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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 December, 2003, 23:47 GMT
Yemen's new anti-terror strategy

By Frank Gardner
BBC security correspondent in Yemen

The BBC has been given exclusive access to Yemen's controversial new strategy for defeating al-Qaeda cells.

A US instructor briefs Yemen's special forces
Yemen is tight-lipped about its military co-operation with America
In the mountains of Yemen we were taken to a secret training base, where US special forces train Yemen's counter-terrorist troops to hunt down al-Qaeda.

Even most of the Yemeni Government does not know where it is.

This military co-operation with America is highly sensitive here.

They told us no journalist has seen it before.

Yemen has a problem with Al-Qaeda terror cells, but it is dealing with it.

The Yemeni special forces have already carried out surveillance, dawn raids and arrests.

They now have the skills to catch al-Qaeda suspects.

Controversial strategy

But the authorities here have recently developed a new and much more subtle approach.

The duty of a Muslim in general is not killing or bloodshed. Islam is a religion that promotes peace and tolerance, and it is against killing
Rashaad, alleged former al-Qaeda supporter

They invited me to the justice ministry to see their new methods in action.

Inside, I found a devout Muslim judge sitting with alleged former al-Qaeda supporters.

They have just been released from prison on bail, after apparently renouncing violence.

I was hoping they would tell me about how al-Qaeda is recruiting here, but they were nervous - as policemen were listening.

'Message of peace'

I talked to Rashaad, who fought in Afghanistan.

Imprisoned for two years without trial, he said he did nothing wrong.

But the government insists he was an influential extremist who called for attacks on non-Muslims.

Yemen's special forces
Yemeni special forces have recently carried a number of raids across the country

Yet his message was one of peace.

"The duty of a Muslim in general is not killing or bloodshed. Islam is a religion that promotes peace and tolerance, and it is against killing," Rashaad said.

His friends agreed. They said dialogue was the way forward.

"We deal with people with reason and dialogue. Weapons and machine-guns are the last resort in defending my country," said one of them.

Death threats

But when I asked who was using those weapons, the judge intervened.

A plot to blow up the British embassy in Sana'a has recently been foiled

"That's not what we're here to discuss," Judge Humoud Hattar said.

He has been called a government stooge, and received death threats.

But he has been so successful at converting extremists that the British Foreign Office has invited him to lecture in London.

"The results depend on convincing people through the Koran and Islamic texts. Young people should accept those texts and comply with them," the judge said.

New footage

Out on the streets of the capital, Sana'a, the Yemenis have recently put their dialogue programme to work.

Yemeni troops storm an al-Qaeda stronghold
Yemen says its troops have recently killed dozens of militants

A former al-Qaeda member turned informer led the authorities to Mohammed al-Ahdal - an alleged al-Qaeda financier and the most wanted man in Yemen.

In a covert operation last month, the Yemeni counter-terrorist troops surrounded him at his own wedding.

They are now interrogating him, passing selected intelligence to the Americans.

And they have been busy elsewhere too.

Yemen has recently released a footage showing the government troops storming a remote al-Qaeda stronghold this summer.

The government says it killed or captured dozens of militants.

But Yemen knows it cannot defeat al-Qaeda with bullets alone.

That's why its so keen on dialogue, to cut the pipeline that feeds extremism.

The BBC's Frank Gardner
"US special forces are training Yemen's counter-terrorist troops to hunt down al-Qaeda"

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