SANAA (Reuters) - The United States showed a lack of respect for democracy and its partners in fighting terrorism by renewing its call for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down, a Yemeni official said on Saturday.
Washington made its call for Saleh to resign on the day it announced that a CIA drone strike had killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric regarded as one of al Qaeda’s most eloquent English propagandists, in Yemen’s northern al-Jawf province.
Yemeni security sources said they had located Awlaki with intelligence gathered from a captured al Qaeda operative.
On Friday, the White House said Awlaki’s killing had not altered its demand that Saleh sign a plan under which he would hand over power. Saleh, who has repeatedly shied away from the Gulf-brokered transition deal, has faced more than eight months of protests by Yemenis demanding an end to his 33-year rule.
“After this big victory in catching Awlaki, the White House calls on the president to leave power immediately? The Americans don’t even respect those who cooperate with them,” Yemen’s Deputy Information Minister Abdu al-Janadi told Reuters.
Analysts say Saleh has been an inconsistent partner to the West in its fight against al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, sometimes helping U.S.-led efforts and sometimes, his critics say, exploiting the militant threat to win more support from abroad.
“President Saleh was an elected president...They (the Americans) called on us to be partners in the fight against terrorism. The president suffered a great deal for the war on terror. From their position, it seems they do not respect democracy,” Janadi said.
Saleh returned last week from Saudi Arabia where he was treated for wounds sustained in a June assassination attempt.
In recent weeks, fighting has erupted between loyalist forces and troops loyal to the opposition.
Sanaa residents said on Saturday evening there were loud explosions and sporadic gunfire in areas near the area where protesters have camped out for months to press Saleh to quit. In Taiz, south of the capital, the opposition said shelling in a residential area killed one civilian and wounded three others.
Protesters said the timing of Awlaki’s death just after the president’s return was a ploy by Saleh to hang on to power. The political opposition said it would not let the killing affect negotiations.
“We don’t feel the operation will have an impact on the political future, rather, we feel that the deal is reaching a conclusion,” said Mohammed al-Sabri, an opposition spokesman.
Yemeni security officials denied media reports that among those killed with Awlaki was Ibrahim al-Asiri, a Saudi citizen believed to have made the explosives used in two foiled plots by the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to blow up U.S.-bound planes.
Janadi said Awlaki’s remains would be picked up by his father on Saturday. “It is not a corpse, he is in pieces... The Yemeni government will not interfere with any type of final rites.”
In al-Jawf, Awlaki family friends said relatives were unsure how to mourn a man the United States named a “global terrorist”.
“We plan to pick up Anwar’s remains and bury them but we haven’t decided yet whether we will have an official mourning ceremony or not,” a friend of the family told Reuters.
A leader of Awlaki’s tribe, the Awalik, said on Friday that a tribal delegate had gone to al-Jawf to confirm the bearded preacher’s death.
“Why kill him in this brutal, ugly way?” asked Abubakr al-Awlaki. “Killing him will not solve their (the Americans’) problem with al Qaeda, it will just increase (AQAP‘s) strength and sympathy in this region.”
In southern Yemen, the army killed 20 militants linked to AQAP in fighting near the provincial capital Zinjibar after recapturing the city from them last month, a military official told Reuters. Six soldiers also died.
The army is trying to retain control of the coastal capital of Abyan province, which lies east of a strategic shipping lane. Militants seized several cities in the area.
In Jaar, a city seized by militants, residents said Yemeni warplanes twice bombed a hospital seized by gunmen. Clouds of smoke poured out of the building and at least five bodies were removed, they said.
The United States and neighbouring Saudi Arabia fear unrest in Yemen will embolden AQAP to strikes on the region and beyond.
Reporting by Erika Solomon; Additional reporting by Dhuyazen Mukhashaf in Aden; Editing by Robert Woodward