The Nigerian radical who yesterday attempted to bring down a transatlantic flight over Michigan has claimed to authorities that he received support and training for his mission from radical groups or individuals in Yemen. So far, this Yemen claim is a heavy focus of the Federal investigation into his background, though they have ruled out a link to the radical American cleric connected to the Fort Hood attack (who now lives in Yemen). British authorities are investigating his ties to London, while the American Embassy in Nigeria has been looking into the man’s father’s warnings that his son might be involved with radical Islamist organizations, and the US has ruled out a link to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (i.e. Al Qaeda North Africa).
The Yemen connection, however, is most interesting to me because of how much news there has been regarding terrorist and rebel activities in Yemen over the past few months. (According to Google News graph data, this year has had more articles about Yemen than even right after either the USS Cole bombing there in 2000 or 9/11). The country is fairly unstable, as it has been for decades, due to ongoing off/on civil war – with Cold War involvement – and rebellions and an extremely difficult terrain over which to exercise central authority. Yemen and Saudi Arabia have both taken recent action against Yemeni militant groups, most likely with US assistance. A recent airstrike killed at least 30 people and failed to take out the targeted American cleric. The Yemeni army also attacked an alleged al Qaeda training camp within the last week or so. Saudi Arabia (or the US, according to Iran’s state media) conducted an air strike on Houthi rebels in the somewhat undefined border regions, and some reports indicate Saudi troops may have seized several rebel positions. The Saudi government fears the creation of an al Qaeda base of operations in Yemen because of the central leadership’s stated target of the Saudi royal family itself.
Al Qaeda members earlier this week addressed an anti-government rally in Yemen, seeking common cause with various rebel factions. Al Qaeda’s Yemeni operations are known to be connected to al-Shabab in Somalia, the radical Islamist rebel alliance across the Red Sea. This is not to be confused with al-Shabab al-Muminin, the Houthi rebels in the north of Yemen. Last year Yemen-based terrorists attacked the US embassy there, killing 16, following up attacks on Spanish tourists and oil fields.
Throughout most of these articles, the common thread is that Yemen has returned as a dangerous safe haven for al Qaeda or is rapidly approaching that point. The would-be airline bomber’s claims of ties to Yemen will fuel that fire further.
This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.