Shiite rebels abduct, then release, Yemen’s intelligence chief

YemenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Shiite rebels, who are in control of most of Yemeni capital Sana’a, released the country’s intelligence chief a few hours after abducting him from his home, according to local sources. The chief, Major General Yehia al-Marani, directs Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO), and is regularly referred to as the second most powerful security official in the country, after the director of the country’s National Security Bureau. The Associated Press reported early on Thursday that about 20 armed militia members appeared outside al-Marani’s home in Sana’a at daybreak and demanded that the general come with them. The PSO chief ordered his bodyguards to lay down their weapons and then went away escorted by the rebels. Al-Marani’s kidnappers were almost certainly Houthi militiamen, who are members of a Shiite militant group known as Ansarullah. The Houthis, who come from western Yemen, have been engaged in a secessionist armed struggle since 2004 against the Sunni-dominated Yemeni government. Last September, they took advantage of the power-vacuum created by the collapse of the regime of longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh and stormed the Yemeni capital, easily taking control of it within a few days. Their official reason for the takeover was their expressed desire to force President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who succeeded Saleh, to dissolve Yemen’s Sunni-led government, which the Houthis said was closely connected with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). After a period of prolonged negotiations with the rebels, President Hadi dissolved the government and replaced it with a more inclusive group of non-partisan technocrats. But the rebels refused to disband and disarm, and have since intensified their armed campaign, taking over a number of Yemeni cities and several major roads across the country. The Houthi leadership claims that they need to remain armed in order to fight militant Sunni groups operating in the country, and to battle corruption. Al-Marani was released by the rebels late on Thursday, with no explanation given as to his earlier abduction. It is believed that, before his appointment as head of PSO, the General served for 15 years as the Organization’s regional director in Sa’dah province, a Shiite stronghold where the Houthi insurgency has its roots. Some speculate that the rebels intended to settle old scores with al-Marani. Yemen government officials have refused to confirm or deny the reports of the Generals’ abduction and release.

Yemeni troops kill al-Qaeda suspects disguised as women

Yemeni women in Ta'izzBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Troops in Yemen shot dead five men, believed to be members of al-Qaeda, who tried to pass through a security checkpoint disguised as women. The incident reportedly happened on Saturday at an emergency roadside checkpoint set up by Yemeni troops in Harad, a dusty desert town located 10 miles south of Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia. According to official reports, a minivan drove up to the checkpoint carrying what appeared to be six women, which was heading toward the Saudi border. All passengers were dressed in black robes and wore the niqab, a black cloth used to hide the face and worn along with the hijab, which typically covers a woman’s hair. The niqab is worn in several Arab countries, including Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Bahrain. Yemeni soldiers conferred briefly with the male driver of the vehicle before one of them climbed onboard the minivan for a routine inspection. At that moment, one of the minivan passengers opened fire at the soldier, wounding him. The rest of the members of the inspection unit then opened fire on the passengers, killing five of them. Following the incident, the Yemeni soldiers discovered that the minivan’s passengers were all men and had been armed. An official speaking at a press conference later that day reported that at least two of those killed were Saudi citizens. He added that one of the passengers, who was also disguised as a woman, survived, as did the male driver of the minivan. All are believed to be members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an armed Islamist movement that is widely seen as the most formidable branch of al-Qaeda anywhere in the world. Following the 2011 uprising in Yemen, which was part of the Arab Spring, AQAP took advantage of the collapse of the Yemeni state and took over large swathes of territory in Sunni-dominated eastern and southern Yemen. These areas are still considered AQAP strongholds today. Security forces in Yemen often conduct roadside inspections, but they rarely enter vehicles carrying women, in an attempt to respect tribal customs in what is a very conservative part of the Arab world. Authorities in Harad said on Saturday that, following the shootout, a suicide belt and several weapons were discovered onboard the minivan. The surviving passenger is being questioned, along with the driver of the vehicle.

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

Analysis: Will 2013 Be the Year of the Unmanned Drone?

Predator droneBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As United States President Barack Obama prepares to enter his fifth year in office, one may be excused for thinking that his administration’s response to insurgency warfare essentially boils down to one thing: the joystick. This is the means by which Washington’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fleet is remotely guided, usually from the safety of ground control stations located thousands of miles away from selected targets. Even prior to last November’s Presidential election, Obama administration officials declared in every possible way that the drone campaign would remain a permanent feature of the White House’s counterinsurgency campaign. Not only that, but it seems increasingly apparent that when, on November 19, 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that America’s UAV fleet would expand, he meant it both in terms of raw numbers and geographical reach. Africa appears now to be high on the list of UAV targets. The US is currently busy establishing a large network of small air bases located in strategic locations throughout the continent, in what US observers have termed a “massive expansion” of US covert operations in Africa. 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

Danish Muslim convert claims he was CIA’s mole inside al-Qaeda

Morten StormBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A Danish citizen who converted to Islam in the early 2000s claims he was a spy for the United States Central Intelligence Agency and helped track down an American-born Islamist cleric who was killed by a drone strike in 2010. The man, who goes by the name Morten Storm, told Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that he converted to Islam while living in the United Kingdom. But he quickly grew disillusioned, he said, and in 2006 he was recruited by the Danish Police Intelligence Service (PET). In subsequent years, he traveled several times to Yemen on PET missions, and gradually managed to gain the trust of members of the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Eventually, he said, he grew close to one of AQAP’s central figures, the American-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. At that point, claims Storm, the PET turned him over to the CIA, who allegedly used him to gather information on al-Awlaki. The Danish Muslim convert claims that his role as a CIA informant was so important that US President Barack Obama knows his name. He also told the paper that it was his information that eventually helped the CIA track and assassinate the charismatic cleric. According to Storm, the CIA supplied him with a memory stick that contained a stealth Global Positioning System tracking device. He sent the memory stick to al-Awlaki, who used it on his computer, thus allowing the CIA to track him down. In April 2010, President Obama ordered that al-Awlaki’s name be included on a list of individuals that the CIA was officially authorized to kill. Little less than a year later, on September 30, 2011, the cleric and three other suspected members of AQAP were killed when their car was hit by two Hellfire missiles in Yemen’s northern al-Jawf province. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #795

Shakil AfridiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US ‘cannot verify authenticity’ of Afridi interview. The US says it cannot verify an alleged interview by Shakeel Afridi, a Pakistani medical doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden. In May, a Pakistani court sentenced Afridi to 33 years in jail after he was arrested following the killing by US troops of bin Laden in May 2011 at his compound in the town of Abbottabad. US television channel Fox News said Tuesday it had obtained an exclusive phone interview with Afridi from behind bars, in which he detailed months of torture by Pakistan’s shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence.
►►Evidence suggests US covered up Soviet massacre in Poland. New evidence appears to back the idea that the US administration of President F.D. Roosevelt helped cover up Soviet guilt for the 1940 Katyn massacre, in which more than 22,000 Poles were killed by the Soviets on Stalin’s orders. Historians said documents, released by the US National Archives, supported the suspicion that the US did not want to anger its wartime ally, Joseph Stalin. The documents show that American prisoners of war sent coded messages to Washington in 1943 saying that the killings must have been carried out by the Soviets, rather than the Nazis. Information about the massacre was suppressed at the highest levels in Washington, say historians.
►►Yemen President sacks intel agency heads. Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has sacked the heads of the National Security Agency and  Military Intelligence, just a few hours after two suicide car bombs targeted the country’s Defense Minister in the capital Sana’a killing at least 12 people. The National Security Agency’s Ali Mohammed al-Anisi has been replaced with Ali Hassan al-Ahmadi, while the head of Military Intelligence, Mujahid Ali Ghuthaim, has been replaced with Ahmed Muhsin al-Yafiee. Hadi took office in February this year after year-long street protests forced former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down as part of an UN-backed power transfer deal in return for immunity from prosecution.