Magazine article Geographical

Yemen

Magazine article Geographical

Yemen

Article excerpt

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In June, rebel forces operating in northern Yemen killed a number of hostages, including at least one British national and his South Korean wife. The victims' bodies were found in Sa'dah Governorate, which borders Saudi Arabia. This remote region has been a hotbed of instability since 2004, when Zaidi rebels began an insurrection against the government. The Zaidis represent one of the three branches of Shia Islam and are said to be directly descended from the prophet Muhammad. The rebels are calling for the restoration of the Zaidi imamate, which ruled the capital, Sana'a, until a 1962 coup by republican forces.

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In response, the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has cracked down on Zaidism, banning some religious literature and festivals, and replacing Zaidi preachers with Salafis. The conflict also has a regional dynamic, with Saleh accusing Iran of sponsoring the rebellion.

The kidnapping of foreign nationals has been a regular occurrence in Yemen for some time, with more than 200 taken hostage during the past 15 years. However, in most cases, they have been released following payment of a ransom. No-one has claimed responsibility for the recent kidnapping or the killings. The Yemeni government blamed the rebels, while locals said that al-Qaeda was responsible.

Situated on the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen borders Saudi Arabia and Oman, and shares the Gulf of Aden with Eritrea and Somalia. As such, it's close to one of the world's most important shipping lanes, connecting the Middle East and Asia to Europe and North America via the Suez Canal, and concerns over piracy and hijacking have been mounting.

Onshore, Yemen has been widely seen as a major zone of interest to the US military because of its connections to al-Qaeda, underscored by the bombing of the USS Cole off the southern port of Aden in 2000--an attack blamed on the terror group.

In 2007, the group stepped up its operations in Yemen with a suicide attack on a convoy of Spanish tourists. And in January last year, it launched a series of attacks, culminating in an assault on the US embassy the following September. …

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