July 9, 2006

Yemen Acquits Al-Qa'idah Members - A Surprise?

YemenA Yemeni court has acquitted 19 suspected Al-Qa'idah members, some of whom had confessed to fighting American troops in Iraq.

According to the judge, going to Iraq and joining the Al-Qa'idah in Iraq organization (formed by the late Abu Mus'ab Az-Zarqawi) and killing Americans does not violate Yemeni law. He went on to state that "Islamic shari'a law permits jihad against occupiers."

Our allies.

Why does this not surprise me?

For years, successive U.S. administration have courted the government of first the Yemeni Arab Republic (also known as North Yemen) and later the unified Republic of Yemen as an ally in the Middle East. The American military, particularly the United States Central Command, made numerous (misguided, in my opinion) efforts to develop a close working relationship with the Yemeni military and government. They hoped that Yemen might allow CENTCOM to establish a headquarters in the country, or at the minimum provide staging for protection of the Bab Al-Mandab ("Gate of Tears") at the southern end of the Red Sea, a vital sea line of communications.

Yemen played them for fools. The government of 'Ali 'Abdullah Salih, arguably one of the most corrupt on the planet, took all CENTCOM had to offer with no intention of either providing bases or even real cooperation. Any cooperation that was rendered was in return for something Salih wanted. The Americans were really stung when Yemen sided with and supported Iraq following its invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Following supposed reconciliation after the war, CENTCOM continued its pursuit of Salih. Meanwhile, Yemen became almost a safehaven for Islamic fundamentalists. In 2000, of course, the USS Cole was attacked in a Yemeni port. (See my earlier piece, The USS Cole - A Victim of Bad Policy?)

Earlier this year, 23 Al-Qa'idah prisoners escaped from a Yemeni maximum security prison by tunneling from the prison to the women's room of a mosque located hundreds of feet outside the prison compound. Included in the 23 was the mastermind of the attack on the Cole. At that time, I questioned just how serious the Yemeni government was in being an ally of the United States in the war on terror. (See Yemen - Ally in the War on Terror?)

I still question it.