Yemen tribal leaders will not hand over al-Qaeda operatives

Tribal leaders in Yemen are refusing to lend support to their government’s efforts to root out terrorism, saying that handing over local al-Qaeda operatives and their spiritual leader, Anwar al-Awlaki, would be an offence to their customs.

In a severe blow to international demands for Yemen to do more to curb terrorism, sheikhs from the al-Qaeda heartlands in the country’s central provinces have told The Daily Telegraph that they would not turn in members of their tribes. The government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, they said, had not done enough to bring development to their impoverished regions, making them fertile breeding grounds for disaffected radicals.

“There’s no discussion with the government, nothing,” said Sheikh Ahmed Shuraif, leader of the Bani Dhabyan, one of Yemen’s most important tribes. He holds sway in parts of Marib, to the east of the capital Sana’a, a hotbed of al-Qaeda-led unrest. “What al-Qaeda are doing is very bad and against Islam. If we had someone from al-Qaeda we would not accept him but we would not give him to the government either.”

Mr Saleh has been promising to get tough since a new branch, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was founded last year by local militants and Saudi former inmates of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility.

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