Yemen quakes in Cole's shadow
As US troops head to the Persian Gulf, Yemenis dread the possibility of an unfair offensive.
Although Yemen has added its name to the list of nations ready to support America's declared war against terrorism, this Arab desert country increasingly fears that it will become a target.Skip to next paragraph
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"People are scared of an attack by a government that is very powerful and very angry, that will look like an execution without a trial," says Jamal Adimi, a lawyer and head of Yemen's Forum for Civil Society.
Similar fears are echoing louder in capitals across the Middle East, as senior US officials from President George W. Bush on down make clear that they intend to go after regimes that harbor terrorists.
Yemen, at the foot of the Arabian peninsula, was the site of the bombing of the destroyer USS Cole last October. Until last year the country was described by the US State Department as providing "safe haven for terrorists."
One of the alleged hijackers on the plane that smashed into the Pentagon September 11, Khalid al-Mihdar, is a Yemeni who was already on America's terrorist watch list.
While Yemenis take pains to voice sympathy for those killed in the US attacks, an informal survey by the English-language Yemen Times found that a majority oppose any US retaliation.
Echoing across the region are concerns that any US military response seen as misguided or too broad - such as going after targets in Iraq, Lebanon or Yemen - could create a new set of dangerous and far-reaching problems.
Training camps in Afghanistan purportedly run by the Al-Qaeda network of Saudi militant Osama bin Laden - the chief suspect in the US attacks, whom Mr. Bush says he wants "dead or alive" - are seen as primary targets. But religious and militant camps in Yemen may also be in the cross hairs, according to unsourced local news reports.
"If you hit camps, it will only achieve the destruction of empty huts, and stir more violence and terrorism," Mr. Adimi says. "Those people will never be waiting for you. Strikes will only make people more angry, and give more support [to militants]."
Until the bombing of the Cole, US officials spoke openly about redrawing the strategic map of the Gulf, to include the increasingly cooperative government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. A low-profile deal was reached for refueling US warships at the Red Sea port of Aden; the US organized a popular de-mining program; and US special forces units held limited joint training exercises.
The Cole blast, in which 17 US sailors died, froze those ties.
The US State Department's "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report for 2000 says that Yemen was "as much a victim of the attack" as the US.
But friction has grown between between the FBI and Yemen authorities over restrictions imposed by the Yemenis during the investigation. Among other issues, top military and religious leaders wanted for questioning were kept off limits. Local press have named them, despite official government denials, as Sheik Abdul-Majeed al-Zindani, head of the radical wing of the Islamic "Islah" opposition party, and now head of the Al-Iman (Faith) University in Sanaa; and Ali Mohsen, commander of the northern region, who is related by marriage to President Saleh.