Yemeni activists demand that American President Barack Obama stop drone attacks on their country. In a letter addressed this week to Obama, the activists told the American president not to believe their Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi who said earlier in the US “I love drones.”
“Despite the approval of our Yemeni president for using drone attacks, the majority of us Yemenis strongly reject these strikes, and consider them a violation of our country’s sovereignty” said the activists in their letter which was published in the media. “All Yemenis are against terrorism and against Al-Qaeda, but they are also against using drones to combat terrorism,” said the letter.
The last drone attack in Yemen killed a Yemeni man who turned from a communist to a jihadist in a remote and mountainous village where naive local people welcomed and rallied around him as a substitute for the complete absence of government.
With drones flying over many suspected areas, it seems that US drone attacks resumed after months of a halt in Yemen. The big question now on the mind of the activists and a lot of Yemenis and Americans is: could those targeted men be captured rather than killed by drones?
The answer is yes. They could be captured easily. Even more, almost all those Al-Qaeda suspects killed in Yemen (more than 100 since 2009) could have been captured including Anwar Al-Awlaki, who was the most wanted Yemeni-American terrorist before being killed in 2011 by US drones in Al-Jawf in the east of the country.
The Yemeni government would not arrest these people for fear of anger and retaliation of relatives and other tribesmen who look at these people (Al-Qaeda members or leaders) as the most devout men and the most helpful for others because they are the closest to Allah. Tribesmen always like and respect the extremely religious men like Al-Qaeda members even though they do not understand their thoughts and ideologies.
Hamid Radman, the local top leader of Al-Qaeda in the mountainous areas of Wesab, was killed with three other operatives two weeks ago by US drones. His village Mathlab is very close to the headquarters of local government and he was always with security and police men “helping” each other. Which means there was some kind of cooperation between Radman and the local authorities of Wesab only because each side was afraid of the other.
One day in the middle of 2012, about 16 security soldiers in two vehicles were stopped for hours by armed men of Hamid Radman nearby his village only because they (Hamid’s men) did not know where they were going and why. “Hamid and his men told us they are the authority there and they should know where we are going,” said Mohamed Al-Yafee who was with the soldiers at the time.
The 16 security men and their vehicles were only released after the security commander of Wesab negotiated with Radman, said Al-Yafee.
In July 2012, Hamid Radman along with more than 50 gunmen surrounded Al-Dan, the place where the headquarters of the local government of Wesab is located, which is close to Radman’s house and village. With his men besieging Al-Dan, Radman stormed with his Kalashnikov a meeting of the local government officials saying “We must uproot corruption and establish an Islamic State.”
“We could have easily arrested him without a single shot, but no one told us to do so,” said a local security official who knows Radman very well. The official, who asked not to be named for the sensitivity of the issue, the senior security officials in Dhammar, capital of the province, and also senior officials in Sanaa, were afraid of the supporters of Radman. “Our superiors in Dhammar and Sanaa did not order us to arrest him, maybe because Radman’s followers would take revenge on us,” said the security official.
“Radman would always tell me in a friendly way that killing a soldier or soldiers (meaning Yemeni soldiers) is permissible and necessity for the time being, because the soldier now is the barrier between us and the big enemy, America,” said the official.
“But if the strike comes from the sky, the followers will be confused and not know who to take revenge on, maybe this is what our superiors think,” said the official.
Radman along with three others of his fighters were buried as martyrs in their home village of Mathlab on 18 April after being charred and cut into pieces in their car which was completely burned and destroyed by US drones near Radman’s house in Wesab.
Radman, was almost the absolute ruler of Wesab and neighbouring areas, about 200km south west of Yemeni capital Sanaa, for more than three years. He was not ruling by force but by consent of local people who were looking for a ruler who can solve their daily problems when the government is completely absent.
In 1980s, Radman was a communist and he was sent by his Yemeni socialist party to Cuba where he studied economy for 4 years and returned to Yemen in 1991. Then he was sentenced to death for killing one of his cousins. He was released in 1999 because his cousins pardoned him shortly before he was executed. In the prison he met two would-be Al-Qaeda leaders. He met Kasem Al-Raimi, the now third commander of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, and Abdel-Rahman Al-Jazaeri, an Algerian jihadist who is no longer in Yemen.
In 2004, he tried to go for jihad in Iraq but he was captured in Yemen’s airport before leaving for Iraq and he was put in intelligence prison. In 2009, he was released from intelligence prison after he met many more Al-Qaeda veterans inside the prison. He returned to his village with retaliatory thoughts and rosy ideas of establishing the “State of Justice, the Islamic State”.
“Everybody is sad, everybody is asking who would solve our problems now?,” said Ali Abdallah from the local hospital of the village of Mathlab where he works as a laboratory technician. “Hamid was very popular, everyone liked him and respected him because he knew how to solve problems,” he added.
“If he was from Al-Qaeda, then he made the people like Al-Qaeda, he did very well to improve the bad image of Al-Qaeda,” said Ali.
Al-Qaeda used to send tens, if not hundreds, of those injured in Abyan battles of last year to such a remote and mountainous area for treatment under the supervision of thief local leader Hamid Radman. He was not only a trustworthy local commander of Al-Qaeda but also the policeman, the judge, the minister of water, education, health, and everything for the people in ignored Wesab.
The officials including the director of Wesab and security director stay months and months in their homes and they come only for salaries and go back quickly, according to many residents who were asked why people liked Radman. Even worse, the low level officials who kept attending and doing their jobs were threatened by Radman and his militants.
“One day I had arguments with the intelligence officer who is assigned to monitor Radman’s activities, and he was a little bit angry with me so he said: we will leave you alone for Radman if you do not listen to me,” said the low-level security official who identified himself only as Yehia. “Everything about Radman was reported to the intelligence senior officials but they did nothing more than threaten us with this guy,” added Yehia.
Radman’s village Mathlab is located in Juar mountain, one of the highest mountains in Yemen. Wesab is a series of mountains, the highest ever is Juar which overlooks the Red Sea. Poverty, ignorance and illiteracy are widespread in these areas which look like Tora Bora of Afghanistan.
Although US drones have been sporadically flying over Wesab for about six months, the local people were surprised by the drone strikes. “We thought we are not important enough for American drones,” said Abdu Morshid, one of the social figures in the area. “To mention our name [Wesab] with drones is better than no mention at all,” said Morshid, who talked about great sufferings of the local population.
However, Morshid said, “Killing this man will not solve the problem without offering development solutions to the people who do not care about Al-Qaeda and care only for their food.”