Yemen Islamists sentenced for “illegal” Israel contacts

al-Haidari

al-Haidari

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On January 10, I reported on the arrests in Yemen of three individuals, who were accused by Yemen’s President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, of working for “an Islamist terrorist cell with links to Israeli intelligence”. Prosecutors told a Yemeni court that one of the arrestees, Bassam al-Haidari (a.k.a. Abu al-Ghaith), 26, communicated with Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert via email, offering to collaborate with Israeli authorities prior to the September 17, 2008, attack on the US Embassy in Yemen’s capital Sana’a. The intercepted emails allegedly show that al-Haidari wrote to Olmert “[w]e are the Organisation of Islamic Jihad and you are Jews, but you are honest, and we are ready to do anything”. The Yemeni government claims that Olmert (or, more likely, someone from Israeli intelligence who was forwarded al-Haidari’s message) actually wrote back telling al-Haidari “[w]e are ready to support you […] as an agent”. On Monday, a Yemeni court sentenced al-Haidari to death for “making illegal contact with the Zionist Jewish Israeli entity” (Yemen does not recognize Israel). Al-Haidari’s co-defendants, Imad al-Rimi, 23, and Ali al-Mahfal, 24, were given five-year and three-year prison terms. Speaking on behalf of Ehud Olmert, Mark Regev dismissed the Yemeni government’s allegations as “completely far-fetched”. However, as I explained last January, if true, Yemen’s accusations will not signify the first time that Israeli intelligence agencies have actively supported militant Islamist groups in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the three Yemeni defendants have vowed to appeal.

Analysis: Why is Yemen Accusing Israel of Ties to Islamist Groups?

There is admittedly nothing new about the discovery of yet another Islamic militant cell in Yemen. Significant al-Qaeda presence has long been detected in that country. Eyebrows are bound to be raised, however, at news of a recent formal accusation by the Yemeni government that Israel offered to assist Islamist militants who had “prepared […] car bombs to attack governmental buildings and embassies”. Bizarrely, three Islamist militants arrested last week have been accused by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh of working for “a terrorist cell with links to Israeli intelligence, [which] ha[s] been dismantled”. On January 10, a Yemeni court heard that one of the accused militants communicated with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert via email, offering to collaborate with Israeli authorities in 2008. These allegations may seem ludicrous, to say the least. However, if true, they will not signify the first time that Israeli intelligence agencies have actively supported militant Islamist groups in the Middle East. Surprised? Joseph Fitsanakis explains.