But according to his relatives, the man was a 19-year-old named Nasser Salim who was tending to his farm when Quso arrived in his vehicle. Quso knew Salim’s family and was greeting him when the missiles landed.
“He was torn to pieces,” said Salim’s uncle, Abu Baker Aidaroos, 30, a Yemeni soldier. “He was not part of al-Qaeda. But by America’s standards, just because he knew Fahd al-Quso, he deserved to die with him.”
Out of anger, Aidaroos said, he left his unit in Abyan province, the nexus of the fight against the militants. Today, instead of fighting al-Qaeda, he sympathizes with the group — not out of support for its ideology, he insists, but out of hatred for the United States.
‘More hostility’ toward U.S.
The U.S. strikes, tribal leaders and Yemeni officials say, are also angering powerful tribes that could prevent AQAP from gaining strength. The group has seized control of large swaths of southern Yemen in the past year, while the government has had to counter growing perceptions that it is no more than an American puppet.
“There is more hostility against America because the attacks have not stopped al-Qaeda, but rather they have expanded, and the tribes feel this is a violation of the country’s sovereignty,” said Anssaf Ali Mayo, Aden head of al-Islah, Yemen’s most influential Islamist party, which is now part of the coalition government. “There is a psychological acceptance of al-Qaeda because of the U.S. strikes.”
Quso and Salim are from the Awlak tribe, one of the most influential in southern Yemen. So was Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni American preacher who was thought to be a senior AQAP leader and was killed in September by a U.S. strike. The following month, another U.S. strike killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, also an American citizen, generating outrage across Yemen.
Awlak tribesmen are businessmen, lawmakers and politicians. But the strikes have pushed more of them to join the militants or to provide AQAP with safe haven in their areas, said tribal leaders and Yemeni officials.
“The Americans are targeting the sons of the Awlak,” Aidaroos said. “I would fight even the devil to exact revenge for my nephew.”
In early March, U.S. missiles struck in Bayda province, 100 miles south of Sanaa, killing at least 30 suspected militants, according to Yemeni security officials. But in interviews, human rights activists and victims’ relatives said many of the dead were civilians, not fighters.
Villagers were too afraid to go to the area. Al-Qaeda militants took advantage and offered to bury the villagers’ relatives. “That made people even more grateful and appreciative of al-Qaeda,” said Barakani, the businessman. “Afterwards, al-Qaeda told the people, ‘We will take revenge on your behalf.’ ”
In asserting responsibility for last week’s bombing in Sanaa, Ansar al-Sharia — the name by which AQAP goes in southern Yemen — declared that the attack was revenge for what it called the U.S. war on its followers.
The previous week, al-Qaeda’s supreme leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a video portraying Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who took office in February and vowed to fight AQAP, as an “agent” of the United States.
In some cases, U.S. strikes have forced civilians to flee their homes and have destroyed homes and farmland. Balweed Muhammed Nasser Awad, 57, said he and his family fled the city of Jaar last summer after his son, a fisherman, was killed in a U.S. strike targeting suspected al-Qaeda militants. Today, they live in a classroom in an Aden school, along with hundreds of other refugees from the conflict.
“Ansar al-Sharia had nothing to do with my son’s death. He was killed by the Americans,” Awad said. “He had nothing to do with terrorism. Why him?”
No Yemeni has forgotten the U.S. cruise missile strike in the remote tribal region of al-Majala on Dec. 17, 2009 — the Obama administration’s first known missile strike inside Yemen. The attack killed dozens, including 14 women and 21 children, and whipped up rage at the United States.
Today, the area is a haven for militants, said Abdelaziz Muhammed Hamza, head of the Revolutionary Council in Abyan province, a group that is fighting AQAP. “All the residents of the area have joined al-Qaeda,” he said.