Yemeni Regime Accuses Hamid al-Ahmar of Trying to Assassinate President Saleh

Andrew McGregor

August 19, 2011

A leading member of the Yemeni regime has accused prominent opposition leader Shaykh Hamid al-Ahmar of responsibility for the June 3 bombing of the presidential palace in Sana’a that nearly killed President Ali Abdullah Saleh. While the President continues to recuperate in Saudi Arabia from serious burns and other injuries, his family is locked in a struggle with the al-Ahmar clan for power in Yemen. Hamid is one of ten sons of the late Shaykh Abdullah bin Husayn al-Ahmar, leader of the Hashid tribal confederacy and founder of Yemen’s powerful and religiously conservative Islah (Reform) Party.

Shaykh Hamid al-Ahmar

The accusation was made by the Assistant Secretary-General of the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC),Sultan Sa’id Abdullah al-Barakani, who said “There is no longer room for doubt that Hamid al-Ahmar is the prime suspect in the sinful assassination attempt to which the president of the republic and a number of officials were subjected” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, August 16). Hamid al-Ahmar had earlier suggested it was actually the president’s sons and guards who were responsible for the attack (al-Sharq al-Awsat, August 14).

According to al-Barakani, the investigation into the bombing had revealed the use of SIM cards belonging to Sabafon, Yemen’s biggest mobile network operator and majority-owned by Hamid al-Ahmar, who is one of Yemen’s most prominent businessmen. Hamid is also a leader of the Islah Party and is regarded by some in Yemen as Saudi Arabia’s chosen candidate to replace President Saleh in the event of Saleh’s resignation.

Though the evidence might not be described as definitive, the allegations are indicative of the bitterness that now runs between the Saleh and the Ahmar clans, Both sides appear to have left the point of no return in their struggle for power in Yemen. The al-Ahmar clan came out early in favor of Yemen’s opposition movement, but relations with President Saleh deteriorated even further when security forces attacked Hamid’s house in the exclusive Haddah neighborhood of Sana’a with artillery and rockets, killing a reported ten followers of Shaykh Hamid (al-Hayat, June 7).

Hamid al-Ahmar is considered close to Major General Ali Muhsin Saleh al-Ahmar, his next door neighbor and a defector from the government. Ali Muhsin continues to command elements of his former command, the First Armored Division, and proclaims himself the military guardian of the opposition.

When asked about the assassination attempt in a recent interview, Hamid first addressed the “crime” committed by the president and his “oppressive security organizations” in attacking the former home of Shaykh Abdullah bin Husayn al-Ahmar and many other buildings in the Hasbah district of Sana’a during late May – early June clashes between al-Ahmar loyalists and government forces (see Yemen Observer, July 9). However, Hamid then shifted his approach and accused the president’s sons and presidential security forces for the attempted assassination while retaining the connection to the attack on al-Hasbah: “No ruler can enjoy safety unless he is just. This is not the case of Ali Salih, who has continued to shed the blood of Yemen’s sons all along his rule, and his enemies are spread across the entire Yemeni arena. Also I consider his treacherous aggression on al-Hasbah as a suicide operation, as by committing this aggression he provided the justification for the numerous sides that wanted to get rid of him… By committing the al-Hasbah aggression, Salih provided the pretext for those who wanted to target him (al-Sharq al-Awsat, August 14).

State media later reported that Hamid had “implicitly declared” his family’s responsibility for the attack on the president by suggesting the attempted assassination was in response to the assault on the home of the family’s late patriarch, Shaykh Abdullah (Saba [Sana’a], August 15).

Asked if his younger brother Hamid was responsible for organizing and financing many of the anti-regime protests in Yemen, his brother Shaykh Sadiq al-Ahmar, the chief of Yemen’s Hashid tribe, replied that Hamid had “warned of a popular uprising if the regime continued with its arrogance and intransigence, closed the doors to dialogue, and refused to meet the people`s demands for change. Following the Tunisia and Egypt revolutions, the Yemeni people rose to demand their legitimate rights. If Hamid is today contributing with all the people`s sons to the success of the peaceful change revolution then this is not an accusation but an honor of which we are all proud” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 17). State media recently reported that the al-Ahmars had intensified efforts to buy the loyalty of political and tribal leaders with cash and were launching a campaign to collect donations to the Islah Party from Yemeni merchants resident in Saudi Arabia (Saba [Sana’a], August 16).

This article was originally published in the August 19, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Internal Disputes Plague al-Shabaab Leadership After Mogadishu Withdrawal

Andrew McGregor

August 19, 2011

Al-Shabaab’s sudden withdrawal from Mogadishu on August 6 in the face of a concentrated offensive by Ugandan and Burundian troops of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) appears to have been followed by a major internal dispute over the movement’s leadership, possibly resulting in the appointment of a new leader.

AMISOM Armor in Mogadishu

Al-Shabaab has tried to cover up the problems and issues that led to the withdrawal by maintaining it was a “tactical” move (Hiraan Online, August 12; AllPuntland, August 10). One al-Shabaab leader, Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys (former leader of Hizb al-Islam, now absorbed into al-Shabaab) admitted in an interview that the movement was forced to turn to a new strategy because it could no longer match the military strength of AMISOM and Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces in Mogadishu’s intense urban warfare  (Somali Channel TV [London], August 12).

However, there are signs that al-Shabaab’s withdrawal was not as planned as the movement would like to let on; AMISOM troops and Somali police discovered a store of 137 155 mm artillery shells left behind in a deserted house in a part of Mogadishu’s Bakara Market recently occupied by al-Shabaab. As the movement does not possess 155 mm artillery, it is likely the shells were being cannibalized for explosives needed in the manufacture of improvised explosive devices (Horseed Media, August 13; AFP, August 13).

Al-Shabaab has claimed a certain number of fighters were left behind, explaining the resistance that AMISOM forces continue to encounter (especially in the north of the city) as they continue their cautious occupation of the neighborhoods newly vacated by al-Shabaab. The TFG has attempted to capitalize on al-Shabaab’s difficulties by offering an amnesty to those fighters still active in Mogadishu who are prepared to renounce violence (AFP, August 10). In some places, the retreating Islamists have been replaced by local clan militias under the command of powerful businessmen who have no desire to come under TFG rule. Many other of these fighters are reported to be veterans of Hizb al-Islam still under the direct command of Hassan Dahir Aweys ( [Mogadishu], August 9).

According to the Ugandan commander of AMISOM, Major General Fred Mugisha, the African Union peacekeepers “now have to cover a much larger area of the city and we risk being overstretched” (AFP, August 10).  Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has recently pledged to send another 2,000 soldiers from the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) to Mogadishu to consolidate AMISOM’s gains after repeated pleas for military support from other African Union nations to AMISOM’s Ugandan and Burundian contingents failed to win any positive response (Daily Monitor [Kampala], August 13).

Though his TFG fighters played only a small part in driving al-Shabaab out of the national capital, Somali president Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad is now talking tough regarding his determination to defeat his former Islamist allies: “Al-Shabaab is a threat to Somalia as well as to the stability of the wider region and the world. We will not stop pursuing them. Our determination is to clear them from the territory of Somalia” (PANA Online [Dakar], August 11). However, many Somalis fear the expulsion of al-Shabaab will mean a return of the warlords who devastated Mogadishu for nearly two decades. Their fears were not allayed by the president’s appointment of former warlord (and serial opportunist) General Yusuf Muhammad Si’ad “Indha Adde” (Dayniile Online, August 9).

Faced with the consequences of its inability or unwillingness to deal with the growing famine in central and southern Somalia, al-Shabaab has resorted to ever more desperate efforts to prevent the total depopulation of its “Emirate.” Among their more fantastic theories is Shaykh Ali Mahmud Raage’s explanation of the flight of many Somalis from Shabaab-controlled regions to refugee camps in Kenya or Ethiopia to receive the international aid that al-Shabaab forbids in most of its territory. According to the Shabaab spokesman, the non-Muslim enemy has devised a new strategy to “transport [Somalis] abroad, especially to Christian countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, so that their faith can be destroyed and [so] that they could be staff and soldiers for the Christians” (AFP, July 30).

It is very likely that the Islamist movement’s ineffectual response to the massive drought and famine (“pray for rain”) has irreparably damaged the movement’s credibility as a political movement in Somalia. However, al-Shabaab has displayed a remarkable resiliency for an often divided movement that seems to excel at disappointing old friends and making new enemies. Given its temporarily diminished capacity for direct military confrontation, it can be expected that the movement will pursue other highly familiar tactics, such as kidnappings, bombings and assassinations.

Some Somali sources report that Shaykh Ahmad Abdi Godane “Abu Zubayr’s” controversial leadership of al-Shabaab has come to an end with his replacement by Shaykh Ibrahim Haji Jama “al-Afghani,” a former al-Shabaab chief in Kismayo, deputy to Godane and veteran of fighting in Kashmir and Afghanistan. His activities since his return to Somalia, including the murder of several foreigners in 2003-2004, have earned him a 25-year prison sentence issued in absentia in his native Somaliland. Like Abdi Godane, Ibrahim Haji is a member of the Isaaq clan of northern Somalia. Abdi Godane inserted many Isaaq into senior leadership positions in al-Shabaab even though most of the movement’s fighters hail from southern Somali clans. Somali sources say the appointment was supported by senior al-Shabaab members Mukhtar Robow “Abu Mansur,” Shaykh Fu’ad Shongole and Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys (Somali Broadcasting Corporation Online [Puntland], August 9).   

Shaykh Mukhtar Robow, who commands the largest contingent in al-Shabaab, has sought Godane’s replacement for nearly a year now, following the failed “Ramadan Offensive” that was repelled with heavy losses to Mukhtar Robow’s southern Somali Rahanweyn fighters, who were pushed into the frontlines and then denied medical treatment for their wounds by order of Abdi Godane (see Terrorism Monitor Brief, October 21, 2010). Nonethelss, al-Shabaab’s spokesman, Shaykh Ali Mahmud Raage “Ali Dheere,” has asserted that reports of a leadership struggle within the movement were nothing but “enemy propaganda” (BBC Somali Service, August 13).

This article was originally published in the August 19, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Has al-Qaeda Opened a New Chapter in the Sinai Peninsula?

Andrew McGregor

August 17, 2011

The one area of Egypt that appeared ready to explode into violence during last January’s revolution was the Sinai. Unlike the unarmed, peaceful demonstrators that filled the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, the Bedouin tribesmen of the Sinai were well armed and already engaged in a low-level conflict with Egyptian authorities over a number of issues, including Bedouin smuggling activities, a traditional occupation that has lately become politicized through Bedouin interaction with radical Islamists in Gaza, the end-user of the weapons the desert dwellers are shipping to Sinai’s eastern border. Possibly the only reason a large-scale conflict did not break out in Sinai at the time was the flight or desertion of nearly all the police and security forces based in Sinai after a number of attacks on police stations. Now, however, after a growing number of acts of militancy and the release of an alarming video allegedly depicting the formation of an al-Qaeda-sympathetic movement in Sinai known as al-Shabaab al-Islam (The Youth of Islam), Egypt’s security forces are back, this time accompanied by a significant military presence. [1] The release of the video and a subsequent statement followed an attack on an al-Arish police station in northeast Sinai and the fifth attack this year on a pipeline supplying natural gas to Israel

Al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula

An August 2 pamphlet distributed in al-Arish entitled “A Statement from al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula” displayed a mix of local and regional concerns, demanding an Islamic Emirate in the Sinai, an end to the exploitation of Sinai’s wealth by non-residents, the full implementation of Shari’a, an end to discrimination against the Bedouin, the revocation of Egypt’s treaties with Israel and Egyptian military intervention on behalf of the Palestinians in Gaza. It also questioned the military government’s efforts to halt drug-smuggling in the region ( [Cairo], August 2; Bikya Masr [Cairo], August 2). Though the video was carried on jihadi websites before being taken down by its host, the declaration of a new branch of al-Qaeda in this highly sensitive and strategic region has yet to be supported by a statement from any of al-Qaeda’s known media outlets.