Kidnapping is part of a much larger problem
Last Friday, three Europeans were in Tahrir Square. Two of them were European men, one from Finland and the other from Austria. They were studying Arabic here in Sana’a. The third was the Finnish man’s wife. She arrived last week to join her husband and enjoy this beautiful country we assume her husband told her about.
Little did they know that their Christmas holiday would be spent with tribes in the rural area of Khawlan, about 20 km. east of the capital city, after being kidnapped at gun point. Who could have known that the first real test of their Arabic language skills would be with armed, tribal Yemeni men?
Although it probably is little comfort to their families, there is reassurance they will be okay. In fact, had they not been kidnapped, they would have never been able to visit that remote, tribal area and become acquainted first hand with tribal life in Yemen. I am not saying they are lucky or taking this lightly, but they may be able to write a book or make a documentary once they return home safely and potentially be received by their people as heroes.
This regrettable event will cost Yemen a lot. We had just barely managed to improve the security situation and promote Yemen as a tourist destination when this unfortunate kidnapping happened.
The most unnerving fact of this incident is that the security could have easily caught the culprits. Eye witnesses reported the car description and license plate number to security officials immediately. They even tried to rescue the foreigners but were threatened by the aggressive, kidnappers with Kalashnikovs.
Yemen’s authority was quick to blame Al-Qaeda. However, considering the circumstances of the kidnapping, it was obvious that rowdy gangs were behind it, rather than an organized terrorist group. The kidnappers claimed their responsibility shortly after the incident and demanded a ransom.
The kidnapping sent a very clear message to Hadi about the legitimacy of his brave decision to begin restructuring the army. Hadi finally dared to take power away from the two most powerful security figures in the country, Ahmed Ali Saleh, the leader of the Republican Guards and Ali Mohsen, commander of the First Armored Division. The kidnapping was a slap on the face that came very quickly. It reminded Hadi that he can make all the decrees he wants, but as long as he does not have a genuine command of security and military institutions on the ground, events like this will continue to happen.
I have heard first hand information that the Central Security forces refused to move when they were informed of the incident. “We don’t have instructions,” was what they said. They control the check points for the city’s entry points and could have easily stopped the abductors’ car on its way out of Sana’a.
The defragmentation of security and military institutions scares me much more than Al-Qaeda. At least we know Al-Qaeda is the enemy, and we understand their motives. However, having a security force that is supposed to protect us, but actually works against the stability of the country, terrifies me more.
The U.S. drone strike on Monday that targeted Al-Qaeda but killed civilians is yet another cause for concern.
We need to fix our priorities. While it is important to fight Al-Qaeda, it is more important to strengthen Yemen’s security and unify its military so that we can deal with our own problems, without a need for U.S. drones.
T here is house cleaning that needs to be done, and it needs to be done now.