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Vol. 74/No. 44      November 22, 2010

U.S. gov’t discusses widening
covert operations in Yemen
(front page)
As part of preparations to expand U.S. military operations against al-Qaeda forces in Yemen, the White House is looking to place “elite U.S. hunter-killer teams” in the country under direct command of the CIA, U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal. Such a move would allow Washington to strike at targets in Yemen “without the explicit blessing of the Yemeni government” and “would provide deniability to the Yemeni government,” the Journal said.

The Journal article was printed a few days after the October 29 interception in Britain and Dubai of two mail bombs from Yemen addressed to synagogues in Chicago. Government officials in the United States and United Kingdom said the bombs were made by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and were powerful enough to have blown up the planes carrying them.

Over the last year Washington has carried out aerial bombings and sea-launched cruise missile strikes targeting AQAP in Yemen. Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh has sought to disown his government’s complicity in the unpopular U.S. operations, which have killed dozens of civilians.

The central government of Yemen has limited authority outside of Sana’a, the capital city. It faces not only opposition from al-Qaeda, but a simmering independence movement in the south and a rebellion in the north by Houthis, a Shiite minority.

Since coming to power in 1990, the Saleh government has relied on alliances with armed Islamist groups and tribal militias in the country to suppress opposition. But over the last several years, the government’s alliance with Washington has brought it into conflict with AQAP, which finally declared war on Saleh’s regime this past summer. Just as Washington used the failed mail bombs as a pretext to increase its militarization of U.S. airports, the government in the United Kingdom is using the incident to press for greater powers for the secret police. Home Secretary Theresa May announced November 3 that there will be “significant changes” to the country’s “counterterrorism” laws. She said this would include giving police more access to individuals’ e-mail accounts and cell phone records, as well as weapons training.

May said al-Qaeda forces in Pakistan and Afghanistan pose less of a threat to Britain than AQAP, al-Shabab in Somalia, and al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb in North Africa. Some British residents have gone to Somalia for training with al-Shabab, she asserted. “Left to their own devices we would eventually see British extremists, trained and hardened on the streets of [Somalia’s capital] Mogadishu, returning to the UK and seeking to commit mass murder on the streets of London,” she predicted.

May reported that an AQAP “associate” was arrested in the United Kingdom earlier this year on charges of planning an attack on a passenger airplane. She said he was in contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S. citizen accused by the White House of being an AQAP leader and publicly targeted for assassination.  
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