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Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 12:40 GMT
Attractive base for anti-West Islamists
Protest in Yemen
Yemen has seen many anti-Israel protests
By Middle East Correspondent Frank Gardner

For impoverished, underdeveloped Yemen, political violence is like a disease that won't go away.

The hijacking of an airliner carrying the US ambassador comes three months after a suicide bomb attack on the American destroyer USS Cole in Aden harbour, which killed 17 sailors and nearly sank the vessel.

Washington believes the attack on the Cole was instigated by, among others, the Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden. Whoever was behind this and previous attacks clearly has a deep-felt grudge against the West and its perceived bias towards Israel.

A Yemeni tribesman aims his gun
Yemen has more 50m firearms in private hands
For militant, anti-Western Islamists, Yemen has long been an attractive base for operations.

The government has limited control outside the main cities - the huge number of firearms in private hands, 50 million at the last count, makes Yemeni tribesmen fiercely independent of central control. It is also a country of deep devotion to Islam.

Couple this with the government's historic friendship with revolutionary organisations like Iraq's Baath Party and the PLO, and you have a fertile ground for anti-Western sentiment.

Yet most Yemenis bear little ill will towards Western tourists.

Until December 1998, the frequent kidnappings of tourists all ended with them being released unharmed after tribesmen extracted a ransom from the government.

Tourists murdered

That all changed when a mass kidnap of 16 Western tourists by men calling themselves the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army turned violent.

Yemeni troops stormed their hideout, against the request of the British Government.

Four British tourists died in the gun battle and relations between Britain and Yemen never recovered.

Yemenis say the kidnappers were remnants of a fighting force the government used to help crush the southern socialists in the 1994 civil war.

Whether true or not, they were an embarrassment to the government, and when their leader was executed in 1999, Yemen said it had dealt once and for all with Islamist violence.

This events of the last few months appear to disprove that.

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See also:

06 Dec 00 | Middle East
Yemen confirms Cole suspects' trial
13 Oct 00 | Middle East
Explosion hits UK Yemen embassy
14 Jan 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
Yemen: Arabia's 'Wild West'
19 Jul 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Yemen
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