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Yemen: Al-Qaeda

Volume 713: debated on Wednesday 21 October 2009

Question

Asked By

What assessment they have made of the threat level from al-Qaeda in Yemen and the influx of insurgents from Yemen into Afghanistan.

My Lords, we believe that there is a high threat from al-Qaeda in Yemen, which is seen as an easier environment to operate in than some regional neighbours. We are concerned about that rising threat. Yemen has witnessed a significant upsurge in al-Qaeda activity since Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was formed in 2006. There have been a number of terrorist incidents in Yemen, including against western interests, and we believe that terrorists continue to plan attacks. There is little indication of an influx of insurgents from Yemen into Afghanistan.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for that reply. From it, I think it is fair to say that she accepts that the destruction of infrastructure and local economies in Yemen and the creation of tens of thousands of IDPs have provided a prime recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. I am sure she will accept that independent panellists are claiming that literally hundreds of Yemeni insurgents trained by al-Qaeda have been seen in Afghanistan and therefore one must presume that they have been engaging with our forces. Given that situation, does the Minister agree that it is incumbent on the United Kingdom to take a lead role in trying to bring peace and stability back into Yemen through international aid and reconstruction in order to tackle the problem at its source? Finally, in that context, can she tell the House where we are in terms of the international funds that we are contributing to compared with other countries—for example, Germany, which I think has given some £70 million this year alone to assist in Yemen?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for his comments and for the commitment that he shows to these issues. The noble Lord seeks reassurance on the UK’s commitment to funding. The UK spent £20 million in the financial year 2008-09 and this figure is bound to increase significantly in the next two years. Our development partner agreement with Yemen has allocated £105 million from April 2008 to March 2011. We also contributed £2 million to the UN appeal for displaced people in the north. Again, I reassure the noble Lord that we, with Germany, are leading in the European Union as the most substantial donors of assistance in Yemen. We agree that the implications of an unstable Yemen will be felt by the entire international community. It is therefore important that we work together with our partners in the European Union, with Saudi Arabia and the United States, and that we co-ordinate those activities.

My Lords, is there any evidence that members of al-Qaeda based in Yemen are involved in piracy in the Horn of Africa?

My Lords, I reassure the noble Baroness that we have no evidence of any piracy connection with al-Qaeda in Yemen. However, we are working very hard with the Yemeni authorities in actions against piracy. Our main activity is supporting and funding the coastguards, who are doing a very good job in the waters around the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden.

My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister on the relations that we have with the Saudis on this question. The Saudi Government are clearly threatened by what is happening in Yemen. In past years, the Saudi regime and members of Saudi society have not been entirely helpful in coping with the threat from al-Qaeda. There was a very good article in the New York Times the week before last by a senior member of the Saudi Royal Family about how we need to work together in combating al-Qaeda. Are Her Majesty’s Government and other members of the European Union now in active dialogue with the Saudis on how we work together in this respect?

My Lords, again, I can reassure the noble Lord. He may be aware that quite recently the Foreign Secretary discussed Yemen with Prince Saud, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, and the Government of Saudi Arabia have committed substantial support to the Government of Yemen. We have included Saudi Arabia in the UK’s partnership in Yemen to ensure that we work in a co-ordinated way.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has told us that we have given considerable sums of money to the Yemenis. Can she tell the House what they are spending it on and how it is improving matters?

My Lords, we are aware that Yemen has enormous problems. President Saleh has to deal with the problems in northern Yemen and in the south, where there are secessionist movements which are claiming independence from Yemen. In the Arabian peninsular, the Yemenis are having to conduct a struggle against al-Qaeda, which recently carried out attacks. They also have very serious problems with their economy; they have to make tough, painful reforms and they have very poor public services. DfID is assisting efforts to ensure that they have a better education system and that they can improve their infrastructure and work against the increasing radicalisation of young people in Yemen. That is the mentoring process in which we are involved. There are many tasks and a big DfID programme with much collaboration with the Ministry of Defence.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has mentioned the good work done by the Royal Navy in combating piracy off the coast of Yemen. Can she tell the House what has happened to the pirates who were captured earlier this year by the Royal Navy?