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In Yemen, 158 clerics vow jihad if US military intervention broadens

The clerics' promise to wage jihad if the US boosts its military presence was an indirect message from President Saleh's government, said a senior Yemeni analyst. The clerics also noted positively a US effort to dampen fears of deeper military intervention.

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Clerics hold powerful sway in Yemen’s tribal society. Their statement concluded with calls to be close to God. There were these words from the Koran: “Any disaster that befalls you is by your own hand.”

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And there was a parable from the Koran, which told the fate of a village that was at first safe and secure, and enjoyed good living for a time. “But because it denied the blessings of God, [God] made it taste both hunger and fear.”

Military means not the only way to combat AQAP

Yemen is the poorest nation in the Arab world, and President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s government has been weakened by a war against Houthi rebels in the north – which has absorbed half of Yemen’s military force – and secessionist moves in the south. In addition, it faces rampant corruption, one of the world’s most severe water shortages, and fast-dwindling oil reserves.

Al Qaeda is just one more concern, albeit one that has increasingly targeted the regime in the past 18 months. An estimated 200 to 300 militants affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a 2009 merger between the Yemeni and Saudi offshoots of Al Qaeda, are believed to be active in Yemen.

AQAP has become a key focus in Washington, and Yemeni security forces have stepped up attacks against Al Qaeda in recent months, making claims of numerous killings and arrests, though President Saleh – whose government has long had some ties to militants – last weekend called for dialogue with Al Qaeda.

“Yemen says it is fighting Al Qaeda, but that does not only mean militarily,” says Yehia, from the strategic studies center. “Last year, Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai, and even some people in the US, said there should be dialogue with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. That didn’t mean they were not serious in fighting them.”

“Security forces are launching a wide campaign against Al Qaeda elements, and we have an open war with them,” a security official told Reuters. It reported that the Yemen Defense Ministry’s online newspaper “September 26” quoted a security source saying the war was on against Al Qaeda militants “whenever or wherever we find those elements.”