Thousands of southerners condemn 'indiscriminate' military operation against al Qa'eda camps and demand investigation.
Yemenis protest at killing of civilians
SANA'A // Thousands of people took to the streets of southern Yemen yesterday to denounce a recent military operation against suspected al Qa'eda militants which locals said claimed the lives of dozens of innocent civilians. According to local sources, about 3,000 people in Dhal'e province and hundreds in Lahj and Abyan provinces condemned the military operation. Angry protesters shouted anti-government slogans and demanded an investigation into the attack. The Yemeni authorities said on Thursday that they had launched military raids against al Qa'eda training camps in the Abyan village of al Maajala, some 480km south-east of the capital Sana'a, and in Arhab district, 60km to the north-east of Sana'a. The operations killed up to 34 suspected militants, including four would-be suicide bombers hiding in Arhab, who had planned to attack domestic and foreign interests in the country, including foreign schools, and led to the arrest of 17 others, according to government officials. The Yemeni military's website put the number of arrested suspects at 29, including four suspected al Qa'eda militants targeted by the Thursday operation who had been found in Yemeni hospitals in the southern port city of Aden after they were taken to hospital by their families. The Southern Movement, which hopes to secede from the north, said the raids were an attack on the people of the south, not al Qa'eda. "This is genocide, targeting the people of the south. We have called [on] all the people of the south to denounce this attack in massive protests on Monday [tomorrow]. We urge the international community to investigate this massacre," said Abbass al Asal, a leading politician in the Southern Movement. Mr al Asal said the air and ground attack killed 64 civilians, including 23 children and 17 women in Abyan, though the number of civilians killed in the raids has not been verified. Yaslm Naser, the general director of al Mahfad district, to which al Maajala belongs, said the attack targeted al Qa'eda but did not differentiate between militants and civilians. The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), an opposition coalition of six parties, including the Islah Islamist party, denounced targeting civilians at a rally of 10,000 people in Taiz province, 260km south of Sana'a. Mohammed al Radaee, a leading member of the coalition, described the attack as a "heinous crime". The JMP called on the Southern Movement to support the unity of the country and use peaceful means in its fight for change in the region. The defence ministry said yesterday that a Saudi national was identified among the suspected al Qa'eda militants killed in the operation in the south. "Among the al Qa'eda elements who were buried in Sebrah cemetery is Ibrahim al Najdi, a Saudi national. A letter was found in his pocket addressed to him. Five other unidentified militants were buried in Zarah cemetery," the official army website said yesterday. Militant Saudi and Yemeni Salafists announced in January this year that they had joined forces under the name al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula, using Yemen as their base. Al Qa'eda militants in Yemen have already crossed into Saudi Arabia to conduct terrorist operations, including an attempt this year to assassinate the Saudi deputy interior minister. The military website said the operation targeted a training camp for al Qa'eda militants including Mohammed Saleh al Kazimi, Mukbil Awadh, Ahmed Awadh, Mithaq al Jalad and Abdullah Awadh, who were all killed in the operation. It also said that Qasim al Raimi and Hizam Mujali, who are both leading militants in al Qa'eda in Yemen, fled the raid that targeted their hideout in Arhab. The two militants were tried for their connection with the bombing of a French tanker in 2001 in southern Yemen. They were among the 23 militants who escaped from prision in 2006. The Supreme National Defence Council, the highest security institution in the country, praised the operation in a meeting yesterday. The meeting, chaired by Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president, said Yemen is resolved to continue its fight against terrorism and hunting down al Qa'eda militants to stop their plans to destabilise Yemen. After denouncing the operation, state media accused the Southern Movement leaders of backing al Qa'eda. However, Mr al Asal said such accusations were "ridiculous". "The regime wants to show the south as a haven for al Qa'eda while everybody knows the cozy relationship between the regime and those militants. We in the Southern Movement condemn al Qa'eda and its activities," said Mr al Asal. "Our fight for independence is peaceful and civilised. We can never accept that the south turns into a harbour for terrorism." The US provided firepower and other aid to Yemen in this week's strike against the suspected al Qa'eda hideouts and training camps, The New York Times reported yesterday. Barack Obama, the US president, approved the military and intelligence support, which came at the request of the Yemeni government. It was intended to help stem growing attacks against US and other foreign targets in Yemen, the Times reported on its website late on Friday. Government officials in Sana'a did not comment. However, Abdulghani al Iryani, an independent political analyst, said US involvement was likely but that its disclosure by US officials would undermine the Yemeni government. "The American involvement in this operation is very possible. And the word 'firepower' implies different types of involvement, including missile attacks launched by the Americans rather than an air raid by the Yemeni army as people are saying now," Mr al Iryani said. "The announcement on the US involvement is counterproductive." "There will be [an impact] from this announcement as people have started saying that this is an internal issue and the Americans should not be involved in it," he added. The government is facing multiple challenges, including an insurgency in the north, a growing secessionist movement in the south and al Qa'eda threats on top of severe economic hardships. Southerners complain that any partnership after unification in 1990 was destroyed by the 1994 civil war. For the past three years, the southern part of Yemen has seen weekly protests over economic and political marginalisation. firstname.lastname@example.org