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

The Battle for Zinjibar: The Tribes of Yemen’s Abyan Governorate Join the Fight against Islamic Militancy

Andrew McGregor

August 12, 2011

As if Yemen did not already face enough political, social and economic challenges in the midst of a multi-sided civil war, there are significant and not unreasonable fears in the Yemeni opposition that President Ali Abdullah Saleh has manufactured a new conflict between the state and al-Qaeda in Abyan governorate designed to ensure Western support for his continued rule. Many Yemeni political and military leaders insist the bitter and ongoing battle for the coastal city of Zinjibar (capital of Abyan governorate) is merely the culmination of a decade long policy of manipulating the al-Qaeda threat.

Yemen’s military is badly divided at the moment; some units and commanders have crossed over to the opposition, some units are engaged with Huthist rebels in northern Yemen, some (such as the Republican Guard) are devoted to crushing protestors, and still others, such as the leadership of the embattled 25th Brigade in Zinjibar, say they are neither pro- nor anti-regime, but will fight to the death to prevent an al-Qaeda takeover.

Saleh’s regime has attempted to capitalize on the seizure of Zinjibar as a warning of what can result from the instability sweeping Yemen as a result of anti-regime protests, describing the militants as “members of al-Qaeda [who] benefit from any instability to establish their Islamic state (Yemen Times, June 2).

The Islamist Takeover of Zinjibar: Betrayal at the Top?

According to official reports, Zinjibar was taken by about 300 Islamist militants (which the government identified as al-Qaeda) in late May after two days of fighting with government forces (AFP, May 29). Residents of Zinjibar reached by Western media provided a different version of events, describing a city abandoned to militants who went on a looting spree (BBC, May 29). Only the 25th Brigade refused to evacuate the city and was soon surrounded by militant forces. It seems that the original 300 militants received substantial reinforcements before tribal forces recently began cutting the roads into Zinjibar.

Not long after the occupation reports began to appear in the jihadist forums of the proclamation of an “Islamic Emirate of Abyan,” as declared by AQAP (Ansar1.info, March 28; al-Bawaba, March 31). The forces in Zinjibar, however, are gathered under the banner of the newly formed Ansar al-Shari’a (al-Watan [Sana’a], August 4). The exact identity of the Islamist forces in Zinjibar remains uncertain. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has not issued any statements regarding the fighting there, though government statements routinely refer to the forces occupying the city as “al-Qaeda.”

Yemen’s foreign minister, Abu-Bakr al-Qirbi, strongly denied suggestions that the government was using al-Qaeda in Zinjibar to further its own interests and collect Western funding intended for anti-terrorism activities: “It cannot be said that the state that spares no effort in fighting [al-Qaeda], is the one that planted it there” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 29).

Perhaps reflecting the level of suspicion that surrounds the Saleh regime, some commentators in Yemen’s press have rejected the notion that al-Qaeda has anything to do with the events in Abyan (al-Masdar [Sana’a], July 26). Ali Nasir Muhammad, a leading figure in the separatist Southern Mobility Movement (SMM) views the seizure of Zinjibar by Islamist militants as part of an effort to create international concern over the future of south Yemen, tarnishing in the process “the image of the southern peaceful struggle” (Ma’rib Press, July 27). Meanwhile, the Abyan Forum for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Solidarity denounced the “suspicious alliance” between the army and al-Qaeda, which it suggested was impeding “any victory over terrorism” (Aden Press Online, July 31).

The 25th Mechanized Brigade Besieged

General Muhammad al-Sawmali, commander of the 25th Mechanized Brigade, based on the east side of Zinjibar, has been steadfast in his refusal to abandon Zinjibar in the fashion of the other security services and military units based there. The General caustically remarked: “God bless our colleagues in the Public Security, Police, and Central Security who pulled out of the governorate and left behind all their military equipment and munitions as a gift for al-Qaeda elements… I do not want to go too far and accuse my colleagues of complicity with al-Qaeda against us and I do not cast doubt about them… but we can say that it is cowardice and fear that filled them after the governor, his deputies, and directors of departments left Zinjibar” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 27).