Saleh urges Yemenis to report terrorists

EU welcomes deal between ruling party, opposition in Yemen

Clinton in Pakistan: I believe Bin Laden is here

Turkey puts 29 suspected members of Al-Qaeda on trial

Yemen's ruling General People's Congress and opposition parties on Saturday signed the minutes of an agreement to push for national dialogue in a move hailed by President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

"This is a positive step towards political detente... and to start a new phase," Saleh told reporters after the signing, and renewed a call he made in May to the opposition to form a national unity government.

The memorandum was signed with the opposition Common Forum which groups Al-Islah (Reform) Party, the main Islamist opposition, and the Yemeni Socialist Party, as well as other smaller factions. There were no other details.

"We are all in the same boat and we must sail together," Saleh said.

"There must be one leadership for this ship from all political parties and I said in my speech in May that we welcome a partnership with all the political parties in Yemen," Saleh said.

In May Saleh invited all political groups inside and outside the country to a "responsible national dialogue, within the framework of the constitutional institutions."

"According to this dialogue, it is possible to form a government of all the influential political parties represented in the parliament," he had said on the eve of the 20th anniversary or Yemen's unification.

Saleh said in May that the Yemeni Socialist Party which is agitating to re-establish south Yemen as an independent state, would be a principal partner in the political dialogue.

Other major opposition parties in parliament include the Islamist Al-Islah party, popular among tribesmen who form the backbone of Yemen's traditional society.

On Saturday the president also insisted that parliamentary elections should take place on time in April 2011, in line with an agreement struck in February 2009 between the opposition and Saleh's party.

The election was due to take place in April 2009 but lawmakers agreed to delay it by two years in order to restructure Yemen's political system, including an amendment of the constitution.

A political advisor of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh denied on Friday that cleric Anwar al-Awlaki has been radicalized in Yemen.

"I can confirm that Anwar al-Awlaki has not been radicalized in Yemen, but during his presence in the United States," said the advisor, Abdul-Kareem al-Eryani, in an interview conducted by the Public Broadcasting Service.

Awlaki was born in the United States and later moved to Yemen, where he is reportedly hiding in the mountainous province of Shabwa. He was put on the United Nations terrorist list early this week, and on the U.S. "capture or kill" list three months ago.

The 38-year-old cleric allegedly had ties with several terror attacks, including 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. It emerged last year he had communicated extensively by email with Major Nidal Hasan, the army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas.

Al-Qaeda was blamed for a number of high-impact attacks in Yemen against the Western and Yemeni targets during 2009 and the beginning of 2010.

However, the advisor said the al-Qaeda wing in Yemen was not very strong, as "its members range only from 500 to 700". He added the terrorist group posed more a threat to Saudi Arabia than Yemen.

After the 9/11 attacks, Western governments worried about how an unstable Yemen contributed to world terrorism.

Those concerns faded with time but renewed when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian with ties to Yemen, tried to bring down an American jetliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

In the months before and since that foiled attack, still other connections have surfaced between Yemeni radicals and terrorist attacks or plots in the United States and elsewhere.

Yemen's foreign minister, Dr. Abubaker Abdullah Al-Qirbi, believes the failed Christmas attack "was a blessing in disguise" because it "alerted the world to the dangerous situation, not only in Yemen, but in the region as a whole."

Analysts have long warned of Yemen's imminent collapse. Yet this strip of desert and mountains, separating Saudi Arabia from the Gulf of Aden, somehow lurches on.

About 65 percent to 70 percent of its 23 million people are younger than 25; unemployment is estimated at 35 percent.

The country consistently sits near the bottom of world socio-economic rankings.

Yemenis are scattered across 150,000 mostly remote settlements, making it difficult to provide basic needs such as roads, education and water, Al-Qirbi says.

Oil reserves -- once more than 80 percent of the national budget -- have dwindled to half that as global oil prices have fallen, he adds.

Along the streets of this coastal city, billboards proclaim "No to Weapon Smuggling" and "No to Human Smuggling." The political realm is no better.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh likens ruling his tribal land to "dancing on the heads of snakes."

Some government officials privately hold little hope for a recent cease-fire with northern rebels; marginalized southern separatists continue to agitate against Saleh's regime.

About 2 p.m. each day, work stops here so Yemenis can buy bundles of qat and chew the leafy stimulant while debating their lot in life.

The ubiquitous narcotic plant is yet another national problem: Its cultivation is depleting Yemen's limited water supply.

In this volatile mix, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- AQAP to counter-terrorism officials -- has flourished, carrying out attacks here and claiming credit for several in the United States. President Obama has approved the targeted killing of AQAP's putative head, Anwar Al-Awlaki. The U.S.-born Muslim cleric of Yemeni heritage is thought to be hiding here.

Top U.S. officials link Awlaki to the 2009 shootings at the Army's Fort Hood and to the Christmas bombing attempt. Yemeni officials want to handle Awlaki under Yemeni law.

"If the U.S. provides us with proof ... then we will deal with him," vows Rashad Al-Alimi, deputy prime minister for defense and security. "He is now a fugitive."

Western analysts believe Awlaki's powerful tribe is protecting him and that hunting him would be politically explosive for Yemen.

Mohammed Al-Qadhy, a U.S.-educated member of Yemen's national parliament, calls the U.S. targeted-kill order "a mistake" and illegal under U.S. law.

Besides, he says, it has made Awlaki "a prominent figure." "No one knew him before. Now, he is very, very popular." 'I see 20 Yemens' Publisher Faris Al-Sanabani sits in the offices of his newspaper, the Yemen Observer, and magazines, Yemen Today and Arabia Felix.

U.S.-trained and charismatic, he considers it unlikely the country will split north and south, as it was before a 1990s civil war.

He envisions something worse.

"(If) things become horrible and the economic situation becomes devastating, I see 20 Yemens, not two. I see a Yemen of the Taliban ... of al-Qaeda ... of the sheikhs ... of the sultans ... of the pirates -- you name it," Al-Sanabani says.

At a qat-chewing party in Mohammed Al-Qadhy's home, fellow parliamentarian Abdullah Ali Al-Khulaki details the woes of his restive southern province, Lahij.

Unemployment and poverty are high, and he admits that southern separatists and al-Qaeda operate there.

"I want us to sit together at one table and discuss what we all need -- Yemen is for all of us," he says, stuffing qat leaves into his cheeks. "If the government doesn't do anything ... there will be more problems."

"Al-Qaeda is a problem, there is no doubt. ... But that we are all al-Qaeda here in Yemen is not true," he insists.

He calls the terrorist organization "the devil of all the world" and lists the countries where its cells are found, from Saudi Arabia to America, before adding: "America spent $300 billion in Afghanistan, and they (al-Qaeda) are still there."

Foreign Minister Al-Qirbi does not think al-Qaeda is growing in Yemen, but he is concerned about countering it.

"If one looks at the roots of radicalization, it is lack of education, poverty and unemployment ... the frustration of the young people who graduate from university and can't find jobs.

"Unfortunately, this has been neglected in our fight against terrorism. We've always focused on the military and intelligence side."

U.S. dollars help to train Yemen's counter-terrorism unit and newly formed coast guard. A $121 million civilian aid program targets remote areas where al-Qaeda’s threat is greatest.

Yet Al-Sanabani calls the U.S. assistance "peanuts" compared to that from the European Union and gulf states.

Still other of the country's problems come from outside its borders.

In the southern coastal town of Aden, regional governor Adnan Al-Jifri says Somali refugees are a burden.

About 700,000 of them are here, according to government officials. Some fled Somalia's civil war, which erupted in the early 1990s; others use Yemen as a steppingstone to Saudi Arabia or Europe.

Western analysts worry about the link between al-Qaeda's Yemeni arm and Somalia's Al Shabab, another terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda. They fear militants use the cover of refugees to move from place to place.

"The Somali problem hasn't been given its due importance by many countries," Al-Qirbi says.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday she believed Osama bin Laden was still in Pakistan, in a television interview between high-level talks in Islamabad.

"I believe (bin Laden) is here in Pakistan and it would be very helpful if we could take them (Al-Qaeda leaders)," Clinton said.

Last month head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, said Al-Qaeda mastermind bin Laden remained in "very deep hiding", nine years after the world's most-wanted fugitive first disappeared following the 2001 attacks.

In Ankara, a Turkish court ruled Tuesday that 29 suspects detained last week on charges of links to the al-Qaeda network would stand trial, the Anatolia news agency reported.

The court remanded 14 of the suspects in custody while releasing the remaining 15 who will also be tried, the agency said.

The accusations against the suspects will become clear when prosecutors draw up their indictment and detail the charges.

The suspects were rounded up in pre-dawn simultaneous operations Friday in the southern province of Adana, the country's biggest city Istanbul, Antalya on the Mediterranean coast and the western province of Canakkale.

Police determined that six of the suspects detained in Adana had been to Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, Anatolia said.

One suspect had fired eight shots at the vehicle of a US citizen working at an air base in Adana with intent to kill, but failed in his mission, the agency added.

Turkish police regularly target suspected Al-Qaeda supporters since two sets of twin suicide bombings hit Istanbul five days apart in November 2003.

A Turkish cell of Al-Qaeda was held responsible for the attacks, in which explosive-laden trucks first targeted two synagogues, and then the British consulate and a British bank, killing a total of 63 people, including the British consul.

Seven men were jailed for life in 2007 for the bombings, among them a Syrian national who masterminded and financed the attacks.