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US Strike in Yemen Could Draw Negative Reaction from Arab Countries - 2002-11-05


The killing of a suspected al-Qaida senior operative in Yemen is sparking controversy in Yemen, and elsewhere in the Arab world. Reaction is coming in to U.S. press reports that the man was killed by a missile fired from an unmanned aircraft believed to be operated by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Analysts say many Arabs are willing to support the U.S.-led war on terrorism, but not if U.S. forces carry out such operations in Arab countries.

Political analyst Walid Kazziha says if it is confirmed that the CIA launched the missile that killed Yemen's top al-Qaida leader, it will likely be perceived in the Arab world as an assassination carried out by the United States. As a result, the political science professor at Cairo University says this could undermine the ability of Arab governments to continue to openly support the U.S. war on terrorism.

"I think on an official level in the Arab world I think there will be a lot of resentment simply because, even though the Yemen government and other Arab governments are cooperating in terms of information, intelligence with the United States, this kind of action undermines the credibility of the Arab governments friendly to the United States. I think on the level of governments they would be put in an awkward position. On the level of the public it would only infuriate the public and draw more parallels between U.S. actions and Israeli actions," Mr. Kazziha said.

The editor of the Yemen Times in Sana'a, Walid el-Saqqaf, agrees. He said while Yemeni citizens generally support the war against terrorism, they will be outraged and seriously concerned, if it is confirmed that U.S. forces were acting inside Yemen.

On Sunday, the senior al-Qaida leader in Yemen, Abu Ali al-Harithi, was riding in a car along with five other alleged terrorists. A missile, reportedly fired by a CIA unmanned aircraft, hit the vehicle about 170 kilometers east of Yemen's capital Sana'a. All inside were killed.

Yemeni officials say weapons, traces of explosives and communications equipment were found at the site of the explosion.

Mr. Al-Harithi is one of the suspected planners of the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen's port of Aden. Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed. He was also linked to the bombing a month ago of a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen that killed a Bulgarian crew member.

Since last December the United States has sent military assistance to Yemen, and provided weapons and anti-terrorism training by U.S. Special Forces units.

But in September Yemen announced only Yemeni troops would be used to track down suspected al-Qaida members, and that no covert operations would be conducted by U.S. forces.