SANAA — Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh will leave Yemen temporarily. A diplomatic source said yesterday he expected Saleh to travel next week, probably to a Gulf country, to allow recently elected President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to rule unhindered by his predecessor. Russia has said it is willing to take in Saleh.
Saleh also agreed to relinquish his position as head of the General People’s Congress party. It is sharing power with opposition groups over a two-year transitional period in line with a Gulf-brokered plan to end a year of civil unrest that paralysed the impoverished state.
Hadi has inherited a long list of challenges, not least an active branch of Al Qaeda-linked militants who have stepped up their attacks on security forces since Hadi took office.
Yesterday, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group freed 73 Yemeni soldiers it captured during a major assault in south Yemen last month.
Residents of the southern town of Jaar, controlled by militants who call themselves Ansar al Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), saw the soldiers being let out of the school building where they were being held.
“We spent difficult days as prisoners of Al Qaeda despite their good and generous treatment of us,” said a freed soldier, who was heading to his home in the north of the country.
“We did not expect to return to normal life again. I am now on my way back to my family. I will try to forget what happened but I will not return to fight those who have treated me well.”
In a statement, the militants said Nasser al Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, had authorised their release after negotiations with tribal elders and religious scholars who visited Jaar, which the militants have renamed “the Emirate of Waqar”.
Wuhayshi’s involvement is further evidence of Ansar al Sharia’s links to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which CIA Director David Petraeus described last year as “the most dangerous regional node in the global jihad”.
A year of political upheaval in Yemen that eventually unseated Saleh has emboldened militants in the country, especially in the south, where they have seized swathes of territory and carried out scores of attacks on security forces.
The soldiers were taken hostage by Ansar al Sharia in one such attack on the city of Zinjibar during which more than one hundred other conscripts were killed. — Reuters