ABYAN, Feb. 1 — Many Yemenis, and especially those in Abyan governorate, are blaming the new government for a loss of sovereignty after a US drone strike killed 11 Al-Qaeda members on Yemeni soil on Monday.
The drones fired four missles; two exploded and the remaining two are still ‘active’ and “may explode at any time,” eyewitnesses – who have been present for such strikes in the past – told the Yemen Times. The missiles sit 50 meters away from the nearest village.
“Three Al-Qaeda leaders are confirmed to be dead, while another two were wounded” said Amr Al-Tammah, a cameraman who was working in the area at the time of the attack. He said that the other six were members of Al-Qaeda.
“All the health centers refused to deal with the remains and corpses of the dead members of Al-Qaeda,” said Khaled Al-Abda, a reporter in Abyan.
On Wednesday morning, one of the two wounded men died. He was buried by Ansar Al-Sharia at their cemetery on Wednesday afternoon.
The Yemen Times has learned that Naser Al-Wahaishi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was not among the dead.
Al-Tammah told the Yemen Times that the first strike happened at 10:45 PM at Imkhader village. The strikes targeted a vehicle belonging to the group; the first attempt missed, while the second strike successfully struck the target.
“The attack was in a place in the desert where locals usually play football,” said Al-Tammah.
One of the killed leaders, Fathi Ma’wala, is claimed to be a relative of vice president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Saeed Al-Jumhi, a research specialist in terrorism and militant groups, said that what happened doesn’t necessarily indicate anything negative against the upcoming president or that he might have relatives with links to Al-Qaeda. However, Al-Jumhi said that if the upcoming president does have relatives linked to Al-Qaeda, this might provide an opportunity to fight terrorism.
“VP Hadi is from Al-Wadhee’ in Abyan; his being from the area would help convince locals to forgo Al-Qaeda, and that Al-Qaeda powers should withdraw from the area,” he explained.
One of the reasons the public protested against the regime last year was it’s record of allowing the US to take military actions on Yemeni lands as part of their counter-terrorism strategy. The National Unity government was expected to assuage public anger and act on its demands.
“It’s frustrating that the National Unity government could not keep Yemeni sovereignty on Yemeni air and land, but they do face big challenges…it is early to blame them” said Mohammed al-Said, Abyan local council member. Al-Said added however that the council can’t offer any reassurances to Abyan citizens that such strikes won’t hit them or that their lives are safe.
“The local council has been marginalized for six months now as a result of the governorate’s security situation. One of the threats in the area is these drone strikes,” he said.
For his part, Al-Jumahi warned that American drone activity could allow terrorist groups to grab public sympathy fast, allowing them to recruit more members.
“The military attacks against these groups will help in eliminating two or three or even ten terrorists but on the other hand will provide the militant groups with acceptable excuses for being in the area. This will make people stand on their sides and picture the situation as an American invasion of Yemen.”
He explained that the groups will take advantage of public panic and will make recruitment efforts, convincing people that they will die anyways because of air strikes and that it’s better to die as martyrs, fighting on their side.
“They could easily convince people to fight with them, especially as the American drone strike frequently hit civilian locations such as mosques,” he added.
Al-Jumahi explained that the National Unity Government faces many challenges in running the country and gaining control over the situation. One of the biggest dangers is that the government could lose control of Aden, one of Yemen’s biggest cities. Therefore, the new government’s international relationships, and especially its relationship with the US, will be even weaker since the US sponsored the very deal that put them in power.
“The fact that the government is not in harmony – being as it is a mix between what the regime and the opposition was – they cannot prevent the Americans from attacking Yemeni lands, especially since the US has had permission to do so for a long time.”
He added that the best time to blame the National Unity government for such mistakes will be after February 21, when Vice President Hadi will be elected as president for the two-year transitional period.
Al-Tammah told the Yemen Times that Al-Qaeda is well-represented in the area, and has checkpoints at which they raise their black flags.