Yemeni tribes shielding al-Qa'ida militants
Tribal leaders in Yemen are refusing to lend support to their government's efforts to root out terrorism, saying that handing over local al-Qa'ida operatives and Anwar al-Awlaki, their spiritual leader, would be in breach of their customs.
Sheikhs from the al-Qa'ida heartlands in the country's central provinces have said that they would not turn in members of their tribes.
The government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, they said, had not done enough to bring development to their impoverished regions, making them fertile breeding grounds for disaffected radicals.
"There's no discussion with the government, nothing," said Sheikh Ahmed Shuraif, leader of the Bani Dhabyan, one of Yemen's most important tribes. He holds sway in parts of Marib, to the east of the capital Sana'a, a hotbed of al-Qa'ida-led unrest.
"What al-Qa'ida are doing is very bad and against Islam. If we had someone from al-Qa'ida we would not accept him but we would not give him to the government either."
Mr Saleh has been promising to get tough since a new branch, al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula, was founded last year by local militants and Saudi former inmates of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
The West is relying on Mr Saleh to take action in return for aid. They are reluctant to authorise more air strikes, fearing it would further al-Qa'ida's aim of uniting Muslims in Yemen.
The government claims that leaders of the Awalik tribe of Shabwa province have agreed to hand over militants, including Anwar al-Awlaki, the tribe's most famous son. But Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Awlaki, the tribe's leader, issued a statement saying that, while the tribe stands against terrorism, it is up to government to arrest Awlaki.
''Of course there are some al-Qa'ida militants protected by tribes," said Sheikh Ahmed. "But even if Awlaki is with the Awalik tribe, it is a big tribe. He has more than 100 people protecting him." (© Daily Telegraph, London)