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