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+ "Americans Are Vampires"

From Marcela Gaviria

click here for a larger map There are 109 men suspected of belonging to Al Qaeda who are being held in jails across Yemen. None of them have been charged with a crime. That is simply because belonging to Al Qaeda is not a crime according to Yemen's constitution.

Muhammad Najji Allaw, a lawyer for those men detained in Yemen and in Guantanamo told us that in the eyes of the law, these men are simply freedom fighters. "Yemen has a long history of sending young men to fight jihad in Afghanistan. It was not a crime in the late eighties to fight in Afghanistan, and it is not a crime today. Belonging to Al Qaeda is like belonging to Hamas. These men are not terrorists, they are freedom fighters."

President Ali Abdullah Saleh hasn't figured out a way around the law. And so, in order to placate G.W., he has placed these men behind bars and has yet to decide if to charge them or release them.

We know little of these men. A tally shows that most were caught in November of 2001 in large cities like Sana'a, Taiz and Ibb. A few were caught in Oman. Most of the men are in their early twenties, have families, and worked at various trades like "driver," "carpenter," "electrician," and "preacher."

One Tuesday afternoon, we head to the outskirts of Sana'a to meet a journalist who has managed to interview many of the detainees held in prison. This was done under the radar of government authorities by posing as a family member of a detainee.

We hope this journalist will tell us about these men, their background, their views on America, their allegiance toward Al Qaeda. We don't have many expectations; it is another routine call hoping to find a few more pieces of information that will help us discover the background of so many foot soldiers for Al Qaeda.

We arrive to discover that the intrepid journalist is a woman covered in black and wearing a loose fitting gotra, which reveals a beautiful face. Rahma Hugira is a feisty 25-year-old woman, with a young son about seven years of age, whom she calls her "little Osama."

Yemeni journalist and activist Rahma Hugira.
She invites us to her living room, a room where qat is chewed in the afternoons. It is bare for the most part. Pillows and arm pillows line the walls. Her little boy serves us some awful red drink that tastes like cold medicine.

We sit on the floor, barefooted, and listen to this petite woman fill the room with her powerful voice. Rahma tells us things that would make most American's blood boil. "Americans are vampires that want to suck us of all our wealth." "Americans deserve to die after all the death we have inflicted on Muslims around the world." "Osama bin Laden is my hero and I hope my son will grow up to be just like him." Rahma's blunt anti-Americanism is delivered with such warmth, grace, and charm, that it's disarming. And confusing.

She tells us that it is her duty as a Muslim to defend the men who are being held in jail because she knows they are innocent. "I will do anything in my power to help them. I know they are just innocent men paying the price for this war." As we leave, Martin asks her if she has any questions for us.

"I want to know what the mother's of all these American soldiers tell their young boys when they send them off to kill Muslims? Don't they know that we are also human beings?"

For more on Rahma, read the transcript of her interview, and this essay she wrote for FRONTLINE, "The United States and Us -- Who is Attacking Whom?"

< previous dispatch  +  next dispatch >

(Aug. 13-14)

Zubaydah Is Dead
13 August, London

Armchair Jihadists
14 August, London

Gulf of Oman
(Aug. 15-21)

Faces at a Dubai Mall
15 August, Dubai, U.A.E.

HMCS Algonquin
16 August, somewhere in the Gulf of Oman

On Board the Algonquin
17-18 August, somewhere in the Gulf of Oman

Like an Elephant Chasing a Mouse
17-18 August, Gulf of Oman

Dubai to Karachi
20 August

A Firehose of Information
20-21 August, Dubai - Muscat - Chennai

(Aug. 22-29)

Old Hash
22 August, Islamabad

Nuclear Neighbors
22-23 August, Islamabad

We Believe in God
24 August, Islamabad

Paranoid in Peshawar
27 August, Peshawar

Bombs or Dust Devils
27-28 August, Peshawar

Rumors and Half Truths
28 August, Peshawar

Pakistan Border Lands
(Aug. 30-Sept. 4)

On the Road to Chitral
30 August, Dir Khas

Prisoners' Dilemma
31 August, Dir

In the Northwest Frontier
30-31 August, Dir

Border Town
2 September, Chitral to Arandu

Don't Go to Timargarha
1-2 September, Drosh to Timargarha

An American Informer
3-4 September, Peshawar

(Sept. 5-23)

Road to Nowhere
7 September, Islamabad to Faisalabad

Faisal Town
7 September, Faisalabad

9 September, Faisalabad

The Plight of Women
10 September, Faisalabad

A Little Noticed Gun Battle
10-13 September, Lahore-Karachi

The Madrassa
14 September, Akora Khattak

The Next Big Get
20 September, Karachi - Islamabad

A Circle of Trust
21 September, Islamabad

23 September, Islamabad

Saudi Arabia
(Sept. 24-Oct. 2)

Inside the Kingdom
24-25 September, Riyadh

My Baffling Question
27 September, Unizah-Buraydah

An Obedient Dissident
27 September, Buraydah

An Audience with the Crown Prince
2 October, Riyadh

(Sept. 25-Oct. 10)

Arriving in Yemen
25-26 September, Sana'a

The Wedding Party
27 September, Sana'a

A Talking Drug
28 September, Sana'a

The World's Most Ancient Skyscrapers
3 October, Sana'a

+ Americans Are Vampires
7 October, Sana'a

Waiting for Rahma
9 October, Sana'a

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