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US raids in Yemen bolstering al-Qaeda: Think tank

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This file photo shows al-Qaeda-affiliated militants in Yemen.

A Belgium-based think tank has warned about al-Qaeda advances in Yemen as a result of foreign military interventions in the country, including a recent deadly attack by elite US forces.

“The Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda is stronger than it has ever been,” the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a Thursday report on the spread of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The report was released after Sunday's US air raid ordered by President Donald Trump on Bayda province in which more than a dozen civilians were killed in attacks on a school, a mosque and a hospital.

“The first military actions by the [US President Donald] Trump administration in Yemen bode poorly for the prospect of smartly and effectively countering AQAP," read the report.

Although the US has said the strike killed at least 14 suspected terrorists and one US Navy force, the ICG said the death toll included “many civilians, including at least 10 women and children.”

The think tank warned that similar attacks could escalate fear and anti-US sentiments among civilians, laying the groundwork for recruitment by AQAP.

“The use of US soldiers, high civilian casualties and disregard for local tribal and political dynamics... plays into AQAP's narrative of defending Muslims against the West and could increase anti-US sentiment and with it AQAP's pool of recruits," it said. 

According to a Yemeni provincial official in Bayda, the US attack on Sunday killed 41 suspected militants and 16 civilians, eight of whom were women and eight children.

AQAP, however, announced in a statement that the strike killed 30 people “only women and children... with some tribal leaders who have no connections" to the group.

The al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen has taken advantage of the chaos fueled by a deadly Saudi military campaign to tighten its grip on parts of southeast Yemen.

The Takfiri Daesh group has also gained ground in and around the main southern city of Aden after the army and their Houthi allies were evicted by the Saudi-led offensive launched in support of the former Hadi government.

Riyadh’s attacks have killed at least 11,400 people in the kingdom’s impoverished neighbor since March 2015, according to the latest tally by a Yemeni monitoring group.

Demonstrators protest in Chicago, Illinois, on February 1, 2017, against US President Donald Trump's entry ban on the citizens of seven Muslim nations. 

Yemenis stranded in Djibouti

Apart from the deadly strike on Bayda, Trump’s orders continue to harm the routine lives of more Yemeni civilians.

Over 200 Yemenis with US visas have been stranded in Djibouti following the US president’s ban on the entry for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries. More than half of the stranded Yemenis are children.

Many of the stranded Yemenis in Djibouti have expressed frustration over their conditions, saying that they are running out of money and that they cannot return home fearing for their lives.  

The US Embassy in Djibouti has posted an online notice, telling the citizens of the seven countries affected by Trump’s order, including Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and those with dual nationalities, not to schedule visa appointments or even attend existing visa appointments.

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