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Yemeni opposition: Saleh family let al Qaeda take over town

By Hakim Almasmari, For CNN
updated 10:24 PM EST, Thu January 19, 2012
Yemini President Saleh's eldest son, Ahmed, runs the guards who allegedly allowed suspected al Qaeda militants into Radda.
Yemini President Saleh's eldest son, Ahmed, runs the guards who allegedly allowed suspected al Qaeda militants into Radda.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • JMP: Saleh's family has handed town of Radda over to al Qaeda militants
  • Protester: "Saleh is willing to destroy to the entire country for the sake of himself"
  • Tribal chiefs are negotiating with the militants to leave the town peacefully
  • Militants loyal to Tareq al-Thahab took over historical sites in Radda last week

(CNN) -- Yemen's largest opposition coalition blamed President Ali Abdullah Saleh's ruling family for causing chaos in the town of Radda, Baitha province, and said the family intentionally eased the way for al Qaeda militants to take over the town.

The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) said this strategy was used in an effort to delay the presidential elections and halt the power transfer from taking place.

"Only Saleh would hand over a town to terrorists. He does not care for Yemen or its people," said Ahmed Bahri, a senior JMP leader.

Numerous tribal chiefs told CNN that the suspected al Qaeda militants are now in control of the Sawadia Republican Guard's base in Radda and entered the town without a fight. Saleh's eldest son, Ahmed, runs the guards.

"Everything was handed over to the militants. What other explanation can there be? Hundreds of Republican Guard forces suddenly evacuated the base without a fight," said Abdullah al-Barraki, a tribal chief in Radda.

CNN was able to independently verify that the militants were now in control of the base.

Radda, located just 107 miles southeast of Yemen's capital Sana'a, has been without any security presence for more than six days, according to residents.

Tribal chiefs in the town are negotiating with the militants to leave the town without bloodshed.

This comes as thousands of anti-Saleh protesters marched in the streets of Radda on Wednesday, condemning what they say was an act of treachery by relatives of Saleh.

"Saleh's nephew and son handed over the town to the militants. They wanted al Qaeda to take over the town to raise the tension in the country," said Sameer Ashtal, a youth protester in Radda.

He added, "Saleh is willing to destroy to the entire country for the sake of himself, and that is why he has to leave power."

Marchers in Radda chanted, "Saleh's family sold Radda. He will stand trial for this crime."

Last week, dozens of militants loyal to Tareq al-Thahab, an extremist militant, took over historical sites in Radda and called for the implementation of Sharia law.

Khaled al-Thahab, a prominent tribal leader and brother of the al Qaeda leader in Radda, said that the National Security Forces assisted his brother in taking over the town. The national security sector is directly run by Ammar Mohammed, the nephew of Saleh.

The JMP warned the international community that certain factions will be seeking to halt the power transfer deal worked out with the Gulf Cooperation Council.

"The JMP are completely abiding (by) the GCC power transfer deal while Saleh's ruling family is doing otherwise," said Mohammed Qahtan, a senior opposition Islah official, and former spokesperson for the JMP.

CNN contacted the office of Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to clarify the reasons behind the growing tension, but they refused to comment. Saleh signed away executive powers to Hadi on November 23, allowing him to keep the title of president for 90 days but officially ending his rule.

Hadi is expected to win the February 21 presidential elections and be the country's next leader.

Jamal Ben Omar, the United Nations envoy to Yemen, insists that presidential elections will not be delayed. "There is no space to negotiate the delay of the Yemeni presidential elections," he said.

Ali al-Amrani, Yemen's minister of information, told CNN that an immunity bill for Saleh is expected to be passed on Saturday after differing factions met at Hadi's residence on Wednesday and finalized most differing points.

The bill has been the core of controversy between the opposition and the president. The bill, if passed, will grant Saleh immunity from prosecution for all crimes and violations committed during his 33 years in power.

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