Archive for the ‘ News Stories ’ Category
The full set of images from this story can be found here
A shorter version of this story as run by Al-Jazeera can be found here
In a covered corner of the ancient souk, overshadowed by the great-whitewashed domes of the city’s mosque, young boys hawk pigeons, falcons and porcupines from traditional wicker containers. It was to these children that we made our first inquiry about the illegal purchase of exotic animals.
It would lead us into an illicit, multimillion-dollar trade that is fast becoming known as the new blood diamonds industry of the Horn of Africa. It would also uncover an even darker trade in trafficked goods, which flourishes in a region with a culture of lawlessness.
Beit al Faqih’s souk has remained largely unchanged since the Middle Ages.
The crumbling city, 150km south-west of Sana’a, once hosted the 14th Century Arabian explorer Ibn Battuta, and has long been a crossroads for trade, knowledge and goods arriving across the Red Sea from the eastern coast of Africa.
While Beit-Al-Fakih’s importance has waned since Battuta’s visit, it still retains an Arabian Nights magic on Fridays when hundreds of traders and Bedouin shepherds descend on the town for the weekly livestock market. Camels from Yemen’s interior, fat tailed sheep from Ethiopia and large dairy cows shipped from Somaliland are bargained and bartered over, in a hot, brooding mass of animals and humanity.
It only took two phones calls from the boys selling small birds and animals to lead us to the bigger game. We were led out of the bazaar’s warren of tunnels, past traditional healers cupping blood from patients on street side stalls, to a waiting motorcycle. None of the teenagers tending to their stock seemed concerned or surprised that two tall, Arabic-speaking Europeans were seeking to buy African wild animals in a rural backwater of Yemen.
The Gulf states’ appetite for collecting wild cats and endangered species has probably made the presence of outsiders in Yemen’s bazaars an ordinary occurrence. Video clips of cheetahs that have survived their journey from East Africa often surface on Youtube. They are filmed on mobile phones sitting by their owners while they drink tea by a corniche, or for sale in some Souk pet shop.
This article originally appeared in Foreign Policy Magazine.
GPS coordinates of the Republican Guard base, site of Fawez’s injury and general mapping information for use Google Earth can be found: here
BANI JORMOOZ, Yemen — All that remains of nine-year-old Fawaz al-Husn’s left leg is a tightly bandaged stump that ends somewhere above where his knee once was. His right leg was also crushed in the blast, which erupted when he stepped on an anti-personnel landmine near his home in al-Khabsha village, less than 20 miles north of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.
Fawaz had followed one of his sheep onto farmland that abuts a government military facility near the village when the mine went off on April12. “The soldiers from the base’s towers watched me” on the ground, he says. “They were afraid to come and help.”
It fell to the boy’s neighbor, Mohammed Yahya, to pull Fawaz from the field. He heard the explosion and came running toward the blast. Fawaz’s uncle managed to slow the bleeding with a tourniquet as they rushed him to a Sanaa hospital in the back of a pickup truck. He was drifting in and out of consciousness.
Fawaz is the latest — and the third member of his extended family — to fall victim to a landmine explosion since 2011 in Bani Jormooz, a district just north of Sanaa. In the midst of the Arab Spring uprising that gripped the country in 2011, members of Yemen’s 63rd and 81st Republican Guard units laid approximately 8,000 fresh landmines in the area, their immediate commanders later admitted in mediation sessions with villagers – an act that clearly violates the international Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty to which Yemen is a signatory. At the time, Ahmed Ali Saleh, son of the country’s yet-to-be ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, was the head of all Republican Guard units.
Villagers say the mines were laid on 19 separate sites across tracts of farmland and in desert wadis surrounding two key military bases in Bani Jormooz. They also claim the mines — laid mostly in areas of non-strategic importance such as vineyards — were intended as a form of collective punishment after armed local tribesmen overran the base and harassed soldiers loyal to the regime, killing the 63rd Republican Guard’s Commander Ahmed Kolabi.
A spokesperson for Yemen’s Interior Ministry confirmed that the government is aware of the allegations made against the Republican Guard units in Bani Jormooz, and that an investigation is taking place alongside a mediation process between locals and military commanders. The Republican Guard declined to comment on the allegations for this article.
The origin of the tension between the community in Bani Jormooz and the Republican Guard unit is disputed, although the presence of the two large bases in the area has always been a point of contention for local farmers who claim that the army is occupying their land. In the spring of 2011, the conflict escalated after residents prevented Yemen’s 1st Infantry Brigade, commanded by another of the former president’s sons, Khaled Ali Abdullah Saleh, from using the road running across the district to move troops from Sanaa to suppress revolutionaries in the country’s east.
In a cage built from lengths of rusting steel trellis, six African lionesses sit on the concrete floor. The bare skull of a donkey lies at the back of the cell as two male lions pace up and down patrolling their shared six metres of territory.
A village on Yemen’s scorched Tihama plain is an incongruous home for African lions. Set back several miles from the nearest road and reached by a rough network of sandy paths and thorny gorse bushes, it is home to one of Yemen’s newest and most unlikely businesses.
Lion breeding in Yemen seems as improbable a venture as salmon fishing. But rampant demand for exotic pets from collectors in the wealthy Gulf states has made this exercise in animal husbandry suddenly profitable.
This is the first of my series of coverage about a long investigation i’ve been working on about animal smuggling from the horn of Africa to Yemen; this is just a taster of things to come.
When I first filed my audio for RTE with this story, Sinaed who edits the World Report program came back to me to query how a small boy could be cradling a wild gazelle. I told her I had seen it with my own two eyes; the above image is a picture of the smuggler’s son I talk about in my piece. Its one of my favourite images i’ve taken so far in Yemen.
The kidnap of three foreigners in broad daylight, in one of the busiest and most secure streets in Sana’a, is a sign of the growing lawlessness in Yemen’s capital.
An Austrian man and a Finnish couple became on Friday the latest victims of abductions in the strife-torn country. Witnesses said the three were taken by masked gunmen as they made their way to a tailor’s shop in central Tahrir Square at about 4pm, during the busy afternoon shopping period.
Challenges for Yemen’s National Cycle Foundation include steeps hills, a lack of money – and angry locals trying to kill them
Originally published in the Guardian on Monday 31st October 2012.
The cyclists have been pedalling through the dusty outskirts of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, for just 30 seconds when the first rock comes hurtling at their wheels.
None of the seven riders of Yemen’s National Cycle Foundation so much as flinch, as the perpetrator, a local shopkeeper, identifies himself. He shouts and waves an arm. “You gays! Cover up!”
Dressed in an eclectic assortment of sun-faded Lycra cycling attire, and riding an archaic selection of bikes in varying state of repair, the group keeps silent, and together, as they keep on pedalling.
Yemen must be one of the few countries in the world where a group of young men, on their morning ride can, and regularly does, attract such anger and ignorance from passersby. Their crime? Wearing shorts and tight jerseys.
As the riders approached the first steep climb, their coach, Saleh al-Riashi, emerges from the sunroof of an accompanying vehicle. He makes this trip three times a week, every week, with near-religious devotion, barking commands out of the car’s roof, much like the director of a pro-team on the grand tour.
It is inaccurate to describe the team as the national cycling team of Yemen, simply because they have lacked the resources to travel anywhere as a team since 2006.
Riashi is the only member of the current team to have competed abroad. He says that when they arrived in Egypt in 2006 to compete in the Arab Club Championships, his Yemeni team were almost laughed off the starting line.
“Our bikes were probably 20 years old, and our clothes worn … but we soon showed we are serious racers … we finished sixth out of 13 teams and received an apology,” he says.
Riashi, who competed in the 2008 Tour of Sharjah, is now preparing his team for the next challenge, this year’s Arab Club Championships, despite some key shortcomings. “We are probably $2,000-$3,000 dollars short of money to even get our riders to the start line, beyond the problems with our equipment.”
Money, though, is probably the least of the team’s worries ahead of the event, which is being held in the United Arab Emirates next month. Leading up the first climb is Yusuf al-Bandani, a skinny grimpeur (climber) who dances on the pedals of his steel bike like a champion from the late 1980s.
The mountains surrounding Sana’a are almost Pyrenean in feel and as Bandani climbs by the bleached, jagged rocks, he could almost be on the famous Mont Ventoux stage of the Tour de France. The air is suitably thin, and as he makes the summit of the climb he is already more than 500 metres higher than that French summit.
It is the scars on the young man’s arm that serve as a poignant reminder that he is actually training in Yemen’s highlands. “We had been preparing for ourselves for a regional competition, near Lahj, when an SUV started driving erratically near us.”
Lahj is not somewhere many cycls find themselves. It is the location of al-Anad airbase, which is home to a contingent of US troops and also a hotbed of insurgent activity. It is firmly in the middle of Yemen’s wild tribal hinterland.
“We were riding along, when suddenly we were swept off our bikes by a man in a Toyota Landcruiser. Four of our riders were wiped out. We all needed stitches and one rider needed surgery on his arm,” Bandani says with a matter-of-fact air and a shrug of his shoulders, as if being attacked and nearly killed for riding a bicycle is a normal daily occurrence. “It’s just simple ignorance.”
Sitting down for a post-training tea, Riashi is keen to explain his motivation for cycling, and his determination for Yemen to compete again, at least regionally. It takes him back to the country’s civil war in 1994: “In Yemen, every small kid has a bike and loves riding. I had to stay inside during the war, and came across the Tour de France on French satellite television. I was hooked on racing bikes from them on.
“Most families in Yemen watch the Tour de France on TV and it’s extremely popular. My hero is Mark.”
The British sprinter Mark Cavendish is fast becoming a global cycling celebrity and superstar. “No,” says Riashi, using his hands to mime a bald head. “Not Mark Cavendish.”
The group, sensing confusion, jump up in unison and begin to emulate the late Marco Pantani, climbing vigorously on sets of imaginary drop handlebars with his trademark shaved head.
How a diminutive Italian grimpeur, famous for his tenacity in the mountains, became the inspiration for a squad of Yemeni cyclists is still slightly unclear. But if Riashi and his team want to make it to race in the UAE next month, they’ll need all the Pantani attacking spirit they can muster.