQAP affiliates "accuse people of being non-believers and then attack immediately without any consultation." ...


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Middle East news


By James Hider

Times (London)
January 11, 2010


SANAA -- The President of Yemen said yesterday that he was willing to strike a deal with al-Qaeda if militants laid down their weapons, amid warnings that dozens of foreign fighters were streaming into the country.

Ali Abdullah Saleh’s offer to negotiate with members of the terror network came as officials said that several al-Qaeda operatives, including Saudis and Egyptians, were travelling from Afghanistan to join fighters in the lawless tribal lands in central and southern Yemen.

Among those said to be in hiding in the area is Anwar al-Awlaki, the influential Yemeni preacher.  The U.S.-born imam preached to two of the 9/11 bombers in California and had links to the U.S. army psychiatrist charged with the Fort Hood shootings and the Nigerian man who allegedly tried to blow up a Christmas Day flight to Detroit.

Ali Hasan al-Ahmadi, the governor of the southern Shabwa province, said:  “There are dozens of Saudi and Egyptian al-Qaeda militants who came.  This is in addition to Yemenis who came from Maarib and Abyan [provinces] and a number of militants from Shabwa itself.”

Some Yemeni officials believe that Mr. al-Awlaki, a member of a powerful clan who claims not to be a direct member of al-Qaeda, may be willing to enter talks after he leapt from relative obscurity to international infamy as the “bin Laden of the internet.”

Authorities claimed that he was among the dead in a pre-Christmas airstrike in the south of the country, but he later spoke to a Yemeni journalist who confirmed that the radical was still alive.

A Western diplomat told the Times that intelligence agencies had long been too focused on another wanted Yemeni Islamist, Abdul Majid al-Zindani, who is now seen as an older and less influential figure, and had only recently woken up to the danger of the energetic younger imam.

A slim, bearded, and bespectacled 38-year-old former civil engineer who was born in New Mexico to a Yemeni father, Mr. al-Awlaki is an imam whose fluency in English and command of internet communications have made him a top recruiter for disenfranchised young Muslims in the West.  Experts on jihad believe that the internet has now become a key tool for enlisting jihadists, reaching impressionable young Muslims in their homes and extending the reach of radical preachers far beyond the traditional recruiting ground of the mosque.

Dozens of Mr. al-Awlaki’s speeches can be found on the Youtube website, referring to everything from Koranic parables to the rapper Snoop Dogg and zombies.

Mr. al-Awlaki spans the traditional and the new media for disseminating the message of jihad.  While serving as a preacher in San Diego in 2000, his sermons were attended by two of the men who participated in the 9/11 attacks -- Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar -- and he became a spiritual adviser to the hijackers.  He later exchanged e-mails with Nidal Hasan Malik, the U.S. Army major accused of killing 13 soldiers in a shooting spree on the military base of Fort Hood in November last year.  Yemeni officials believe that he met Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, the Nigerian accused of trying to bring down a flight with explosives hidden in his underwear last month.

Mr. Saleh told an Arabic television news channel that he was willing to offer al-Qaeda militants a last chance to put down their weapons and come to an accommodation, even as U.S. special forces instructors put troops through intensive anti-terrorist training.

“If al-Qaeda lay down their arms, renounce terrorism, and return to wisdom, we are prepared to deal with them,” the President said.  “They are a threat not only to Yemen but also to international peace and security.”

Analysts warn that unless authorities get to grips with the growing threat of insurgency, the country risks spiralling into further chaos.




By Patrick Martin

Globe and Mail
January 10, 2010


They call themselves al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but one of Osama bin Laden's closest former associates says the group that has grabbed the world's headlines doesn't share the ideology of the al-Qaeda founder.

“They have targeted Saudi and Yemeni authorities, even though al-Qaeda took jihad to the non-believers, not to Muslims,” said Nasir al-Bahri, Mr. bin Laden's former bodyguard.

“Sheik Osama is perfectly capable of attacking Yemen or Saudi Arabia, but he doesn't want to,” Mr. al-Bahri said in an interview.  “I believe that if Osama bin Laden gave these people an instruction, they would do the opposite.”

Led by Yemenis Nasir al-Wahayshi, 32, and Qasim al-Raymi, and by Saudi Said al-Shehri, 35, the new guard have “formulated their own ideology,” Mr. al-Bahri said.

They attempted an assassination of Saudi Arabia's security chief, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, last summer, and have staged and threatened several attacks against the Yemeni government.

Quite apart from the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner for which the group also claimed credit, Mr. al-Bahri said, “they are giving the Americans an excuse to come and occupy this place.”  U.S. President Barack Obama, however, has said the United States has no intention of invading Yemen.

Mr. al-Bahri, 37, served Mr. bin Laden from 1997 to 2000, reportedly saving his life on several occasions.  In one attack, he was wounded in the leg and the al-Qaeda leader personally nursed him back to health.

Born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents, Mr. al-Bahri got a business degree in Jeddah before joining Muslim forces fighting Serbs in Bosnia; then moved on to Somalia and Afghanistan.

He returned to Yemen with his wife in 2000 to visit her family, and was arrested shortly after the attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors -- an attack, he insists, he had nothing to do with.

After 22 months in prison -- 13 of them in solitary confinement -- and a promise to go straight, Mr. al-Bahri, settled in Sanaa.  Now, a father of five, he teaches business administration and says he wants no part of the current group that calls itself al-Qaeda.

“There is a huge difference” between al-Qaeda and these people, he says.

“Sheik Osama never took a serious step against anybody until he heard the views of religious authorities,” Mr. al-Bahri said.

These new guys, however, are a law unto themselves, he says.  “They accuse people of being non-believers and then attack immediately without any consultation.

“If some Salafist or other religious scholar were to criticize the behavior of this group, I'm sure they would accuse the scholar of being a non-believer.”

The new guard have modelled the group's behavior after that of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, who led a fierce Islamist movement in Iraq from 2002 to 2006, Mr. al-Bahri said.

“Zarqawi didn't agree with Sheik Osama either,” he said.  “He spent more energy fighting other Muslims than he did Americans.

“I personally persuaded more than 80 young Yemeni men not to go to Iraq,” he said.  “The new generation follows Zarqawi's way.”

Of medium height, defined features and a trim beard, Mr. al-Bahri cuts a fine figure as he walks the student neighborhood of Sanaa in stylish blue jeans and a scarf thrown over his shoulder.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh doesn't deserve the attacks the new guard have made against him, Mr. al-Bahri says.

“Sure there may be corruption and problems here, but Saleh has been fair,” he said.

“He welcomed back the men who fought in Afghanistan [against the Soviet Union] and gave them jobs.”

Al-Qaeda has never forgotten that, he said.

Mr. al-Bahri says the Yemeni government is right in its assessment of the size of the al-Qaeda threat it faces.  “There are no more than 500 operatives in Yemen,” he said, “and no more than 40 of them have come from outside the country.”

He said he is not surprised the government is cracking down on the group, but hopes it will not resort to U.S. assistance in doing so.

A better way, he suggests, would be to have religious scholars debate these men and convince them of the error of their ways.  “The old guard, including me, is prepared to debate them, too.”

What's important, Mr. al-Bahri says, is that the Americans not be allowed here in any form.

“We want to attract the Americans to fight on al-Qaeda's choice of battlefields:  Afghanistan and Somalia -- not in Yemen.”