SANAA, Yemen (AP) — The son of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh has led a crackdown arresting dozens of military officers suspected of turning against his wounded father, including many one of the country's most elite forces, the Republican Guards, military officials said Friday.
The arrests hinted at growing dissent within one of the key units that Saleh has relied on most to retain power in the face of five months of massive street protests demanding his ouster.
The regular military has already been fractured by the uprising, with some units breaking away to the opposition. But at least outwardly, the Republican Guards and other elite units that are the best trained and equipped in the country have remained loyal, leading the fight against Saleh's enemies. Those elite units are led by Saleh's close relatives, including his son Ahmed, who commands the Republican Guards and Special Forces.
Ahmed ordered the arrests at a time when he is trying to ensure the continuation of his father's rule, with Saleh out of the country undergoing treatment in Saudi Arabia after he was wounded in a blast at his presidential palace in June.
The military officials could not give an exact number of those who were arrested, but they said they numbered in the dozens and that most came from the Republican Guards. Others came from the Central Security Forces, which are led by Ahmed's cousin Yahia.
The arrested officers came under a variety of suspicions of disloyalty. Some allegedly opened secret talks with Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the most prominent figure in the regular military to defect to the opposition. Others were suspected of giving information to Saleh's opponents or refused to open fire on civilians in defiance of orders, one of the officials said.
Another military official at the southern province of Shabwa said more than 10 high ranking officers were detained after speaking publicly about their "loyalty to the revolution."
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis have been demonstrating daily for months, trying to push Saleh out. Along with military figures like al-Ahmar, major tribal leaders have also joined the opposition. Still, Saleh has managed to survive because of the loyalty of his elite units, defying international pressure to negotiate an exit after 33 years in power.
The United States fears that al-Qaida' branch in Yemen — the terror network's most active — is taking advantage of the chaos to strengthen its position in the country. In recent weeks, Islamic militants — some believed to have links to al-Qaida — have taken over entire towns in southern Yemen.
Amid ongoing clashes, a member of Abyan leading tribe said that tribal leaders are mediating a cease-fire between Islamic extremists and army troops. It is not clear yet if any of the two parties will accept a truce.