Yemen denies releasing al-Qaeda suspects

Yemen’s government is denying press reports that it released a large group of al-Qaeda suspects from prison last week. The Yemeni embassy in Washington issued a statement saying the 108 released prisoners are not affiliated with al-Qaeda in any way. Anonymous Yemeni security officials had been quoted saying that authorities were releasing about 170 suspects linked to al-Qaeda after the detainees signed commitments to good behavior. The US has expressed concern about past releases of suspected al-Qaeda militants in Yemen. Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni chapter claimed responsibility for an attack on the US embassy in Sanaa last September that killed 13 Yemenis. Six attackers also were killed. (VOA, Feb. 10)

The media wing of al-Qaeda in Yemen released a statement Jan. 20 from the group’s leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi, announcing the formation of a single al-Qaeda group for the Arabian Peninsula under his command. According to al-Wuhayshi, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will consist of his former group (al-Qaeda in Yemen) as well as members of the now-defunct al-Qaeda franchise in Saudi Arabia. The announcement also related that a Saudi national and former Guantánamo detainee identified as Abu-Sayyaf al-Shihri has been appointed as al-Wuhayshi’s deputy. (Daily Star, Lebanon, Feb. 11)

Yemen says it is expecting the repatriation soon of 94 Yemenis held at Guantánamo Bay, and President Ali Abdullah Saleh vows to ensure they will not rejoin the ranks of Islamic militants. Saleh said the former detainees will undergo “rehabilitation…to rid them of extremism.” The Pentagon said last month that 61 former Guantánamo detainees appeared to have returned to fight alongside militants since their release. (Reuters, Jan. 24)

Also last last month, unknown attackers blew up Yemen’s main oil pipeline that carries crude from the north-central province of Marib to a Red Sea export terminal. Export operations were not disrupted, security officials said. Disgruntled tribesmen in Marib have frequently targeted the pipeline to press their own grievances against the government, but the attack came days after al-Wahishi threatened to carry out attacks against US and Western interests in the Arabian Peninsula. “We will cut supply lines of the US forces in the Arabian Peninsula and attack Westerners and Western interests until America stops its support to the Jews,” al-Wahishi said in his video statement. The most recent attack on the pipeline was carried out in December by tribesmen in the Khawlan area. Yemen is a small non-OPEC oil producer that produces some 330,000 barrels per day. (DPA, Jan. 29)

See our last post on al-Qaeda in Yemen.