Source: The Daily Telegraph, By Richard Spencer, 13/11/2010
Sheikhs from the al-Qaida 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-Qaida-led unrest.
"What al-Qaida are doing is very bad and against Islam. If we had someone from al-Qaida 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-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, was founded last year by local militants and Saudi former inmates of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
The West is relying on Mr Saleh to take firm action in return for aid. Washington has confirmed that spy planes are being used as part of a Yemeni-led operation to hunt down al-Qaida leaders.
They are reluctant to authorize more air strikes, because they fear that such action would further
al-Qaida's aim of uniting Muslims in Yemen and abroad against the West.
The government claims that leaders of the Awalik tribe of Shabwa province have agreed to hand over militants there, including Anwar al-Awlaki, the tribe's most famous son. But Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Awlaki, the tribe's leader, has issued a statement saying that, while the tribe stands against terrorism, it is up to government forces to arrest Awlaki.
He declined to discuss Awlaki's whereabouts, although he is sometimes seen driving along roads in the region.
"Of course there are some al-Qaida militants protected by tribes," said Sheikh Ahmed. "But even if Awlaki is with the Awalik tribe, it is a big tribe. He has more than 100 people protecting him."
Another tribal leader, Sheikh Abdullah al-Jamili of the troubled al-Jawf province, said he had met Awlaki "in the last few days".
He declined to give details, but he confirmed that he was in regular contact with al-Qaida to settle local disputes. One senior Western official warned that if an al-Qaida attack on the West succeeded there would be huge public pressure in America to take action. "There's a demand for decisive action, not 20-year strategies," the official said. "What would happen if something did get to America? Action would be taken."
Awlaki was in contact with the American army officer who shot dead 13 colleagues in Fort Hood, Texas, last November, and inspired Roshonara Choudhry, the woman who stabbed the British Labour MP Stephen Timms in the stomach.