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Yemen Minister: Government control 'almost non-existent'

January 19th, 2015
03:52 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

Government control in Yemen is “almost non-existent,” the Yemeni Information Minister told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday after a day of heavy violence rocked the country’s capital, Sanaa.

Nadia Al-Sakkaf also said that Prime Minister Khaled Bahah, who went into hiding when attackers shot at him earlier on Monday, had been surrounded in his home later in the evening by armed Shiite Houthi militias.

“He is at his place, but currently he has been surrounded by Houthi militias around his place, and they have stationed themselves at rooftops of neighboring buildings. He is worried that the situation might escalate.”

Yemen’s Information Minister said the Prime Minister does have a proper security force “and he is saying that if he needs he will use it.”

“I just spoke to him on the phone and he’s worried because he said ‘I’m not going to remain a prisoner.’”

Nine people were killed and at least 67 were injured on Monday following clashes around Yemen’s presidential palace.

Yemen's Interior Minister and a rebel official confirmed that government forces and the militias agreed to a ceasefire following the violence.

When asked to describe the current situation on the ground, Nadia Al-Sakkaf saidthis is almost a replica of what happened in September, on the 21st of September, when the Houthis came into the city and took over everything, and then there was the peace and partnership agreement, where they pulled back a little bit and allowed a government to be created.”

“Now, since then, the Houthis have not really left the capital, they’ve been around with their arms, and what happened is that they’ve been interfering in the government’s work but we were trying to get this country going.”

The Shiite militias are still holding the President’s chief of staff, whom they abducted on Saturday, “and they said that they are going to escalate and kidnap other government officials,” Nadia Al-Sakkaf said.

The world is particularly wary of the situation in Yemen as the country is the base of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which claimed responsibility for the January 7 terror attack on the staff of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The minister said that “al Qaeda is not a very visible entity, so it could be anywhere. And with the chaotic situation, with not just having just one particular entity in charge of security, that is an added threat, because there is no accountability, as the security is responsible to these threats between Houthis and what remains of the state security.”

She added that “this morning, it was so chaotic, they said that nobody knew what was going on and who was in charge, and these are situations where al Qaeda can easily infiltrate and create - either put its men amongst the people, or easily target.”

Peter Neumann, Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, explained that the Yemeni “government is very weak, that you have a very chaotic situation in different tribal factions fighting each other and it is always in these conditions that terrorist organizations like al Qaeda thrive.”

Europe remains on high alert after the Paris attacks as well as last week’s anti-terror raids, which took place in several countries including France, Belgium and Greece.

“For the first time now,” Neumann said, “we have two groups within the jihadist camp – we have al Qaeda and we have ISIS. Of course, last year, ISIS was on the offensive, it was starting a country essentially, and al Qaeda people have been feeling that they were on the defensive and there may well be a competition between the different groups and the one thing that al Qaeda believes it still can do in order to regain offensive is to launch spectacular attacks in the West.”

“I think it’s still credible that AQAP was responsible for [the Charlie Hebdo attack] because of the professionalism with which it was carried out. I doubt that Islamic State right now would be capable of organizing such a professional organization inside the West.”

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