WikiLeaks cable links defecting Yemeni general to smuggling rackets

US diplomatic cables reveal powerful army chief behind moves to oust president is seen as unwelcome successor to Saleh

The Yemeni general who has thrown his weight behind moves to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh is a powerful and shadowy figure who has amassed a fortune in arms and fuel smuggling rackets, according to US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar "is generally perceived to be the second most powerful man in Yemen", but leans closer to radical political Islam than Saleh, according to a cable sent by Thomas Krajeski in 2005 when he was the US ambassador in Sana'a.

"Ali Mohsen's questionable dealings with terrorists and extremists, however, would make his accession unwelcome to the US and others in the international community," Krajeski wrote. "He is known to have Salafi leanings and to support a more radical Islamic political agenda than Saleh. He has powerful Wahhabi supporters in Saudi Arabia and has reportedly aided the [Saudis] in establishing Wahhabi institutions in northern Yemen. He is also believed to have been behind the formation of the Aden-Abyan army, and is a close associate of noted arms dealer Faris Manna."

For years, he acted as Saleh's "iron fist", building a reputation at home that lies somewhere between fear and revulsion, according to Krajeski.

"Ali Mohsen's name is mentioned in hushed tones among most Yemenis, and he rarely appears in public. Those that know him say he is charming and gregarious. As commander of the north-east region and the first armoured division, Ali Mohsen acts as Saleh's iron fist."

The cable said the general had little support from a public which viewed him as cynical and self-interested. The ambassador said that at the time the general was more likely to try to play kingmaker than take the top job for himself.

"Ali Mohsen would likely face domestic as well as international opposition if he sought the presidency," he said. "Mohsen's reputation may have been damaged in some circles by his role in the al-Houthi rebellions," he added, referring to the suppression of an uprising by Shia Zaidis in the north of the country. "Although ultimately successful in quashing the insurgency, the campaign resulted in hundreds of fatalities, months of clashes, and earned the enmity of the northern tribes and traditional Zaydis."

Krajeski said the general had enriched himself through numerous smuggling rackets. "A major beneficiary of diesel smuggling in recent years, he also appears to have amassed a fortune in the smuggling of arms, food staples and consumer products."

In another 2005 cable, a well-placed Yemeni insider told the ambassador that Ali Mohsen was involved in smuggling diesel, "using military vehicles and ... staff to move fuel to markets in Yemen and Saudi Arabia".


Mark Rice-Oxley

The GuardianTramp

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