MANAMA - Yemen's security chief has told Iran to stop training
and funding Shi'ite Muslim rebels who, along with al-Qaida-backed Islamists and
southern separatists, are staging one of three insurgencies threatening to pull
the chaotic country apart.
Major-General Ali al-Ahmadi, president of
Yemen's National Security Board, also said al-Qaida appeared not to number more
than 700-800 in the country, including a few hundred Saudis.
group's Yemeni wing, which has plotted attacks on international airlines and
sworn to bring down Saudi Arabia's monarchy, had sleeper cells on top of this
that authorities had yet to track down, he told Reuters on Sunday.
accused Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels who operate in northern Yemen near
the border with Saudi Arabia - the world's top oil exporter which is competing
with Shi'ite Iran for regional influence.
"Iran seized a chance to
broaden the conflict to play a certain role," he said. "We have no hostility to
Iran; all we ask is that they don't interfere." "We have processed evidence of
their presence and we have arrested a number of people and have sufficient
evidence they are interfering," Ahmadi added in an interview on the sidelines of
a conference in Bahrain.
Iran has already denied interfering in Yemen's
The Houthi movement, named after the tribe of its leader, says
it represents the claims of Zaydi Shi'ite Muslims who ruled Yemen for over 1,000
years. Most Iranians follow a different Shi'ite sect but Yemeni officials say
Houthis have traveled to Iran's seminary city of Qom for
Yemen said in July it had arrested members of a spy ring
led by a former commander in Iran's Revolutionary Guard, the state news agency
Saba said, adding that the cell had operated in the Horn of Africa as well as
Yemen. An Interior Ministry official said all those detained were
Houthis have survived repeated government attempts to crush
them. They fought a brief war with Saudi Arabia in 2009 after their conflict
with Yemeni forces spilled across the border.
Sanaa has invited them to
join Yemen's national dialogue process aimed at reconciling the disparate groups
that emerged before and during a political crisis last year.
Saudis in al-Qaida
Ahmadi also said the exact size of Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian
Peninsula (AQAP) was unknown.
"Al Qaeda seems to me to not exceed 700-800
elements, but there are also sleeper cells we don't know about. The majority are
Yemenis," Ahmadi said. "The second group are Saudis, of which there are
hundreds, but it is very hard to be precise." Islamist militants exploited
protests last year against then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to seize
several towns in the south before a U.S.-backed government offensive drove them
out. T he y included many Saudis who had fled after the kingdom crushed a wave
of attacks in 2006.
Saudi officials have described AQAP as the kingdom's
most serious security threat and have worked closely with Sanaa against the
Security analysts in the Gulf say Saudis comprise much of the
leadership of AQAP, but that a series of recent defections and assassinations
may have weakened morale.
"Saudis bring ideology, funding and bomb-making
expertise to AQAP," Ahmadi said. "More than 13 nationalities have come to Yemen
with al Qaeda. Most fighters are from inside the country but foreigners brought
expertise and were misguiding and misleading young Yemeni people." Early last
month a group of 12 Saudis and a Yemeni killed two Saudi security guards in an
ambush as they tried to cross into Yemen, leading to the deaths of four of the
men and the capture of the others, Saudi state media said.
experts say Saudi Arabia, under the direction of its Interior Minister Prince
Mohammed bin Nayef and intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, has a strong
presence in Yemen helping the government to infiltrate AQAP.
full coordination between the counterpart services of the two countries to share
information. There are different forms of units to co-ordinate," Ahmadi
In April a Saudi diplomat was kidnapped by al-Qaida in Aden and is
still being held. Another was shot dead near his home in Sanaa last month.