US-backed alliance in Yemen war bribes, recruits al-Qaeda warlords, report finds

Al-Qaeda in YemenYemeni militias backed by Saudi Arabia, the United States and the United Arab Emirates are actively paying off al-Qaeda-allied factions to abstain from the fighting, and are recruiting al-Qaeda members to fight against Shiite rebels, according to a new investigative report. Ever since 2015, when the civil war in Yemen broke out, the US, along with its Arab allies UAE and Saudi Arabia, has supported Sunni troops in their war against Shiite Houthi rebels. The latter are believed to be supported by Iran, and the US-backed coalition is engaged in an effort to curtail what it sees as Iranian expansionism in the Middle East.

But Iranian-supported fighters are just one of the many well-armed factions involved in the Yemeni Civil War, which Washington is ostensibly against. Another such faction is Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Peninsula (AQAP), believed to be the strongest surviving branch of the group that carried out the attacks of September 11, 2001. For several years now, the US-led coalition in Yemen has argued that its forces have severely limited AQAP’s strength and ability to fight, and that the group’s territorial control has been shattered. But a new investigative report published on Monday by the Associated Press argues that the reason why AQAP’s activities appear to have decreased in Yemen, is that its commanders are being bribed by US-backed Sunni militias and that its fighters are being recruited to fight against the Houthis. As strict Sunni Salafists, AQAP members view the Shiite Houthis as apostates and enemies of Islam. They are therefore “effectively on the same side as the Saudi-led coalition” in Yemen, note the editors of the Associated Press report. Citing “interviews with two dozen officials, including Yemeni security officers, militia commanders, tribal mediators and […] members of al-Qaeda”, the report’s authors say that US-backed Sunni militias “actively recruit al-Qaeda militants […] because they’re considered exceptional fighters”.

The Associated Press report also claims that the Sunni coalition has struck a series of secret agreements with AQAP, under which it paid off its fighters to abandon several Yemeni towns that were under their control. Upon leaving, these AQAP fighters were allowed to take with them tons of military equipment and valuables, including cash. In one case, AQAP was bribed to abandon the port city of Mukalla, Yemen’s fifth-largest urban center, and its fighters were allowed to keep their weapons and up to $100 million in looted cash deposits, said the Associated Press. In another case, AQAP militants were paid off to leave several towns in Yemen’s Abyan province, and 250 of them were incorporated into the so-called Security Belt, a Sunni militia backed by the government of the UAE. The AQAP fighters reportedly told their Security Belt commanders that they would “unite with the devil [himself] in the face of Houthis”.

The Associated Press notes that there is no evidence that funds supplied to Yemeni Sunni militias by the US have ended up into the hands of AQAP. Additionally, the US government has repeatedly denied accusations by Russia, Syria, and others that it supports various al-Qaeda factions. However, the Associated Press argues that the US Pentagon has been privy to the secret agreements between the Sunni militias and AQAP, which some say may end up strengthening al-Qaeda’s most formidable local branch anywhere in the world.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 August 2018 | Research credit: M.A. | Permalink

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Al-Qaeda still a more serious threat than ISIS, says ex-CIA official

Al-Qaeda in YemenAl-Qaeda and its affiliates continue to pose the most serious unconventional threat to American security, despite the meteoric rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, according to a former senior official in the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Michael Morell, who was deputy director of the CIA, and served twice as the Agency’s acting director, did not deny that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, poses a significant threat to the security of the US. However, the militant group “is not the most significant threat to the homeland today”, he said. Morell made the comment while speaking on Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, while promoting his new book, The Great War of Our Time: An Insider’s Account of the CIA’s Fight Against Al Qa’ida.

The former CIA official told his audience that the most serious unconventional threat to the US continues to come from three al-Qaeda groups, all of which remain far cogent and willing to engage the US on its home soil. According to Morell, the three groups consist of the so-called ‘al-Qaeda Central’ in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as its Syrian branch, known as the Khorasan Group, and its Yemen affiliate, which goes by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He added that the last three serious efforts to strike the US with the intent of causing mass casualties all came from AQAP. Morell was referring to the 2009 so-called ‘underwear bomber’ and the 2010 ‘ink-cartridge bomb plot’, as well as the ‘plastic suicide vest bomb pot’ in 2012, all of which were unsuccessful. The former CIA official said that, unlike ISIS, al-Qaeda has “the ability to bring down an airliner in the US tomorrow”. Most importantly, he added, unlike ISIS, al-Qaeda has shown willingness to confront America on its home soil.

Morell’s argument echoed similar comments expressed in September 2014 by the then-Director of the US National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen. Olsen, who held the US’ most senior counterterrorism post until his retirement last year, opined at a forum in Washington that ISIS did not currently pose a direct threat to America or Western Europe. He added that the risk of a “spectacular, al-Qaeda-style attack” on American or European targets by ISIS was negligible, saying that ISIS was “significantly more limited than al-Qaeda”, especially in the run-up to 9/11.

Analysis: Why were Western diplomats evacuated from Yemen?

YemenBy J. FITSANAKIS and I. ALLEN | intelNews.org |
American and British embassies in Yemeni capital Sana’a were evacuated on Tuesday, soon after the United States closed 19 of its diplomatic representations in the Middle East and North Africa due to fears of a pending terrorist attack. But why exactly did the evacuations of diplomatic personnel take place in Sana’a? The Yemeni government announced on Wednesday that it had foiled a large-scale attack by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which allegedly aimed to cripple the country’s frail economy. According to Yemeni government spokesperson Rajeh Badi, the attack was planned to take place in the country’s central Hadramout governorate, which includes the port cities of al-Mukkala and Ghail Ba Wazir. The Yemeni government said the AQAP forces planned to blow up several oil pipelines before proceeding to occupy the two port cities, from which the majority of Yemen’s oil exports are shipped. Badi added that AQAP planned to take several foreign oil workers hostage as part of the military operations.

However, as Foreign Policy magazine’s Dana Stuster points out, Mohammed Albasha, spokesman of the Yemeni embassy in Washington, DC, seems to dispute his own government’s claims. Early on Wednesday, Albasha tweeted that, in his view, “AQAP doesn’t have the man power nor the capabilities to capture a city the size of Mukkala in Hadramout”, let alone Ghail Ba Wazir. Read more of this post

Saudi diplomat shot dead in Yemen by gunmen disguised as soldiers

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
An official at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Yemen has been shot dead along with this Yemeni bodyguard by a group of gunmen disguised as government security forces. According to television station al-Arabiya, which is owned by the Saudi government, the diplomat and his bodyguard were killed on Wednesday when their car was “raked with gunfire” in the heart of Yemeni capital Sana’a. Later in the day, the incident was confirmed by the Kingdom’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which identified the assassinated diplomat as Sergeant Khaled Shobeikan al-Anzi. IntelNews understands that al-Anzi worked as an aide to the Military Attaché at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Sana’a. There are rumors, however, that his diplomatic credentials may have been a cover for his intelligence work for Al-Mukhabarat Al-A’amah, Saudi Arabia’s military intelligence agency. Sources in Yemen report that the attack took place in Haddah, one of Sana’a’s more exclusive districts, which houses the majority of foreign embassies and diplomatic compounds in the capital. It is also worth noting that the assailants were reportedly “dressed in the uniforms of [Yemen’s] Central Security Organization”, a 50,000-strong National Guard-type force that operates under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior. Wednesday’s assassination of the Saudi diplomat is the latest incident in a series of attacks against diplomatic targets in Sana’a, which have included employees in the British and American embassies there. In late March of this year, Islamist militants kidnapped Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Consul in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden, who remains in captivity. Read more of this post

Would be al-Qaeda bomber was Saudi double agent

YemenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The man tasked by al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch to blow up an airliner bound for the United States last month, was a mole who had been recruited by Saudi intelligence. IntelNews understands that the double agent is a Saudi citizen who volunteered to act as an informant for Saudi authorities. The latter eventually tasked him with traveling to Yemen, joining al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and convincing its leaders that he was willing to carry out a suicide mission against Western targets. It is not known at this point whether the Saudis kept the United States Central Intelligence Agency in the loop from the moment the mole was sent to Yemen to join AQAP. What is known is that the man did indeed manage to penetrate AQAP and was eventually entrusted with attacking a civilian airliner with a custom-built bomb designed to fit seamlessly around his scrotum. However, instead of carrying out the suicide mission as agreed, the man left Yemen for Saudi Arabia and delivered both himself and the bomb to Saudi intelligence. The Saudis eventually notified the CIA of the foiled plot, before forwarding the deactivated explosive device to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is now studying it. Thus, initial media reports claiming that the CIA had foiled the attack appear somewhat stretched at this point, in light of the critical role of the Saudi mole inside AQAP. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #674

John KiriakouBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Ex-CIA officers blast Kiriakou. Two former CIA intelligence officials, who spoke to The Washington Times, have rejected the image of John Kiriakou as a high-minded whistleblower who sought to expose official wrongdoing or a botched intelligence operation. Bruce Klingner, who worked as an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA, called Mr. Kiriakou’s alleged actions “a betrayal of the trust the US government placed in him”. Bart Bechtel, a former CIA clandestine officer, said he considered Kiriakou’s actions “egregious”.
►►US air strikes in Yemen go largely unreported. Last Tuesday’s attacks in southern Yemen were among the biggest carried out by the United States in Yemen since airstrikes began there in November 2002. These strikes underline how the Americans are escalating covert operations against two Islamist groups in the region –al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia’s al-Shabaab.
►►West explores prospects for Assad’s exile. The United States, European governments and Arab states have begun discussing the possibility of exile for Bashar al-Assad despite skepticism the defiant Syrian president is ready to consider such an offer, Western officials said on Wednesday. While talks have not progressed far and there is no real sense that Assad’s fall is imminent, one official said as many as three countries were willing to take him as a way to bring an end to Syria’s bloody 10-month-old crisis.

Obama extends ‘war on terrorism’ theater to Yemen

Sa’dah insurgents

Sa’dah rebels

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Think what you like about Barack Obama. The fact is, his administration is currently overseeing the most rapid expansion in the nine-year history of Washington’s so-called ‘war on terrorism’. The operations theater of this ever-expanding war now includes territories deep inside Pakistan (not just near the Afghan borderlands), as well as parts of Saudi Arabia and Yemen. With respect to the latter, intelNews is one of a handful of specialized outlets that began paying attention to US involvement there before the US airstrikes of last December, which in the eyes of the Arab world, formalized America’s military presence in the country. As predicted at the time, the strikes, which were accompanied by a Saudi military invasion of Yemen, became a rallying cry for both Sunni and Shiite Islamists in the Yemen-Saudi border, and have caused increased activity by both Shiite (Sa’dah insurgency) and Sunni (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, known as AQAP) militants. Read more of this post