Yemen's defense ministry today claimed
its forces killed a senior al Qaeda leader, Ayedh al Shabwani, in southern
Yemen on Tuesday. In a statement on its website, the ministry said the man was
killed during intense fighting in the largely lawless southern part of the
country. Al Shabwani was on Yemen's most wanted list and has evaded previous
attempts on his life -- including an air
strike in January, 2010 on a location where he was thought to be hiding.
The government has been battling al Qaeda militants in the south without
much to show for it, so far. In the past two days, 10 soldiers were killed. 90,000
people are thought to have fled the fighting. (Yemeni officials say
the United States is providing logistical support and also carrying out strikes
from the air and sea.) For the past several months, al Qaeda has been taking
full advantage of the power vacuum playing out in the country -- especially
since President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to leave
for Saudi Arabia to recuperate from injuries suffered in an attack on his
palace in June. Since then, there have been questions about who
is actually calling the shots.
Given the flood of bad news, an announcement that a major al Qaeda figure is
dead would surely be seen as a major achievement for the government. There's
only one problem -- there are serious doubts being raised about whether al
Shabwani was really killed. After all, this wouldn't be the first time the Yemen
government has claimed they got him. Some opposition groups and analysts have
said the announcement was just an attempt by the government to show it had the
upper hand in the fighting -- when in reality it didn't. They say the timing of
the announcement -- so soon after the air raid -- was suspicious.
"The government is looking for victories right now even if they are lies," a
Yemeni al Qaeda analyst, Said Obeid, told Reuters.
Some Yemeni officials conceded there was reason to be skeptical. "They
have a right to some doubts because there has been a lack of precision in some
past information given, but our media announces the news as we receive it from
the area," one official told Reuters.