Yemen said on Sunday it will not hunt down a US-born religious leader who has reportedly been added to the CIA’s list of targets to be killed or captured.
Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, the Yemeni foreign minister, said on Saturday that his country did not receive any evidence from the US to support allegations that Anwar al-Awlaki is recruiting for al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Yemen.
“Anwar al-Awlaki has always been looked at as a preacher rather than a terrorist and shouldn’t be considered as a terrorist unless the Americans have evidence that he has been involved in terrorism,” al-Qirbi said.
His announcement came after a powerful Yemeni tribe threatened to use violence against anyone trying to harm al-Awlaki.
Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, is beset by serious political and administrative problems.
In an official statement published on Saturday after a meeting of tribal leaders, the Al-Awalik tribe, which is active in the Abyan and Shabwa regions that are important al-Qaeda strongholds, said it would “not remain with arms crossed if a hair of Anwar al-Awlaqi is touched, or if anyone plots or spies against him”.
“Whoever risks denouncing our son (Awlaqi) will be the target of Al-Awalik weapons,” the statement said, and gave warning “against co-operating with the Americans” in the capture or killing of al-Awlaki.
The US administration has approved the killing of al-Awlaki after US intelligence agencies concluded he was now directly involved in plots against the US, not merely publicly encouraging such attacks.
Al-Awlaki rose to prominence last year after it emerged he had had prolonged communications with Major Nidal Hasan, a US army psychiatrist accused of opening fire on colleagues at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13 people.
He is also accused of having had ties to the September 11, 2001, hijackers, and to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian student accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound flight with explosives on December 25.
In addition to the conflict with the regional branch of al-Qaeda, Yemen’s weak central government has struggled to contain separatists in the south and Houthi fighters in the north.
The government and the Houthis reached a ceasefire agreement in February. But the separatist problems in the south show no sign of a resolution.