Yemeni Tribes Won’t Hand Over al-Qaeda Operatives

President Saleh's Demands for Action Shrugged Off Among Powerful Leaders

A number of tribal leaders in Yemen’s southern provinces are publicly rejecting demands by the Saleh government to take part in tracking down al-Qaeda members and to hand them over to government officials en masse.

If we had someone from al-Qaeda we would not accept him but we would not give him to the government either,” insisted Sheikh Ahmed Shuraif, one of the powerful tribal leaders in the area. This was perhaps the most diplomatic answer as other tribal leaders shrugged off the situation entirely and at least one confirmed regular contact with the local al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as part of his role in mediating disputes.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh has made a number of demands of the tribes regarding AQAP, largely trickling down from demands he has received from the US government to target the organization. But given the group’s relative lack of attacks inside Yemen many locals see them as a non-issue, and indeed many doubt their existance at all.

But the US sees AQAP as not only a real threat, but the single biggest threat in the world, even larger than al-Qaeda’s parent organization according to some reports. With large numbers of US Predator Drones being deployed in the area the threat of Pakistan-style attacks looms large, and never so large as for President Saleh. For while in Pakistan the attacks riled a bunch of remote tribal leaders and sparked some terror attacks, in Yemen they risk riling tribal leaders who are very much the country’s real power brokers and destroying his government’s authority across a broad swath of territory.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.