Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Politics of an Extrajudicial Killing

Yemen Notes Its Own Role in U.S. Attack on Militant

By Laura Kasinof
The New York Times
October 1, 2011

SANA, Yemen — Yemeni officials provided more details on Saturday about their role in the tracking and killing of an American-born cleric, while a government spokesman said that the United States should show more appreciation to Yemen’s embattled president for his assistance in the case.

A high-ranking Yemeni official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that Yemen had provided the United States with intelligence on the location of the cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed by an American drone strike on Friday. The information came from “a recently captured Al Qaeda operative,” the official said.

He said that Yemeni security officials located Mr. Awlaki on Friday morning in a house in the village of Al Khasaf in Al Jawf Province. The remote village lies in a desert where the Yemeni state has no control and tribes with varying loyalties rule.

The United States said that Mr. Awlaki, a propagandist for the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda, had taken on an operational role in the organization, and last year the Obama administration placed him on a list of targets to kill or capture. The Yemeni group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is considered Al Qaeda’s “most active operational affiliate,” President Obama said Friday, and the United States was a major target.

The State Department issued a travel alert on Saturday, warning that the attack “could provide motivation” for retaliatory attacks worldwide against American citizens and interests.

The killing came a week after the return to Yemen of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been recovering in Saudi Arabia from wounds sustained in an assassination attempt and whose resignation after 33 years of autocratic rule has been demanded by a large protest movement in Yemen, the political opposition, regional powers and the United States.

The timing of the airstrikes fueled speculation that Mr. Saleh, who has frequently portrayed himself as an essential bulwark against Al Qaeda, had handed over Mr. Awlaki to the Americans in order to reduce American pressure on him to leave.

American officials said Friday that there was no connection between Mr. Saleh’s return and the airstrikes. They said that American and Yemeni security forces had been hunting Mr. Awlaki for nearly two years, and that new information about his location surfaced about three weeks ago.

That information allowed the C.I.A. to track his movements, the officials said, and wait for an opportunity to strike when there was little risk to civilians.

A senior American official made it clear on Saturday that Mr. Saleh’s immediate resignation remained a goal of American policy and said that Yemen’s government was under no “significant illusion” that the United States had changed its position.

“Sustaining military-to-military cooperation is in our best interest,” the official added, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We don’t want to undermine that cooperation.”

A Yemeni government spokesman, however, said that Mr. Saleh deserved credit for helping the Americans.

“After this big victory in catching Awlaki, the White House calls on the president to leave power immediately?” a deputy information minister, Abdu al-Janadi, told Reuters. “The Americans don’t even respect those who cooperate with them.”

The spokesman for Yemen’s opposition coalition, Mohammed Qahtan, rejected the idea that Mr. Awlaki’s killing was a feather in the government’s cap. Instead, it showed “the regime’s failure and weakness to perform its duty to arrest and try Awlaki in accordance with the Constitution,” Mr. Qahtan said. “And it’s that that forced America to go after him using their own means.”

Although Yemen did not carry out the strike, which was launched from a secret American base, Yemeni officials were quick to trumpet the results. A high-ranking Yemeni security official called The New York Times at 10:15 a.m. local time on Friday, about 20 minutes after the attack.

The Defense Ministry broadcast the announcement an hour later, hours before American officials made any public statement.

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