Written By: Lucy Sullivan
Article Date: Jul 2, 2012 - 9:02:48 PM
In a press conference held in Sana’a, the capital, earlier this week, U.S. ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein once again denied allegations that U.S. troops were fighting alongside the Yemeni armed forces, stressing that only army instructors had been allowed into Yemen to help train the country counter-terrorism units, in keeping with the Pentagon military aid programme.
Feierstein stressed that The U.S. was not looking to establish a permanent military presence in Yemen as advanced by some political factions but rather help Yemen build a strong defenses against groups such as al-Qaida to maintain stability and prevent the spread of extremism in the region. In his strongest attack yet of Sheikh Abdel-Mageed al-Zindani – a Yemeni cleric, tribal leader and high ranking leader of al-Islah – Yemen’s Islamic faction – ambassador Feierstein said his country had not changed its position towards the cleric, stressing the White House still considered Zindani a dangerous threat.
Allegedly a supporter of al-Qaida in Yemen, Sheikh Zindani has figured on America’s most wanted terror list for some years. Although the man always denied any relation to the terror group, intelligence reports showed that Zindani cultivated friendly relations with several well-known al-Qaida operatives and was himself leading a group of Jihadi militants composed essentially of men who previously served and trained in Afghanistan.
A deeply controversial figure in Yemen, Sheikh Zindani however enjoys much support across Yemen as his position as tribal leader and his vast fortune gained him loyalists. Rumors recently circulated in Yemen about an alleged “deal” in between Zindani and the White House which would have seen the removal of his name from America’s terror list.
Both the Sheikh and the Pentagon denied the allegations. It is important to note that Zindani always accused former President Ali Abdullah Saleh of having fabricated evidences against his person, in a bid to sideline him from power and prevent his ascension to higher governmental positions after he openly opposed Saleh’s regime.
At the conference, Feierstein also dissipated rumors of deposed President Saleh’s imminent departure for the U.S. saying “until this moment Ali Abdullah Saleh did not make any via request, and any rumored decisions are highly hypothetical.” In regards to the “Iranian Connection” factor, the ambassador clearly stated that the White House knew of Iran’s support of al-Qaida in Yemen as well as al-Harak – Southern Secessionist Movement – and al-Houthis – Shiite rebel group – Months ago the Pentagon warned against Iran meddling in Yemen’s internal affairs, saying Teheran was trying to heighten political tensions in the impoverished nation by arming and financing warring factions in a bid to promote chaos and destabilize the region to promote its own coming to power and re-establish itself as “the” regional power-player.
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