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2002 and After: Yemeni Militants Pledge Not to Attack within Yemen, Free to Attack Elsewhere

Ali Abdallah Saleh.Ali Abdallah Saleh. [Source: Helene C. Stikkel / Defense Department]In 2002, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh is facing pressure from the US, who wants him to imprison Islamist militants, and many people in Yemen who are sympathetic to militant groups like al-Qaeda. Saleh comes up with a compromise program of “intellectual dialogue.” Hundreds of imprisoned militants are lectured by religious figures and discuss Islamic law and ethics. Those who sign a pledge not to carry out any attacks on Yemeni soil are let go, and are often helped with money and new jobs. Abu Jandal, bin Laden’s former chief bodyguard, goes through the program and later explains that it is basically a political bargain. Few militants actually change their views, but they understand that if they do not attack within Yemen they will be left alone. When interviewed in 2008, Jandal will say he still supports al-Qaeda, and urges other militants to avoid violence in Yemen. The New York Times will later comment, “American counterterrorism officials and even some Yemenis say the Yemeni government… is in effect striking a deal that helps stop attacks here while leaving jihadists largely free to plan them elsewhere.” For instance, Jandal claims to know some men who go through the program, only to later fight against US troops in Iraq. Another militant who went through the program admits to training militants to fight in Iraq, since that is not prohibited either. This program is officially canceled in Yemen in 2005, but it effectively continues. For instance, in 2007 the Yemeni government secretly frees Fahad al-Quso, a key figure in the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see May 2007). The program also is copied in Saudi Arabia and still in use there. (Worth 1/28/2008)


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