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Yemenis worry they will become collateral damage in the next front of America's "war on terror."
SANAA, Yemen — In an unassuming mosque, adorned only with graffiti and ancient stained-glass windows, about 30 women and children sat on the floor, listening to a sermon. The women wore black robes, but the veils that usually covered their faces were flipped up.
They listened to Imam Sami al-Fayek on a speaker, while the men congregated downstairs. The imam spoke of the war in northern Yemen, and his hope that the government would end it.
“We ask God to make them stop,” he said, “Because a lot of people have been killed.”
When the imam finished his thoughts, he began the traditional melodic Friday prayers. The women sat up, cupped their hands in front of them and responded gently, asking God to forgive them their sins. When the service ended, they turned to each other, shook hands affectionately, and said “Assalam alykum,” peace be upon you.
Later in the afternoon, in a crisp white thobe and black turban, al-Fayek stood outside the beige brick building talking to friends and neighbors in the bright sun. He was grateful, he said, because the capital Sanaa is peaceful. “Here, in our area, it is safe.”
|A mother walks with her children in Mukalla.
That sense of security is rare in a country that is facing a Shiite insurgency, a secessionist movement in the south, a looming water crisis and crushing poverty. And now the government is shifting its focus to fighting Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s organization.
The capital Sanaa, surrounded by mountains, has been one of the few places that escaped the strife plaguing other regions of the country. But the mood in the mosques and markets reflects the city's unease about what the new-found focus on Al Qaeda might bring. Many in this small, desperately poor country are afraid they will become collateral damage in the next front of America's "war on terror."
“Everybody is worried about the future,” said Ammar al-Maktri, an accountant who is friends with al-Fayek. “About Al Qaeda and the Americans.”
Al-Maktri, like many Yemenis, has followed the events in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan on the news. He believes that if the U.S. tries to battle it out with Al Qaeda in Yemen, it will be the Yemeni people who suffer most.
For weeks now, the chatter on the streets of Sanaa has focused on just how far the U.S. intends to go in this fight.
In December, U.S.-ordered air strikes killed at least 60 suspected Al Qaeda militants, Yemeni officials said. And since a Nigerian born radical, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to blow up a plane over Detroit after living in Yemen, it has become clear that the U.S. intends to retaliate.