March 29, 2010

The State Run al Qaeda Camp in Northern Yemen

In Yemen, al Qaeda’s training camp in the Abu Jabara valley is no secret. It is in an old military camp between Sa’ada and al Jawf provinces, near the Saudi border, and it houses hundreds of Yemeni and foreign al Qaeda loyalists.

Acting as mercenaries for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, al Qaeda operatives fought in the Sa’ada War against the Houthi rebels. As a result, hundreds of jihaddists gained battlefield experience during the five years of brutal war. In an interview with The Jawa Report's Jane Novak, Yemeni politician Hassan Zaid recommended the terrorists in Abu Jabara be disarmed now that the war has ended.

Corrupt al Qaeda

Despite their high flown rhetoric, Quoranic citations and photo-shopped internet magazine, al Qaeda in Yemen is just as corrupt as the Saleh regime itself. The enmeshment of al Qaeda with Yemen’s subverted military and intelligence services is a product of long standing relationships that stretch from the caves of Afghanistan to the presidential palace in Sana’a.

The sixth round of the Sa’ada War ended in February when President Saleh declared a ceasefire. Yemen’s ability to construct a durable peace is doubtful. Disengagement is moving slowly. A frank assessment of the underlying issues of exclusion, religious pluralism, development and equality never occurred.

The rebels are required to turn in their weapons as one condition of the cease fire. Opposition politician Hassan Zaid said the terrorists in the Abu Jabara al Qaeda camp should be disarmed as well. "This group sours the atmosphere of peace,” Mr. Zaid noted to al Tagheer.

Al Qaeda with Official Passports

The rebels are Zaidis, a Shiite offshoot, and claim religious discrimination by the state. Mr. Zaid leads the Zaidi oriented al Haqq opposition party and previously headed the Joint Meeting Parties, Yemen’s opposition coalition. He disputed the notion that he was the rebels “spiritual leader” as regime propaganda the Yemen Post reported.

In my interview, Mr. Zaid confirmed that the al Qaeda fighters in Abu Jabara participated in the war against the Houthi rebels. “Our brothers said there are around 500-800 (al Qaeda) fighters training there under General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar’s command,” he said.

A powerful military commander, General al Ahmar is President Saleh’s half brother and, as commander of the North West region, led the war against the rebels. Al Ahmar recruited fighters for Osama bin Laden during the Afghan jihad in the 1980’s and is reputed to facilitate several al Qaeda groups in Yemen.

“They are well armed and holding authorized (official) ID which enables them to move between Yemen and Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Zaid told me. “They joined the government to fight the rebels. They are well supported and financed by (sources within) Saudi Arabia, and they are better-off, richer, than other Qaeda members in Yemen.”

Foreign al Qaeda in Northern Yemen

The al Qaeda group in Sa’ada includes foreign fighters, but the presence of westerners is unclear. In March 2009, the southern weekly Attagammua reported, “Local sources in Saada confirmed that members of various Arab nationalities as well as citizens from different provinces” were in Abu Jubara. The papers sources noted “the striking emergence of Salafist groups in the city of Saada, and the effort to build a center for Yemeni al-Qaeda in Yemen.”

The independent Yemen Times reported foreign fighters in Sa’ada the same month: “Thousands of Jihadist groups, or Salafia – including Yemenis and foreigners from neighboring Arab and non-Arab countries (were) gathering against the Houthis in coordination with the army under the management of military centers and sheikhs…”

In June 2009, al Eshteraki, mouthpiece of the Yemeni Socialists Party (YSP), said that large numbers of al-Qaeda operatives and other jihadist organizations in the Abu Jabara camp had gathered to meet “the Shiite tide,” represented by the Houthi rebels.

“It was originally an official camp of the armed forces of Yemen that was abandoned,” al Eshteraki reported, noting the camp is under the stewardship of Afghan Arabs inducted into the Yemeni military after they fought for President Saleh in the 1994 civil war. Usama bin Laden supplied fighters and arms to President Saleh’s jihaddist forces as they battled southern socialists in the 1994 civil war, the New York Times reported.

In December 2009, Attagammua again reported that al Qaeda terrorists who returned to Yemen after fighting American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan were in Sa'ada, fighting for the Yemen state.

State Support

The sixth round of the Sa’ada War broke out in August. In October, with the war raging, the Houthi rebels’ website, al Menpar, published an article referencing the Abu Jabara camp that alleged a high level al Qaeda leader had sold al Qaeda’s services to the Yemeni state.

“They agreed that the government will provide them with light weapons and the Al Qaida fighters will participate in the war against the rebels. Omar Obadah and his followers who just came back from Saudi Arabia (had) received some training in Afghanistan.”

According to al Menpar, some current al Qaeda leaders in Sa’ada were previously imprisoned in Saudi Arabia and others had escaped in the infamous 2006 al Qaeda jailbreak in Yemen.

“Many sources affirm that this coalition is beneficial to both parties, the Yemeni government, and al Qaeda leaders, and the Saudi’s as well. The Saudi embraced and supported (the camp) because they consider the Houthi rebels in the north as infidels from their perspective,” the article concluded.

In January 2010, Saada Online found a similar arrangement between al Qaeda and the state. The al Qaeda camp in Abu Jabara valley is funded by Saudi sources, the investigation found. After receiving arms and ammunition from the government, the al Qaeda mercenaries “attacked the rebels from behind” the Saudi border. The al Qaeda group coordinates through intermediaries at General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar’s office, the site said, noting some al Qaeda operatives were integrated directly into the military, and the group has freedom of movement across the Saudi/Yemeni border at the al Baqea crossing.

The sixth Sa’ada War took a heavy toll. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are internal refugees. Months of extensive bombing by Yemeni and Saudi air forces targeted markets, mosques, hospitals and refugees. Over 9000 structures were damaged. The Abu Jabara camp was not. It is thought that six western hostages kidnapped in June 2009, a German family and a British engineer, may be located in Abu Jabara. The external focus of al Qaeda in Yemen is a logical outcome of its merger with Yemeni state institutions.

Read more: Al Qaeda in Yemen, Mercenaries or Terrorists? The Long War Journal, April 2008

By Jane at 08:55 PM | Comments |