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Yemeni Deputy Prime Minister Sadiq Amin Abu Ras survived an ambush by gunmen in the southeastern troubled province of Shabwa, a senior security official said. Government sources said that Abu Ras survived unscathed.

 

Declining to provide further information, the official said the targeted government officials were engaged in talks with Awalik tribe, which is believed to shelter the wanted Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. The attackers suspected as members of an al-Qaeda offshoot, the official said.

 

"The government has made progress in talks with Awalik tribe to hand over Anwar al-Awlaki, the most wanted man, who has dual citizenship of America and Yemen," the official said. Awlaki, who is reportedly a fugitive in his Yemeni hometown of mountainous province of Shabwa, was put into the "capture or kill" list by the United States last month over allegedly involving in two terrorist attacks last year. The 38-year-old cleric became famous last year after it emerged that he had communicated extensively by e-mail with Major Nidal Hasan, the U.S. army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, last November. Awlaki, also allegedly having ties with the 9/11 hijackers, has been linked to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian student accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound jet last Christmas with explosives in his underwear.

 

On April 15, Yemen's Defense Ministry said that Yemeni security agencies were currently tracking Awlaki.

 

May 14, 2010

 

 

Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk

 

The assassination attempt against the deputy prime-minister could be interpreted in a number of ways, depending on who the culprits are. Those could either be Al Qaeda members intent at disrupting talks between the government and the Awalik tribe or Southern separatists who are acting against the government in their efforts for independence. However, it is more likely that the attack was carried out by Al Qaeda-affiliates, perhaps in collaboration with southern separatists.

 

What the attack underscores is the level of support Al Qaeda has within the tribal structure in Yemen. It is exceptional in Yemeni tribal etiquette to attack a visitor, which Abu Ras was, unless the shooting was deliberately not meant to kill. It is therefore more likely that the attackers came from one of the following:

  1. Rogue elements within the Awaliq tribe;
  2. Al Qaeda-affiliates who are not members of the Awaliq tribe.

If it is one of the two options above, to whom news of the visit by Abu Ras to the tribe was properly leaked by tribe members, it is an indication of how handing over Anwar Awlaki could spill-over, leading to internal clashes in the province. If on the other hand the shooters were sent by the tribe itself, whether with the intention of killing Abu Ras or as a warning, which is also very likely, it shows the hugely difficult situation the Yemeni government faces.

 

What the news demonstrates is the seriousness of the situation faced by the Yemeni government as it struggles to resolve the issue of Anwar Awlaki.