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Al-Qaeda’s air war in Yemen

Yemeni security forces inspect the scene where a Russian-made Yemeni military jet crashed into a residential district of the capital Sanaa on May 13, 2013, killing the pilot, officials said. Witnesses said the plane exploded in the air before crashing and debris from the aircraft  scattered across the area, causing light damage to buildings and shattering windows (AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED HUWAIS/Getty Images)
Yemeni security forces inspect the scene where a Russian-made Yemeni military jet crashed into a residential district of the capital Sanaa on May 13, 2013, killing the pilot, officials said. Witnesses said the plane exploded in the air before crashing and debris from the aircraft scattered across the area, causing light damage to buildings and shattering windows (AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED HUWAIS/Getty Images)
Yemen’s president Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and the commander of the country’s Air Force, Brigadier Rashid Al-Janad, have responded to recent crashes of military aircraft in Yemen by saying that “bad people” were behind the incidents, as well as the assassination of Yemeni pilots.

Three military airplanes crashed in and around Sana’a over the last few months, the last of which came down in the south of the city last week, killing the pilot. According to reliable sources at a nearby air force base, at least three aircraft have also returned to base with bullet holes in them in previous months.

Two weeks before the latest crash, three military pilots were assassinated by a gunman on a motorcycle while on their way to their work at the air base of Anad, in Lahij province in the south of the country. The man accused of killing the 3 pilots was later reportedly arrested by security authorities, and told his interrogators that he was a “missile.”

“These repeated incidents happening with Air Force indicate that there are centers [of power] who want to destroy the Air Force,” said President Hadi this week, speaking to thousands of officers and soldiers at Al-Dailami Air Base in Sana’a. One day earlier, the commander of Yemeni Air Force, Brigadier Rashid Al-Janad, said in televised interview that the three military airplanes that crashed over Sana’a had been shot down. Brigadier Al-Janad showed pieces of the stricken airplanes with bullet holes in them, which he said proved that someone from Sana’a was shooting them down deliberately. “Now it’s clear to us that there is a conspiracy against the Air Force,” he said.

Shortly after the last crash of a military plane, a Russian-made Sukhoi-22 ground attack jet, military intelligence officers at Anad air base arrested a soldier from Lahij. The soldier, who is now under investigation, was accused of having bombed the main reservoirs of fuel of military airplanes at the base.

The question remains as to who is behind all these incidents, if sabotage and attacks are indeed the cause of the crashes as the government claims. There are several possible culprits: political groups seeking to discredit each other, military personnel who have lost out in the recent reorganizations of the military and security services, and finally Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), who view Yemen’s government and military as agents of American power.

AQAP is growing more and more in the south of Yemen, the most troubled region of the country. Its members know that American trainers and some American Special Forces troops are based at the Anad air base, so it has been always one of AQAP’s targets. The terrorist organization also holds that American drone strikes are enabled by guidance and intelligence from “bad Muslims,” represented by the Yemeni government and its air force’s planes.

In the past, AQAP members have justified killing Yemeni Muslim soldiers, saying: “we kill them because they are the first barrier between us and our enemy America.” They also justify bombing any interest of the Yemeni, American or western governments by saying “we are in a war and they [the Yemeni and US governments] hit us with things that we do not have, and we hit them with things they do not have,” referring to suicide bombings and other means of asymmetric warfare.

“We kill pilots and destroy airplanes because the Yemeni government who works under commandership of its master America, tries to kill us and destroy us with these things,” said one member of Al-Qaeda via email.

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Nasser Arrabyee
Nasser Arrabyee is a Yemeni journalist based in Sana'a. He writes for the Cairo weekly Al Ahram and the Dubai-based Gulf News daily.

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