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Saudi Arabia enrages Yemen with fence - Independent, UK

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  • Zafar Khan
    Saudi Arabia enrages Yemen with fence By John R. Bradley in Sa ada, Yemen 11 February 2004
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 11, 2004
      Saudi Arabia enrages Yemen with fence
      By John R. Bradley in Sa'ada, Yemen
      11 February 2004


      Saudi Arabia, one of the most vocal critics in the
      Arab world of Israel's "security fence" in the West
      Bank, is quietly emulating the Israeli example by
      erecting a barrier along its porous border with Yemen.

      The barrier is part of a plan to erect what will be an
      electronic surveillance system along the length of the
      kingdom's frontiers - land, air and sea. The project,
      involving fencing and electronic detection equipment,
      has been in the planning stages for several years. It
      may cost up to $8.57bn (£4.58bn). Behind the plan is a
      deep-seated lack of trust in the Yemeni authorities'
      ability to arrest infiltrators before they make it
      into Saudi territory.

      A Yemeni delegation arrived in Jeddah for emergency
      talks on the issue yesterday, after submitting an
      official complaint. Saudi officials have combated
      drug, alcohol, luxury-goods and arms smuggling across
      the mountainous and porous border with Yemen for
      years. And they have paid a high price in their
      battles with the smugglers.

      In 2002, 36 Saudi border guards were killed in Jizan,
      a southern Saudi border town. The government says the
      smugglers provide the explosives and weapons used by
      radical Islamists inside the kingdom, who carried out
      two suicide attacks against civilian targets last
      year, killing more than 50 and injuring hundreds.

      The perpetrators of earlier terrorist attacks in Saudi
      Arabia, spanning at least a decade, also used
      explosives from Yemen, state-controlled Saudi media
      has reported. They include the 1993 attack in the
      Bahah region, 200 miles south of Jeddah, in which 10
      people were killed after a bomb was thrown into a
      mosque during Friday prayers, and a blast in Riyadh,
      the capital, in 1995 at an American compound, which
      killed nine.

      Since the bombings on 12 May last year, Saudi border
      patrols have continued to seize large quantities of
      weapons and explosives daily - including more than
      90,000 rounds of ammunition, grenades, more than 2,000
      sticks of dynamite, hundreds of bazookas and more than
      1,200 other weapons.

      Sa'ada, 25 miles south of the border, has the biggest
      of Yemen's numerous arms souks. Here an 85mm
      surface-to-surface missile can be bought for $2,500.
      Anti-aircraft missiles are no longer on display, but
      they can still be had for the right price. The row of
      shops attracts thousands of buyers each day for
      weapons from China, Russia, Belgium, Spain and even
      Israel - a country Yemen does not recognise or trade
      with. There are about 60 million weapons owned by the
      20-million strong Yemeni population.

      Osama bin Laden's roots straddle both sides of the
      border. He was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, but
      has strong ancestral ties to Yemen - a tribal and
      largely lawless country, where all males past puberty
      outside the main cities openly bear arms. Yemen
      remains the place that al-Qa'ida operatives see as
      home. But Saudi Arabia is the source of ideological
      inspiration and financial support. Many are products
      of the Saudi education system, which breeds extremism.

      Al-Qa'ida's leader in Yemen, the Saudi-born and
      educated Mohammed Hamdi al-Ahdal, who was arrested
      last year, is a case in point. He has revealed under
      interrogation to Yemeni authorities that Saudis and
      Yemenis were involved in funding two major terrorist
      attacks in Yemen - against the USS Cole in October
      2000, which killed 17 American sailors, and the French
      supertanker Limburg in October 2002.

      But Saudi-Yemeni tensions long pre-date the "war on
      terror". Saudi Arabia has a history of supporting
      tribal and other disaffected Yemeni groups to keep
      unstable a country they see as a security threat.

      The ruling family, Al-Saud, who sponsor the Wahabi
      school of Islam that damns Shias as infidels, even
      gave military assistance to the hereditary Shia ruling
      family of Yemen when it was deposed in a coup in 1962.
      The country split in two soon after into a
      traditionalist North Yemen and Marxist South Yemen,
      but reunited in 1990, despite official Saudi

      In the 1990s they increased clandestine funding to
      various Yemeni groups leading to local conspiracy
      theories that the Saud paid tribal leaders to kidnap
      foreign tourists. This destroyed Yemen's tourism
      industry, but there is no evidence that the Saudi
      ruling family was involved.

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