Al-Qaeda has exploited Yemen's internal unrest

Al-Qaeda has exploited Yemen's internal unrest

Following the Christmas day bomb attempt on a US airliner over Detroit, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula posted a statement on a jihadist website claiming responsibility for the aborted operation. The group (AQAP) said it was mounted in retaliation to the bombardment of Yemeni tribesmen by US naval ships and declared “total war against every crusader”.

The attempt on the airliner followed air raids on AQAP sites on Dec 17 and 24 that killed 60 people, a number of them civilians. The first strike was the likely trigger since AQAP needed time to organise its reply. US forces have been directly involved in the Yemeni government’s campaign against AQAP for more than a year and $70 million has been allocated over the next 18 months to arming and training Yemeni troops and coast guard.

The al-Qaeda movement has exploited Yemen’s internal unrest over the past two years to become the main home and operational base. AQAP is its host. Under pressure from US, Nato, and local forces Afghan and Pakistani jihadis have, reportedly, flocked to Ye-men to live and train in AQAP camps which were already hosting Somalis, Egyptians, and Iraqis. Omar Farouk Abdul Muttalab, the Nigerian involved in the attempt on the airliner, said he had travelled twice to Yemen to study Arabic at a legitimate institute in the capital, Sanaa. He made his second visit to Yemen on a student visa between August and December, leaving shortly before the operation. He flew back to Nigeria before boarding a flight to Amsterdam, transiting to the US-bound plane chosen for destruction. Abdul Muttalab was a ready recruit for AQAP: he is a lonely, rootless, overly pious young man who had no plan for his future.

AQAP’s influence
AQAP seems to have also influenced US army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan, who is accused of killing 13 US military personnel at Fort Hood in Texas on Nov 5. Hasan, whose family hails from a Palestinian village outside occupied Jerusalem, was also a lonely man who took refuge in religion. He had contact with cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, a leading AQAP ideologue, while he served as a preacher in a mosque in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC.

Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, provides fertile ground for al-Qaeda to take root and flourish. The country’s rugged mountainous terrain makes it difficult to impose control on independent and restive tribes. The secular republic has always been a weak state and the 1990 union between the largely tribal Shia north and the Marxist south has not worked. Yemen’s proximity to Saudi Arabia has also been a major factor. The Saudis have exported their brand of puritan Sunni Islam to Yemen, energising Sunni tribesmen and alienating Shias. Yemen was also the birthplace of the father of Usama bin Laden, al-Qaeda’s founder, so there has always been a close connection between him and the country. Consequently, many Yemenis joined Osama’s contingent fighting in Afghanistan, were trained and radicalised in his camps, and ultimately ended up in the US prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Following the US-instigated, Saudi-funded war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Yemen welcomed home its veterans. Some of the harden-ed fighters joined criminal gangs that preyed on foreign tourists and experts working in the country; the politically committed formed al-Qaeda in Yemen.

This group captured the headlines in 2000 when it mounted a bomb-laden speed-boat attack in Aden harbour on a US warship, the USS Cole, killing 17 sailors.
Under US pressure, the government attempted to tackle the group. Senior figures were arrested and jailed. But in early 2006, 23 staged a prison break with the connivance of sympathisers in the intelligence service and police force.
Among the escapees were dedicated activists who revived the leaderless organisation. In November 2008, its fighters attacked the US embassy, killing 10 bystanders. Two months later the Yemeni and Saudi branches merged to form AQAP.
Before being projected into international prominence by the foiled Christmas day attempt, AQAP carried out two major attacks in the Peninsula and Yemen. In August, a Yemen-based Saudi suicide bomber was dispatched to kill Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, head of the country’s counter-terrorism operations. In November, AQAP fighters ambushed and slew three senior Yemeni security officials and their bodyguards. In spite of the Detroit set-back, AQAP is determined to carry on with its war against the ‘crusaders’. In the chilling communique quoted earlier, AQAP pledged, “We will continue on the path (God willing) until we achieve what we want. We call upon all Muslims to kill every crusader” in the Arabian Peninsula and to punish citizens of the US for supporting leaders who kill “our women and children. We have come to slaughter you and have prepared for you men who love death just as much as you love life.”