MOGADISHU (Somalilandpress) — According to the Italian well-known newspaper, Sole 24 Ore, the sentinel chief of the Gulf of Aden is General Ali Ahmad Rassa who leads the Yemeni coast guard, a fleet made up of only 9 patrol boats says “We would need at least 20 more ships to make Gulf of Aden safe from terrorism,” he disconsolately said during an interview last December in Sana’a.

The general is the first to put across disquiet about Al-Qa’idah’s threat to take control of Bab el-Mandeb, where approximately three million barrels of oil transit each day. The place in question is a 20-mile long inlet located in the narrowest point of the Red Sea, between the shores of the Horn of Africa and Yemen, and which is infested with Somali pirates and the traffic of Islamic guerrillas.

Bab El-Mandeb, which in Arabic means the Gate of Tears, is one of the targets of the audio message aired yesterday over the Internet by Said al-Shihri, a former Saudi detainee at Guantanamo who was released three years ago, and who in Jan 2009 helped found the AQAP [“Al-Qa’idah on the Arabian Peninsula”], headed by Nasser al-Wahayshi, a Yemeni terrorist who was the secretary of Osama Bin Ladin, Al-Qaeda leader. Both the leader and his deputy were thought to be dead, or captured by Yemeni forces.
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Said al-Shihri rallied Muslims to the jihad against Christians and Jews. “There is no other way out than to attack American and crusader interests wherever they may be.” “Taking control of Bab El-Mandeb,” he added, “will constitute an escalating victory: the Jews will be crushed in a vise, because it is through the Strait that the United States brings its support to Israel.” He then thanked  to the Al-Shabab, Somalia’s Islamic fundamentalists, for having suggested sending reinforcements. There was also a tribute “to Omar al-Faruq Abdilmutalib,” the young Nigerian who, after having trained in Yemen, at Christmas tried to blow up a Delta Airlines jet.

What meaning can be given to the communique, which also mentions the recent London conference on Yemen? The first message is addressed to the interior, to the followers, stressing that leadership is still alive and well despite the Yemeni and US air raids. The second message is directed abroad: Al-Qa’eda confirms that it wants to destabilize the entire region. For Bin Ladin, Yemen is a strategic choice dictated by three reasons. First, the country, which is in difficulty because of the guerrilla in the north and separatist urgings in the south, places the organization in direct contact with a young and impoverished population, one which is vulnerable to the preaching of radical imams. Second, bases in Yemen make it easy to infiltrate Saudi territory. Third, Bab el-Mandeb facilitates the exchange of men and weapons with the guerrillas in the Horn of Africa.

What are the consequences of these threats for the Strait? The Somali pirates, who already find support in Yemeni ports, could be prompted to step up their attacks on oil tankers. In Yemen, among other things, there are about one million Somali refugees who have been granted refugee status.

The international fleet that plies the Red Sea waters can, to a certain extent, guarantee that Al-Qa’eda will not become master of the Strait, but Yemen’s stability hinges on being able to monitor the coasts. “I thank Italian cooperation for having provided the Selex radar systems and personnel to train [our] coast guard,” General Rassa told Sole 24 Ore. “But the international presence is still too limited. So far, much has been said, but little has been done.” For General Rassa too, Bab El-Mandeb is the Gate of Tears.

By Abdinasir Mohamed

Somalilandpress, 10 February 2010