More airstrikes in southern Yemen

Yemeni forces launched three more airstrikes said to be directed against al-Qaeda targets in Lawdar district of Abyan province  yesterday. 

There is no official word about casualties but Abbas al Assal, a spokesman for the separatist Southern Movement, said seven people were killed, "including ordinary Bedouin beekeepers".

Quoted in The National, he said: “These strikes did not target al-Qaeda. These attacks are targeting the Southern Movement and the people of the south at large.” 

Meanwhile, two men killed in a similar airstrike in Abyan on Sunday were named as Jamil Naser Abdullah al-Anbari and Mohammed Ahmed al-Zerbah. They are said to have been on a motorcycle at the time. Some reports suggest they were not the only casualties. Anbari, 25, has been described as "the leader of al-Qaeda in southern Abyan". 

It is difficult to ascertain whether these strikes in the south are really aimed at al-Qaeda or people active in the Southern Movement. In any case, the government is eager to tie the two together. The Southern Movement does have Islamist elements (as well as more secular ones) and its most prominent leader inside Yemen, Tariq al-Fadhli, was formerly a jihadist and friend of Osama bin Laden. However, the movement's other main figure, Ali Salim al-Baidh, who lives in exile, is a former leader of the Socialist Party which ruled South Yemen in its Marxist period before unification with the north.

Whatever the real motive behind the airstrikes, the effect of any civilian casualties is to compound the southerners' grievances. Last December, US-backed bombing in the south killed at least 42 innocent civilians – for which the Deputy Prime Minister for Defence and Security formally apologised in parliament earlier this month.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 16 March 2010.