What is behind the Yemenite threat?

Following the failed attempt of the Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab on December 25, Yemen occupies the attention of foreign affairs around the world. However, if some see there the new hiding place for Al Qaeda members and therefore a threat to the world, others remain more cautious. 

In an interview with Adla Massoud from Al Jazeera, UN’s highest ranking official responsible for monitoring the activities of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Richard Barrett, gives an overview of the risks regarding the current situation in Yemen (see Interview: Richard BarrettAl Jazeera, 21/1/2010 ). He said Al Qaeda for the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is today the strongest part of the terrorist network. Mainly composed of young people, AQAP represents a real danger, but mostly confined to the Arabian Peninsula. The Al Qaeda’s regional affiliates never claimed to have targets outside their area. Abdulmuttallab’s attempt would in that case be isolated.

The United States does not seem to grasp the situation in Yemen in the same way regarding Hilary Clinton declaration on a « threat to global stability”. But according to many analysts, the U.S. response is exaggerated. Le Figaro reporter Georges Malbrunot quoted a European diplomat saying: « The part of domestic U.S. politics in the handling of the Yemenite file is obvious”. (See « Yémen: quelques vérités sur la menace al Qaida » on GeorgesMalbrunot blog , 15/1/2010).

An attempted attack like the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit last December 25 is indeed godsend for the Republicans. Shaken by this kind of news, the American public opinion is sensitive to the security discourse delivered by the party of opposition, which pushed the Obama administration, lacking support at this time, to take steps in this direction.

Air strikes were conducted by the Yemeni army against proven hiding places of AQAP these days (see « Senior Qaeda Figures Killed in Attack, Says Yemen » in The New York Times, 15/1/2010). Has there been an intervention by the U.S. military? The answers vary: while the United States does not deny a possible cooperation, the Yemeni authorities refute the rumor of such collaboration. According to a diplomat in Sanaa, however, « The work was too well done to think that the Yemenite Mig 29 did it« . The Yemeni government probably lied, knowing that U.S. involvement would be frowned upon by the people.

For the moment, the AQAP does not represent a global, but well a regional threat. Saudi Arabia is a major target of this branch of Al Qaeda, since the regime in Riyadh is one of the main targets of the terrorist network, but also because it can indirectly affect Western countries dependent on its oil resources. Without being alarmist, it is therefore necessary for the international community to assist the Yemeni government before the situation slips out of its hands. The country has long deserved special attention. It is regrettable that only a failed attack reminds us of it.


Nathalie Janne d’Othée