Middle East

Yemenis decry 'terrorism taint' over parcel bomb plot

Faris Sanabani
Image caption Faris Sanabani says terrorism cannot be fought with force alone

Under mounting pressure from the international community, the Yemeni authorities have launched a full-fledged security crackdown on al-Qaeda militants across the country, but on the streets of Yemen, there is a bitter aftertaste left by recent events.

Sitting at his desk in a three-storey publishing house in the centre of Sanaa, Faris Sanabani holds up a copy of an editorial he wrote in the day's newspaper, headlined, "Don't let one rotten apple spoil the whole barrel".

In his mid-30s, Mr Sanabani founded the English-language Yemen Observer to try to send a message to the world about a different side of Yemen.

"Yemen is a beautiful country, but under-developed. We need a lot of investment here. Tourism is almost dead. Hotels are empty. [The security scare] is killing the economy," he says.

Mr Sanabani is one of the young generation of Western-educated Yemenis who are trying to bring about change.

"Fighting terrorism will not succeed by force alone. It will create more enemies,'' he says.

"The country is being punished collectively. We need to isolate al-Qaeda, and not to isolate Yemen."

Mr Sanabani says that along with military operations, the authorities need to create jobs and bring in investors.

'Paying the price'

Image caption Amin al-Sanagani says innocent Yemenis will suffer under international isolation

Outside, the streets of the old city are quiet in the afternoon sun.

Electrical engineer Amin al-Sanagani leads me upstairs to his home, located above his shop filled with stacks of 1980s-style televisions.

Motioning towards his 11-year-old daughter, Hind, he says bitterly: "The next generation will be the one to pay the price."

He is against terrorism, Mr al-Sanagani asserts, but unhappy with the international pressure.

"We are already suffering with a bad economy and this is not doing us any good."

Government officials say they are taking control of the situation.

Army patrols are everywhere, columns of armoured vehicles move around the city and military planes can be heard overhead most of the time.

The country is launching two operations around Shabwa province in eastern Yemen.

Sanctions

But the world is also acting quickly to impose restrictions on Yemen.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionBritain has suspended air cargo from Somalia, and banned air freight from Yemen.

Some countries have implemented an embargo on flights and cargo from Yemen, and some embassies in Sanaa have closed.

A Yemeni official expressed disappointment that Saudi Arabia had not notified Sanaa of the two US-bound parcel bombs before they left Yemeni soil.

"We could have dealt with it, had we known about it," the source said. "They wanted to get the credit and informed the Americans."

The parcels were traced by providing the tracking numbers, and not through any high-tech inspection machines, he noted in defence of Yemen's security procedures.

The Yemeni authorities also moved quickly to open a trial of three alleged al-Qaeda members who are accused of staging attacks against foreign targets.

Some believe the timing is part of Yemen's effort to show the world it is capable of tackling its terrorist problems on its own.

The authorities also announced that an additional 14 suspected militants, including five leading figures, have all been urged to give themselves up.

US intervention

Image caption Most Yemenis oppose any US military role in Yemen

Many here are questioning the government's anti-terror campaign, with the opposition calling for more transparency from the government, rather than trying to appease world powers.

The United States has provided assistance to Yemen, which includes training its security forces. Washington now says it will send more advisers to the country.

But the fear here is that American intervention could extend even further, as it has in Pakistan, where forces are also fighting insurgents and militants.

Down in the market of Bab el-Yemen, in the old city of Sanaa, the street is busy with buyers and sellers.

On one side, old men sit chewing khat - the mildly narcotic leaf that Yemenis consume in the afternoon hours of the day.

The atmosphere is relaxed, but whenever the question is raised on the US helping the fight against terror, voices rise: "We will not allow them on our soil."

Old and young men gather around to speak their minds, angry about the image Yemen has got.

"We are not al-Qaeda; we want peace and to live in peace," many voices in the crowd shout.