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The Christmas Day Plot and Al Qaeda in Yemen

29/12/2009

Al Qaeda’s haven in Yemen and the alleged failure of US homeland security procedures are two issues that are receiving a lot of scrutiny right in the wake ofUmar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s failed Christmas Day plot. I will address the former in this post.

As Peter Neumann noted in an ‘instant analysis’ on the heels of the attack, Abdulmutallab was thought to have received his training, explosives, and instructions from al Qaeda in Yemen. As Vahid Brown reported on Jihadica, the media wing of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has claimed responsibility (side note: Brown has a fascinating post from a few days before Christmas, ‘A Mujahid’s Bookbag’ that everyone should read). According to a translation provided by the NEFA Foundation, AQAP claims:

The heroic mujahid, martyrdom-seeking brother Omar al-Farooq waged a unique operation on-board of an American aircraft that took off from the Dutch city of Amsterdam, heading towards the American city of Detroit, during their [Christians] celebration of the Christmas holidays on Friday December 25th, 2009, by which he infiltrated all the advanced, new machines and technologies and the security boundaries in the world’s airports. Heroically and straightforwardly, fearless of death, dependent on Allah, by his great act he broke the American and international intelligence legend, and he showed their fragility and rubbed their noses in the mud, and he made all of what they spent on security development techniques a [new] heartbreak for them.

Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, was in touch with the American-born extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who resides in Yemen. According to an interviewal-Awlaki gave a couple days ago, he provided Hasan with religious sanction for the attack. As Peter wrote in his analysis, Yemen launched strikes (with some sort of US assistance) days ago within its own borders against AQAP targets.  30 people were killed, including two top leaders and possibly al-Awlaki. AQ men vowed revenge at a gathering of thousands the next day where a representative for the group stated:  ‘[Y]ou should understand that we do not want to fight Yemeni soldiers. There is no problem between us and the soldiers. The problem is between us and America, but victory is coming soon.’

These strikes against AQAP followed another set of strikes a week before that saw cruise missiles launched at AQAP training camps in Yemen, killing 34 al Qaeda fighters. Accompanying ground raids captured 17 more al Qaeda members.

AQAP claims that Abdulmutallab’s failed bombing was a response to these cruise missile attacks. They stated:

Unification in doctrine and Islamic brotherhood are the reasons that pushed this wealthy young man, from Nigerian origins—the mujahiden brother Omar al-Farooq—directly respond to the unjust American aggression over the Arabian Peninsula, and, grace to Allah, that was through direct coordination with the mujahideen in the Arabian Peninsula after the monstrous raids using cluster bombs and cruise missiles that were launched from the American warships occupying the Gulf of Aden, targeting the proud tribes of Yemen in Abin, Arhab, and lastly in Shabwa, and they killed tens of Muslim women and children, and they also killed entire families. These operations were waged through a Yemeni, American and Saudi collaboration, including a number of neighboring countries.

Abdulmutallab was almost certainly trained and provided with explosives well before these strikes in Yemen took place, which makes AQAP’s claim that this was a response ring a little hollow, but it is possible that the timing of Abdulmutallab’s fateful trip to Detroit was influenced by the strikes. That is one of many questions we hope will be answered.

Just yesterday, Yemeni authorities arrested 29 al Qaeda members who were supposedly planning attacks on government targets and the British embassy.

For more on AQAP, see here and here. For an interesting short piece on al Qaeda in West Africa, see here.

Rep. Jane Harman may have exaggerated a bit when she said that ‘Yemen is the new FATA, or it will be,’ but either way, Yemen’s problems have clearly become the world’s. The CIA and Special Forces teams have already been in Yemen for about a year, working against AQAP and training Yemen’s military and Interior Ministry personnel.

Putting these highly trained men on the ground in Yemen comes at no small cost to the US taxpayer.  Some have screamed bloody murder over the idea of American ‘boots on the ground’ in Yemen, but fairly recent history shows that as terrorist safe havens develop, waiting too long may only increase that necessity along with the number of boots we’ll need.