Inside Al Qaeda’s plot to blow up an American airliner

The New York Times reports: In a series of conversations in Qaeda safe houses in Yemen in 2009, Anwar al-Awlaki carefully sized up a young Nigerian volunteer, decided the man had the diligence and dedication for a “martyrdom mission” and finally unveiled what he had in mind.

Mr. Awlaki, an American-born cleric who had become a leading propagandist for Al Qaeda, told the man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, that “the attack should occur on board a U.S. airliner,” according to the account Mr. Abdulmutallab gave the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Mr. Abdulmutallab told F.B.I. agents that he “was resolved to killing innocent people and considered them to be ‘collateral damage.’” With “guidance” from Mr. Awlaki, he said, he had “worked through all these issues.”

Newly released documents, obtained by The New York Times after a two-year legal battle under the Freedom of Information Act, fill in the details of a central episode in the American conflict with Al Qaeda: Mr. Abdulmutallab’s recruitment by Mr. Awlaki and his failed attempt to blow up an airliner approaching Detroit on Christmas in 2009 using sophisticated explosives hidden in his underwear.

The documents’ detailed account of Mr. Awlaki, who stars in Mr. Abdulmutallab’s story as both a religious hero and a practical adviser on carrying out mayhem, is particularly important. The government allegation that Mr. Awlaki was behind the underwear bomb plot — never tested in a court of law — became the central justification that President Barack Obama cited for ordering the cleric’s killing in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

Mr. Awlaki became the first American citizen deliberately killed on the order of a president, without criminal charges or trial, since the Civil War. Some legal scholars questioned whether the order was constitutional. Mr. Obama argued that killing Mr. Awlaki was the equivalent of a justified police shooting of a gunman who was threatening civilians.

The F.B.I.’s decision in 2010 to keep the interview summaries secret led some critics to question the quality of the evidence against Mr. Awlaki. The 200 pages of redacted documents released to The Times this week, on the order of a federal judge, suggest that the Obama administration had ample firsthand testimony from Mr. Abdulmutallab that the cleric oversaw his training and conceived the plot.

The detailed reports of Mr. Abdulmutallab may also play into the debate President Trump has renewed about whether torture is ever necessary to get useful information from terrorism suspects. Most experienced interrogators say no, and their arguments would receive support from these interviews. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Yemen withdraws permission for U.S. antiterror ground missions

The New York Times reports: Angry at the civilian casualties incurred last month in the first commando raid authorized by President Trump, Yemen has withdrawn permission for the United States to run Special Operations ground missions against suspected terrorist groups in the country, according to American officials.

Grisly photographs of children apparently killed in the crossfire of a 50-minute firefight during the raid caused outrage in Yemen. A member of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, Chief Petty Officer William Owens, was also killed in the operation.

While the White House continues to insist that the attack was a “success” — a characterization it repeated on Tuesday — the suspension of commando operations is a setback for Mr. Trump, who has made it clear he plans to take a far more aggressive approach against Islamic militants.

It also calls into question whether the Pentagon will receive permission from the president for far more autonomy in selecting and executing its counterterrorism missions in Yemen, which it sought, unsuccessfully, from President Barack Obama in the last months of his term. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Eight-year-old American girl ‘killed in Yemen raid approved by Trump’

The Guardian reports: President Donald Trump personally approved a US commando raid in Yemen that left one elite serviceman dead and may have killed an eight-year-old American girl, the US military has told the Guardian.

At least 14 people died in Sunday’s raid by the elite Joint Special Operations Command, which is now the subject of a preliminary inquiry to determine if allegations of civilian deaths are sufficiently credible to merit a full investigation.

The operation was launched to gather intelligence on suspected operations by al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula (AQAP), according to Colonel John Thomas, a spokesman for US Central Command. Planning for the raid “started months before”, under Barack Obama’s administration, but was “not previously approved”, he said.

Thomas said he did not know why the prior administration did not authorize the operation, but said the Obama administration had effectively exercised a “pocket veto” over it.

A former official said the operation had been reviewed several times, but the underlying intelligence was not judged strong enough to justify the risks, and the case was left to the incoming Trump administration to make its own judgment.

An eight-year-old girl, Nawar al-Awlaki, was killed in the raid, according to her family. Nawar, also known as Nora, is the daughter of the al-Qaida propagandist and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a September 2011 US drone strike in Yemen. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman was killed in a second drone strike soon afterwards.

On the campaign trail, Trump endorsed killing relatives of terrorist suspects, which is a war crime. “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” he told Fox News in December 2015. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

UN officials: Yemen could face famine if no immediate action

The Associated Press reports: U.N. officials warned Thursday that the escalating conflict in Yemen has left two-thirds of the population in need of humanitarian aid and the country could face famine this year unless immediate action is taken.

U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed told the Security Council that the “dangerous” upsurge in airstrikes and fighting is having “tragic consequences for the Yemeni people,” with 18.2 million in need of emergency food.

U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien warned that “an astounding 10.3 million Yemenis … require immediate assistance to save or sustain their lives” — and “at least two million people need emergency food assistance to survive.”

“The conflict in Yemen is now the primary driver of the largest food security emergency in the world,” O’Brien said. “If there is no immediate action, famine is now a possible scenario for 2017.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

In President Obama’s last year in office, the United States dropped 26,171 bombs

Micah Zenko and Jennifer Wilson write: In President Obama’s last year in office, the United States dropped 26,171 bombs in seven countries. This estimate is undoubtedly low, considering reliable data is only available for airstrikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and a single “strike,” according to the Pentagon’s definition, can involve multiple bombs or munitions. In 2016, the United States dropped 3,027 more bombs — and in one more country, Libya — than in 2015. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Yemen: A calamity at the end of the Arabian peninsula

By Vincent Durac, University College Dublin

At the tip of the Arabian peninsula, Yemen’s disastrous war has been raging for nearly two years. Somewhat overshadowed by the devastating crisis in Syria, it is nonetheless a major calamity: according to the UN, more than 10,000 people have lost their lives, while more than 20m (of a total population of some 27m) are in need of humanitarian assistance. More than 3m people are internally displaced, while hundreds of thousands have fled the country altogether. There are reports of looming famine as the conflict destroys food production in the country.

So how did Yemen get here – and what are the prospects for turning things around?

This war has its roots in the popular uprising of 2011. That rebellion unseated the country’s long-time president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose General People’s Congress (GPC) has dominated the country’s political life since Yemeni unification in 1990. But what really triggered the conflict that began in in 2015 was the years of failed transitional negotiations that followed Saleh’s ousting.

The protest movement spread quickly across the country, its youth protesters soon joined by established opposition parties, as well as southern Yemeni separatists and the Houthi movement.

The Houthi movement emerged in the early 2000s; in brief, it’s a Zaydi Shia revivalist movement that seeks to redress the marginalisation of Yemen’s significant Zaydi minority, whose opposition to the Saleh regime erupted in outright violent conflict on six separate occasions between 2004 and 2010.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Yemen’s children starve as war drags on

The Associated Press reports: As the first light of dawn trickles in through the hospital window, 19-year-old Mohammed Ali learns that his two-year-old cousin has died of hunger. But he has to remain strong for his little brother Mohannad, who could be next.

He holds his brother’s hand as the five-year-old struggles to breathe, his skin stretched tight over tiny ribs. “I have already lost a cousin to malnutrition today, I can’t lose my little brother,” he says.

They are among countless Yemenis who are struggling to feed themselves amid a grinding civil war that has pushed the Arab world’s poorest nation to the brink of famine. The family lives in a mud hut in northern Yemen, territory controlled by Shiite Houthi rebels, who are at war with government forces and a Saudi-led and U.S.-backed coalition.

The coalition has been waging a fierce air campaign against the rebels since March 2015, trying unsuccessfully to dislodge them from the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north. A coalition blockade aimed at preventing the Houthis from re-arming has contributed to a 60-percent spike in food prices, according to an estimate used by international aid groups.

During the best of times, many Yemenis struggled to make ends meet. Now they can barely feed themselves. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Ousted after the Arab Spring, a former dictator is back

The Washington Post reports: The slim, brown-suited man with the handlebar mustache nodded approvingly.

He stood behind a chair at a ceremony in the summer, watching as his loyalists and rebels signed a power-sharing deal to rule the country. Never mind that peace talks were underway at the time, or that the United Nations had expressed concerns that the deal violated the constitution.

Yemen’s former longtime ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was back.

Ousted during the Arab Spring uprisings, one of the Middle East’s wiliest politicians has risen up again. He is taking advantage of the chaos of conflict and the political inexperience of the rebels to deepen his influence, officials and analysts say. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

‘Sometimes the baby dies, sometimes the mother’: Life and death in Yemen’s hospitals

The Washington Post reports: The infant was barely breathing when his uncle brought him to the hospital in a cardboard box. He was wrapped in a blue towel, and wads of cotton were stuffed around his frail body to keep him warm.

Muhammad Haithem was just hours old, born two months premature.

His mother had gone into labor when an airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition hit near their home in the town of Abs. The hospital there was destroyed by an airstrike in August. So the baby’s uncle put him in a pickup truck and drove three hours to the nearest government hospital, recalled Ahlia Ashumali, a nurse who received the baby.

A week later, Muhammad was still teetering between life and death. He weighed four pounds and was being fed through tubes.

Surviving even birth is a struggle in Yemen. After nearly two years of war, thousands of children and adults have died from easily treatable diseases, illnesses and injuries as the health-care system collapses. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Exodus: The stories of the global migration crisis as told and filmed by refugees themselves

 

The first-person stories of refugees and migrants fleeing war, persecution and hardship — drawing on footage filmed by the families themselves as they leave their homes on dangerous journeys in search of safety and refuge in Europe. Watch the complete Frontline report here.

Facebooktwittermail

Yemen conflict: The view from the Saudi side

BBC News reports: Saudi Arabia is at war.

You wouldn’t know it on the peaceful streets of its capital, Riyadh, but hundreds of miles to the south the civil war that has torn apart neighbouring Yemen is spilling over the border into Saudi towns and villages.

Saudi officials say more than 500 of their citizens have been killed by the Yemen war, a number dwarfed by the thousands killed in Yemen itself, but still a shock for this otherwise tranquil kingdom that is home to the holiest sites in Islam and is also the world’s biggest oil producer.

We visited the ruins of a girls’ elementary school in the village of Khawber, hit by a Houthi missile in the middle of the night.

In the shattered classroom the school clock lay on the floor, its hands stopped at the moment the missile exploded.

We met badly injured villagers, maimed by flying shrapnel when a Houthi rocket struck their mosque, and we were given rare access to a Saudi army Patriot anti-missile battery, placed in the desert facing Yemen, that has been intercepting ballistic missiles fired at Saudi Arabia’s southern towns.

These Soviet-era missiles are aimed at the towns of Najran, Abha, Gizan, Khamis Mushayt and even, according to the Saudis, at the holy city of Mecca.

These ageing but still deadly Russian-made missiles belong to a stockpile amassed by the Yemeni army over the years and now taken over by the Houthis.

The weapons include Scud B missiles with a payload of nearly one tonne of high explosives, and the smaller Tochka with a payload of 482kg of explosives.

Saudi officers showed us the remnants of a downed Tochka, still bearing Cyrillic writing on its fuselage.
Between 6 June 2015 and 26 November 2016 the Saudi authorities have recorded 37 ballistic missiles fired from Yemen across the border into Saudi airspace.

Yet the damage to Saudi Arabia pales before the destruction next door in Yemen. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

U.S. fingerprints on attacks obliterating Yemen’s economy

The New York Times reports: For decades, Mustafa Elaghil’s family produced snack foods popular in Yemen, chips and corn curls in bright packaging decorated with the image of Ernie from “Sesame Street.”

But over the summer, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia sent warplanes over Yemen and bombed the Elaghils’ factory. The explosion destroyed it, setting it ablaze and trapping the workers inside.

The attack killed 10 employees and wiped out a business that had employed dozens of families.

“It was everything for us,” Mr. Elaghil said.

The Saudi-led coalition has bombed Yemen for the last 19 months, trying to oust a rebel group aligned with Iran that took control of the capital, Sana, in 2014. The Saudis want to restore the country’s exiled president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who led an internationally recognized government more aligned with its interests.

But instead of defeating the rebels, the campaign has sunk into a grinding stalemate, systematically obliterating Yemen’s already bare-bones economy. The coalition has destroyed a wide variety of civilian targets that critics say have no clear link to the rebels.

It has hit hospitals and schools. It has destroyed bridges, power stations, poultry farms, a key seaport and factories that produce yogurt, tea, tissues, ceramics, Coca-Cola and potato chips. It has bombed weddings and a funeral.

The bombing campaign has exacerbated a humanitarian crisis in the Arab world’s poorest country, where cholera is spreading, millions of people are struggling to get enough food, and malnourished babies are overwhelming hospitals, according to the United Nations. Millions have been forced from their homes, and since August, the government has been unable to pay the salaries of most of the 1.2 million civil servants. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

U.S. calls for end to airstrikes in Yemen while it continues to provide Saudis with military support

The Guardian reports: The US has called for an end to airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen at a UN security council meeting, but critics pointed out that Washington continues to supply arms and provide other military support to Saudi Arabia.

The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, condemned missile attacks by Yemeni Houthi rebels on Saudi Arabia and said the kingdom had a right to defend itself.

But she added: “It is also incumbent on the Saudi-led coalition and the forces of the Yemeni government to refrain from taking steps that escalate this violence and to commit to the cessation of hostilities.

“After 19 months of fighting, it should be clear that there is absolutely no military solution to this conflict. Airstrikes that hit schools, hospitals and other civilian objects have to stop. In many cases these strikes have damaged key infrastructure that is essential to delivering humanitarian aid in Yemen.”

Despite severe criticism of Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK continue to supply it with munitions and provide airborne refuelling for its warplanes. Over eight years, the Obama administration has offered a total of $115bn (£94bn) in arms sales to the kingdom.

Louis Charbonneau, the UN director of Human Rights Watch, said: “The US ambassador’s call for an end to indiscriminate airstrikes in Yemen would be more compelling if the US didn’t provide Saudi Arabia with some of the weapons that end up being used in these strikes.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Images of starving children in Yemen help show the horrors of U.S.-backed war

 

ABC News reports: The emaciated frame of 18-year-old Saida Ahmad Baghili lies on a hospital bed in the Red Sea port city of Hodaida, her suffering stark evidence of the malnutrition spread by Yemen’s 19-month civil war.

Baghili arrived at al-Thawra hospital on Saturday. She is bedridden and unable to eat, surviving on a diet of juice, milk and tea, medical staffers and a relative said.

“The problem is malnutrition due to [her] financial situation and the current (war) situation at this time,” said Asma al-Bhaiji, a nurse at the hospital.

Baghili is one of more than 14 million people, over half of Yemen’s population, who are short of food, with much of the country on the brink of famine, according to the United Nations.

The U.N.’s World Food Program notes that the conflict in Yemen “has left thousands of civilians dead and 2.5 million internally displaced” over the past year.

President Barack Obama has received criticism for not cutting back on U.S. support for the government of Saudi Arabia, which has been bombing Houthi rebels in Yemen since March 2015 in an effort to strengthen its foothold in the region. [Continue reading…]

 

Khalid Al-Karimi writes: Yemen’s economy has been severely crippled by the conflict. Many of its businesses have shuttered, and many people have lost their job. Today, the labour force has one field in which work is guaranteed: on the battleground.

Funds allocated to the war are available in abundance. Instead of dying of hunger, these men die on mountains, hills, plains, valleys or on their armored vehicles with full stomachs and pockets. Poverty in Yemen is chronic, and it has grown to alarming levels over the 19-month long conflict.

According to the UN World Food Programme, almost 14.4 million people in Yemen are food insecure, of whom seven million people in desperate need of food assistance. The agency points out that one in five people are “severely food insecure” and in urgent need of food assistance.

This state of food crisis pushes thousands of men to the precipice of war. While financial gain is not everyone’s motive, a considerable number have joined the combat for financial gains that can help them and their families survive in the face of lethal poverty. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Mosul battle to extend as far as Syria and Yemen, former Iraqi PM Maliki says

Middle East Eye reports: Former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki said that the campaign to liberate Islamic State-occupied Mosul would be only the first step to liberating other cities as far away as Syria and Yemen.

“Today, Iraq has launched an operation to liberate Mosul, but it is also one to liberate other cities,” Maliki said at a conference in Baghdad. “The ‘We are coming Nineveh’ operation also means, ‘We are coming Raqqa’; ‘We are coming Aleppo’; ‘We are coming Yemen’.”

The ex-prime minister was referring to the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh where Mosul is located.

“We are coming to all places where Muslims are being killed, where Islamic thought is being renounced,” he said. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

UN announces 72-hour ceasefire in Yemen starting Thursday

Middle East Eye reports: A 72-hour ceasefire in Yemen will go into effect starting Thursday, the United Nations announced on Monday.

A cessation of hostilities that first went into effect in April “will re-enter into force at 23:59 Yemen time on 19 October 2016, for an initial period of 72 hours, subject to renewal,” the UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said in a statement.

The ceasefire opens the door for negotiations to find a political solution to the conflict. April’s truce was followed by repeated rounds of talks in Kuwait between the warring sides, which did not come to fruition.

Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi had agreed to the truce earlier in the day. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail