Al-Qaeda ... or not?

An email received from Yemen suggests the widely-reported killingof Adbullah Mehdar (or Mihdar) may not have been the victory against al-Qaeda that it was made out to be. 

My correspondent writes: "The informed thinking down here is that Mehdar was not al-Qaeda but a senior tribes-type guy, who the security wanted to settle a old score with."

Considering the way things work in Yemen, this sounds like a plausible scenario: the Americans tell Salih to do something about al-Qaeda, they give him some money and tools for the job, and hey presto – he shoots one of his old foes, posthumously declaring him to be the leader of an al-Qaeda cell. 

I don't know if this is actually what happened – maybe readers can provide more information about Mehdar and his links to al-Qaeda (if any) – but it wouldn't surprise me.

This could also help to explain the security forces' claim when they attacked the offices of al-Ayyam newspaper in Aden earlier this month that 40 people linked to al-Qaeda were inside the building – a claim that, frankly, I find hard to believe.

Regarding the latest crash of a Yemeni warplane (reported hereyesterday), the same correspondent points out that the planes – MiG21s – are very old. 

"There can’t be many air forces relying on such planes," he writes. "A MiG21 flew over my head the other day – one of his engines was belching black smoke and he was struggling to make a landing at Sanaa. Sounded mechanical to me ..."

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 15 January 2010.