Opposition groups in Yemen have accused contested President Ali Abdullah Saleh of allowing al-Qaeda militants to seize the town of Radaa, who later broke into its jail and freed more than 200 prisoners.
About 250 militants stormed Radaa, according to reports on the ground, and the prisoners released were given weapons and joined the militants. At least three of the freed inmates are suspected members of al-Qaeda.
The capture by militants of Radaa is significant because, although they have largely had control over significant parts of the lawless south, Radaa is a mere 160 kilometres south of capital Sanaa and demonstrates the gains they’ve made in the face of a weak and contested Yemeni government. The seizure of Radaa makes an all out civil war much more of a reality.
The opposition accused Saleh and his security forces of allowing the militants to take Radaa in order to bolster his claims that he must remain in power to prevent Islamist militants from taking control of the country. This is a power play that those in Washington are highly susceptible to after years of arming and paying the Saleh regime under the rubric of “counterterrorism.”
“We hold the security and army forces of Saleh responsible for facilitating the access of the militants who are controlling now parts of the town. They did not show any resistance. It is one of the regime tricks,” Sheikh Mohammed Naser, a tribal leader of Radaa said.
Saleh has held onto his dictatorial power despite a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative, signed by President Ali Abdullah Saleh in November, which granted him amnesty in exchange for agreeing to step down after months of widespread protests and violence against his rule.
The deal was supported by the U.S., despite the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights declaring that granting amnesty who perpetrated human rights abuses and possible war crimes, would be against international law.
If the accusations against Saleh are true, it shows the folly of Washington’s support for such regimes. He realizes being propped up by Washington will continue no matter how brutal and tyrannical his regime is, while keeping the militant situation in his political arsenal in case his support is in question.