Al Qaeda's chief calls for uprisings against Yemen's new government
Ayman al Zawahiri ties the new president to the unpopular former president
Al Qaeda depicts Yemen's new president as a U.S. stooge, dressing him in an Uncle Sam suit
Yemen's new president and the United States have stepped up attacks on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
Al-Qaeda’s leader is calling for the Yemeni people to rise up against the country’s new president, portraying him as the stooge of the unpopular former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the United States.
“So, Ali Abdallah Saleh is gone, and his successor Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has taken over,” al Qaeda’s chief commander Ayman al-Zawahiri says in a video posted this week on jihadist forums.
The message – “Yemen between a Departing Agent and a Deputy Agent” – protrays both men as agents of the U.S. government.
Saleh relinquished power after an extended popular uprising, in a transition agreement that was supported by the United States. But because Hadi was Saleh’s vice president, al-Qaeda has exploited the connection to stir resentment against the new government.
The video also plays up the U.S. angle. A web banner linking to the video shows Saleh then adds Hadi and uses graphics to dress up Yemen’s new president in an Uncle Sam suit.
The 17-minute video was produced by al-Qaeda’s media branch As-Shabab, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors Islamist extremism.
In it, Zawahiri accuses Hadi of being an extension of the former regime.
“All the corrupt agreed to be united under the U.S. banner in order to fight the mujahedeen using Saudi money,” he says.
Zawahiri calls for the nation’s youth to continue the uprising, fightting the new president, the United States and Yemen’s Shiite Muslims, which al Qaeda views as heretics.
Hadi, since taking office, has cooperated closely with the United States to more aggressively pursue attacks on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula with deadly consequences for the terrorist organization.
Last weekend, U.S. counter terrorism advisor John Brennan visited Yemen.
The visit came just days after revelations of a CIA and Saudi mole who foiled a plot hatched by al Qaeda in Yemen to blow up a U.S.-bound airplane.
It was not the first attempt tied to AQAP to bomb a plane headed to the United States.
As Brennan arrived in the capital city of Sanaa over the weekend, government troops clashed with insurgents in the south, killing two dozen AQAP fighters. A pair of U.S. drone strikes also killed 11 suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen’s Mareb province.
Zawahiri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden to lead al Qaeda, accuses the United States of assuring amnesty for Saleh. “That way, he appears clean from the martyrs’ blood! And clean from stealing from poor people. And clean from corruption he created.”
The Obama administration by contrast distanced itself Wednesday from Yemen’s former president, his family and cronies, warning them indirectly not to interfere with the transition of power to the new government.
President Barack Obama issued an executive order targeting “those who threaten the peace, security, or stability of Yemen,” including by obstructing implementation of the transition agreement.
The new order allows the Treasury Department to freeze U.S.-based assets of anyone who might subsequently be listed under the order. While no specific entity was named, it is widely believed to be aimed at the former president’s circle.
At the State Department, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland refused to cite Saleh by name but said the order was “definitely” meant to “send a message to those who are trying to block transition that we have this tool to use against them, and that they should think again about the policies that they are pursuing.”
But Bruce Riedel, former CIA analyst and presidential adviser now with the Brookings Institution, told CNN that Saleh “and his immediate family are precisely the target of this executive order, and the message is ‘You need to get out of Dodge - or physically get out of Sanaa.’”
Last November Saleh, after 30 years in power, accepted the power transfer agreement with his opposition that provided for a peaceful transition of power to his then-vice president Hadi. But, for more than a year, Saleh exasperated the United States, initially resisting demands that he step down, and then refusing to move out of the presidential office after agreeing to do so.
Saleh still is using his family to intimidate the political process in the capital, Riedel said.
President Hadi last month ordered Saleh’s hangers-on to leave, but Saleh’s son, surrounded by armed forces, still looks down on the city from the surrounding hills, according to Riedel, their tanks focused on the presidential palace “with the message ‘Don’t think you can ignore me, I’m still a player, be nice to my Daddy.’”
Saleh’s “obstructionism” is preventing the central government from establishing control over other parts of the fractured country, Riedel says, including the north which is in a state of rebellion and the south where al Qaeda operates. Yemen, he says, is like Humpty Dumpty: “We’re tying to put something back together again which may be broken beyond repair.”
CNN’s Hamdi Alkhshali and Amir Ahmed contributed to this report.