x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

We can fight al Qa'eda, minister says

Yemen is capable of fighting the threat of al Qa¿eda and must not be compared to failed states such as Somalia, its foreign minister says.

QASR AL SARAB, ABU DHABI // Yemen is capable of fighting the threat of al Qa'eda and must not be compared to failed states such as Somalia, its foreign minister said.

Abu Bakr al Qirbi dismissed comparisons between Yemen and Somalia, where insurgencies, a refugee crisis and food shortages have stripped the central government in Mogadishu of control over much of the country.

Yemen would not become a failed state, he stressed.

Mr al Qirbi spoke as foreign ministers, diplomats and academics from the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia gathered for the Sir Bani Yas Forum, inaugurated on Friday by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Yemen's ability to deal with al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was called into question after two parcel-bombs hidden in air cargo were discovered last week in Dubai and England. The parcels were addressed to synagogues in the United States, but may have been wired to explode in mid-flight. They were shipped from Yemen.

Mr al Qirbi said Yemen had tightened security procedures for cargo shipping and at its airports.

"If they ask themselves about counter-terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the difficulties these countries face, including the United States, which has a much bigger capability than Yemen, I think our security forces have managed a lot of achievements in facing al Qa'eda," he said.

The minister said intelligence co-operation between Yemen and Saudi Arabia had led to the arrest of numerous al Qa'eda members, and such co-operation between Arab states had been essential to uncovering the plot to place bombs in air cargo.

When asked if the US had used drone strikes in Yemen, Mr al Qarbi said the US provided only intelligence to his country, and strikes against terrorists were carried out by Yemeni forces only.

"The United States co-operates with Yemen in intelligence, but the operations are conducted by the Yemeni security forces," he said. "Yemen has combat aircraft."

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the US had deployed drones to hunt al Qa'eda, but that they had not fired any missiles.

Mr al Qarbi said Yemen was expanding on security measures that were added last December, after Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, attempted to blow up a plane from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Eve. Mr Abdulmutallab is believed to have been radicalised by Anwar al Awlaki, an American-Yemeni and a leading figure in AQAP.

The country was no longer going to rely on delivery companies to inspect cargo shipments, and the government would intervene directly in the process, he said.

"Yemen has now of course put additional curbs on sending cargo," he said. "For cargo they used to rely on companies that are in charge of sending this cargo because they are responsible for inspecting them for safety.

"The government has now had to intervene directly to place restrictions."

Mr al Qarbi stressed the importance of intelligence co-operation between Arab countries.

"There is intelligence cooperation between Yemen and all the Arab countries, with Saudi Arabia more than other countries because of our relationship and the movement of terrorists between Yemen and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," he said.

Security analysts say the Saudi and Yemeni branches of AQAP have merged.

"There is intelligence co-operation which, in truth, has allowed for the arrest of several al Qa'eda elements and they were exchanged between the two countries," the minister said.